Race Crime and Justice Book Review

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Savage Inequalities

Kozol, J. (1991) Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc.

Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol is a passionate expose of a disturbing reality of what plagued the American school system in the late 1980s. In this book, Kozol takes a long journey into the public urban schools of East St. Louis, Chicago, New York City, Camden, Cincinnati, and Washington D.C., and finds inequalities everywhere. The journey takes place between the years 1988-1990. Kozol argues that public schools in urban areas in the United States are severely underfunded and are characterized by alarming levels of drop-outs, lack of teacher motivation, and segregation. According to Kozol, school system in America today is worse off than it had been prior to the Brown v. Public Education ruling in 1954. In contrast, Kozol argues the neighboring suburban schools where students are overwhelmingly white and rich, the facilities are new, opportunities abound, and most graduates end up in America's best colleges and universities. Kozol's purpose is to describe the grim reality of the public education system in America and air the voices of children who are being affected by this savage school system.

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Kozol starts off his journey in East St. Louis. The population there is 98% African-American, which is, Kozol suggests, indicative of the pervasive racism that still accompanies class discrimination in the United States. Kozol can't find in this town any obstetric services or a regular trash collection, while most of the residents of the town cannot find jobs. Almost a third of the East St. Louis population earns less than $7,500 a year and three fourth of the residents rely on welfare support. As Kozol observes the town, it gets more depressing. The air in the town is filled with chemical and toxic pollutants, while raw sewage floods the homes, schools, and playgrounds for children. Children are severely undernourished which results in high mortality and sickness rates.

Book Review on Race Crime and Justice Assignment

In the summer, the temperature in classrooms goes over a hundred degrees, while in the winter the classroom temperature is bitterly cold. The school buildings are in dilapidated conditions. The textbooks (if they exist) are outdated and science labs are behind 30 to 50 years. Kozol meets a teacher who allows the students to play cards during class time so that the children learn some rudimentary math skills. Lack of professional educators compels many schools to hire "substitutes" who are paid around $10,000 a year. The schools are so poor that they cannot even afford toilet paper, while modern sports and computer facilities are a distant dream for students in this town. Most distressing that Kozol finds in the city is the attitude of public administrators who see the problem of urban public schools not in the shortage of funding but in family values.

From East St. Louis, Kozol moves to North Lawndale and the South Side of Chicago. The site of this town forces Kozol to ask hard questions about the way this rich and generous society treats many of its bright and talented but poor children. Was East St. Louis an anomaly or a mistake of history? Was it unusual? Why were the racial segregation and the extremely poor environmental conditions of the town not properly addressed? Alas, in the Southern Side of Chicago, Kozol sees a similar situation. What Martin Luther King Jr. once said about the "color code" of the city still holds true, Kozol says. North Lawndale unemployment is rampant, and the factories are leaving the unfortunate city in search of better political, social, and economic environments. The void created by this exodus, Kozol writes, is filled by criminal gangs.

The rates of sickness and mortality among children are again frighteningly high. Around a thousand infants die annually, while three thousand infants suffer from serious brain damage and other forms of neurological impairment. Kozol ponders on the high school statistics and predicts what awaits many of the cheerful kindergarten children he observes. Many, he says, will go to Manley High school where the graduation rate is 38%. Fourteen out of 23 students drop out of school, according to official figures. Only four of them will go to college and out of these four only may graduate from college. Meanwhile, twelve children will end up serving prison term. Many neighborhoods in Chicago, Kozol tells us, do not have a junior high school because of the high drop-out rate, and many students on a given morning (5,700 in 190 classrooms) come to school only to find out that there is no teacher.

While describing the sordid picture of Chicago neighborhoods, Kozol quotes many children and teachers who offer further insights into the grim reality of urban public schools. Most students are dismayed at the way they are treated in the country, while teachers' attitudes are mixed. Some of them are sympathetic to students, while others hail the high drop-out rate since they believe losing "dregs" will make their job easier. Kozol finds the attitudes of wealthy parents and school administrators more problematic. None of them, including the school board president in 1989, are willing to send their children to public schools. Many legislators in suburban affluent areas, Kozol says, describe the urban schools as "sinkhole" or "black hole," as Governor Thompson described them to justify his refusal to allocate more money for public schools.

Kozol then goes on to compare the poor urban schools with rich suburban schools. Children in urban schools receive far less in spending than do the children of affluent suburban areas. The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that the urban schools' needs are greater but they end up getting less funding. The problem, however, is not only in the lack of funding, Kozol argues; but rather in the way public education is financed. Most of the funding comes from property tax, which depends on the taxable value of rich and poor peoples' homes as well as that of local industries. And since typical homes in wealthy suburbs are worth more than $400,000 (the number homeowners in urban areas can only dream of), property tax drawn from these homes generate far greater amount in proportion to its student population. Poor people in urban areas place high priority for their children's education and even overtax themselves, Kozol argues, but they still end up with less money allocated for their children in schools. And since property tax is deductable, many affluent homeowners get a substantial portion of their money back. The system, Kozol says, functions as an effective federal subsidy for the affluent families.

From Chicago, Kozol travels to New York City to see if the conditions in public schools there are different. But Kozol ends up seeing a familiar picture. Average spending per pupil in New York is $5,500, while affluent suburbs of New York receive from $11,000 to $15,000. Here again, wealthy suburbs end up getting more money because of the greater wealth of their property that is taxed and deducted, and the students of urban public schools who are most desperately in need of high-quality teachers get the most unqualified teachers available. Textbooks are scarce and the buildings are in so poor conditions that some of them do not have windows. So the school administrators place plants and fish tanks in the corridors to make up for the lack of windows. The school population, according to Kozol, is overwhelmingly nonwhite.

In discussing the differences between poor urban and affluent suburban schools in New York, Kozol points out that the problem is exacerbated by the actions of state legislators. Federal programs are manipulated by these legislators that end up benefiting the wealthy suburbs even further. Many state legislators allocate educational grants to regions where they have political allies. As a result, poor neighborhoods get about 90 cents per pupil from these grants, whereas the affluent districts get $14 per pupil. The Board of Education charged many legislators in 1987 of channeling the money intended for fighting drug abuse and illiteracy in poor neighborhoods towards financing schools in wealthy areas. These legislators believe that giving money to poor districts would be waste of time. This perception among legislators affects the views of children and they end up behaving as poor investments. Meanwhile, because of the poor performance of poor students, many people, including educators and sociologists, argue that the funds are better spent in areas where school performance is better so that the better performers are properly rewarded. The society then is locked in a vicious circle which keeps widening the gap between the affluent suburban and poor urban public schools.

Kozol places more attention to the problem of racism in his discussion of public schools in New York. The differences between the rich and the poor, he argues, reflect the institutionalized discrimination directed against Blacks and Hispanics. For example, trying to explain the disparity in the medical care provided to white and nonwhite children, the Journal of American Medical Association suggested that "cultural differences" were at play in nonwhite people's presumed… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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