Savage Inequalities Jonathan Kozol's Savage essay

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The probability that a child will succeed is considered unimportant when compared to the possibility that a child might succeed.

The racist implications of these educational problems are impossible to ignore. These deplorable conditions help reinforce white racial superiority by keeping minorities in a subservient position when compared to whites. The fact that many affluent suburban schools have minority students does not erase the fact that the single greatest predictor of socio-economic status remains race. Non-whites are significantly more likely than whites to be poor in the United States. Moreover, money is political power, so that these impoverished people literally lack a meaningful voice. Repeatedly in his book, Kozol discusses attempts by community members to improve the conditions in their schools, only to have their concerns completely ignored by various government entities. Even though the Supreme Court mandated equality in school districts in the 1960s, it is clear that the promise of equal education has not been fulfilled for many students in America, and that race continues to be a predictor of educational inequality.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Kozol's book was how self-aware the students were about their social situation. They knew that they were receiving an education that was inferior to what white students in affluent neighbors were receiving. This stigma of inferiority was the very thing that the Supreme Court determined made segregated schools so harmful to minority students. Moreover, though some people suggest that blacks willingly self-segregate, Kozol asked the students about this. They unequivocally stated that they would not be in a segregated school if they had a choice. Most of the students that Kozol interviewed were very poorly educated, but, despite these inferior educations, they could still appreciate the irony of attending a mostly black high school named after famous Civil Rights Movement leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that had sewage running through its hallways.

It is almost impossible to overstate the implications of Kozol's research for criminal justice. While there are many theories about what causes criminal behavior, there is no question that a lack of an education translates to lack of real employment opportunities and increases the likelihood of criminal behavior. Moreover, uneducated criminals are more likely to be recidivists, because they are unemployable outside of the prison environment. Combine a lack of education with the surrounding social problems, and one has little hope that these impoverished areas will ever be able to escape their cycles of poverty and crime. One can understand why the people who are living in the conditions described in Kozol's book may use drugs or alcohol to escape the reality of their scenarios; the situation is so depressing that it would be soul-crushing for many to face those same circumstances every day. However, using drugs and alcohol impairs judgment, which only increases the likelihood of criminal behavior. Many of the families in these impoverished areas have criminal backgrounds, and, even if they want for their children to escape the harsh realities of their neighborhoods, the parents may lack the educational and social backgrounds to help their children escape those scenarios. The reality of these neighborhoods will not change without a significant social intervention that changes the totality of the neighborhoods.

From a punishment perspective, Kozol's book makes it clear that punishment alone is not going to be sufficient to change criminal behavior in these neighborhoods. With dropout rates of greater than 50%, the people in these areas are largely unemployable. Furthermore, they are most likely to know people that are uneducated and unemployed. The situation is one that not only creates the initial criminality, but virtually guarantees recidivist behavior upon release. Moreover, once a person has been convicted, if the crime was a felony, he or she loses the power to vote to try to change the situation for their neighborhood. They literally become non-participants in everyday society. It would be impossible to overstate the criminal justice related implications of Kozol's research.

For me, Kozol's book was extremely sobering. I have always considered myself aware of lingering racial inequality in the United States. I have friends from all different racial backgrounds and from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds and I considered myself very aware of disparity in America. However, I found myself disbelieving some of Kozol's descriptions. I simply could not acknowledge that these types of conditions could occur in modern-day America. Moreover, that people with the power to change those conditions refuse to change them, imparts willfulness to the disparity, which suggests that the evils of colonialism and the vestiges of slavery and Jim Crow still exist. Though there is an African-American man in the White House says less about race in America than the fact that African-American students are still expected to attend school with sewage running through the hallways. Finally, the book depressed me and made me feel guilty for not appreciating my own public education.


Kozol, J. (1991) Savage inequalities: children…[continue]

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