Jonathan Kozol – A Critic of New York City Public Schools

Public education is often a controversial subject when discussed. In America, public education is pushed as an opportunity for every human being. It’s promoted as being indiscriminate towards people. The truth is far from that belief. Public education in the United States is not equal for every potential student.

Jonathan Kozol is a former school teacher who has become a public education critic. He has opposed the way the system is run because the issues of race and poverty have as much to do with it’s effectiveness as willing students. Over the last forty years, he has written many books on this subject. Kozol’s belief is that after all the country has been through, as far as race relations go, schools are just as segregated now as before the Civil Rights Movement.

In the South Bronx, all but two-tenths of a percentage point of students are either Hispanic or black. That part of the social chain is steeped in poverty that is tough to reverse. It isn’t the legally-induced segregation as in the early 20th century but economic segregation which causes areas to find these numbers. As Kozol said in an interview, “Children in these schools don’t know any white children and white children don’t know them.” Social development of these children is being effected by not being integrated during such a pivotal time in their lives.

Kozol once wrote about a section in the Bronx, “If you want to open a small business, there’s no banker to talk with. No libraries open in the evening. Few recreational opportunities for children. Many abandoned houses, people and cars.” With
so little real opportunity to move up on the social ladder, one of the largest things that suffer is the education system in these poverty-ridden areas. A lot of the time, these children and their area’s are overlooked by politicians. When election time rolls around, politicians rarely visit the poor neighborhoods because of the widespread belief that they do not vote.

The situation is a cyclical pattern with the majority of public education money never being transferred past societal class lines. Wealthier neighborhoods get the bulk of money to fund public education. That leaves poorer areas out of luck when it comes to receiving money. Because of this, children in the poor areas lose out on anything resembling a quality education. There are no such things as after-school programs or clubs. Books are often old, used and written on. Computers are rare to find in any classroom. Since teachers are paid little, the better and well-trained educators will go where the money is, in richer neighborhoods.

In some schools today, children are directed towards certain fields which leads them towards jobs and training. This is all done during the early teen years for children who otherwise would never think about committing themselves to certain occupations. These children miss out on the time to branch out into different fields and find something which interest and will suit them well. This only sets the bar low or at least lower then the expectations one would have if you received a better education. Jonathan Kozol feels school curriculum’s like this can only rob children from their childhood’s which are
quickly passed over. Children in this atmosphere are led to believe that they must join the working force as soon as possible so that they can earn something of a living. This can lead to dropping out of school before graduating high school and ultimately leads to a lower quality of life in their future.

A major problem with the federal government funding education, is the use of the local property tax money. When the local property tax is used to fund schools, the buildings in low-class neighborhoods suffer. They don’t receive as much money as they should. This leaves the schools in higher-class neighborhoods to receive much more money. One proposal to change this is to use the federal income tax to fund public schools. This would benefit all schools since the income tax is limitless, especially as the population grows. The income tax would not hold prejudices towards children in low-income areas and would allow for as much of an equal education that can be possible.

Just as big a controversy for schools is the potential use of school vouchers. School vouchers allow parents to receive government tax money to send their child or children to a private school. The problem comes from the law which promotes the separation of church and state. Vouchers can dim that line as parents use that federal money to pay religious institutions or other private schools. Like Kozol, I am against the use of school vouchers. The founding leaders of this country wanted religion to be separate from government for a reason. Allowing public money to be used to fund a
religious school or even a fundamentalist-type of school would open a can of worms for the country.

Public education in the United States is not very strong. Problems are rampant with unqualified teachers, dwindling parent involvement and not enough money to go around equally. It’s tough for every school across the nation to be as effective in helping children learn but not enough is being done to maximize efforts.

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