Jonathan Kozol, still on fire




All teachers need to read twin education giants, Jonathan Kozol and Paulo Freire. 99% of teachers sadly have never heard of these two worthies. Paulo the Brazilian prophet has gone but his ideas abide but Jonathan is still trucking. Jesus would have  loved him because he holds up the poor in a special place. All school systems would be elevated by reading and heeding  his passionate work. Here he is in Washington in January  on PBS broadcaster Tavis Smiley’s Roundtable on Education. Dig.

But my world is children. The only tried and proven avenue of exit for the poorest children in this country from the destitution of their parents is to give them absolutely terrific, exciting, beautiful, spectacular and expensive public education.And to fund it not simply at the same high level as the richest suburbs, but at a higher level, because those children need it more.  In the past few years, class size has been soaring in our schools because they’ve been laying off teachers.

I walk into public schools in New York where I find 36 children in a fourth grade class, right back to the 1960s. I walked into a high school in Los Angeles – 40 kids in a 10th grade social studies class. I made the mistake of asking the teacher right in front of the kids, “How in the hell do you teach 40 children?” and she said, “Don’t ever ask that question.” She said, “Here, find out,” and then she left the room (laughter) and let me take the class. But let me say something. I’ll just stick to that one issue for now.

There are a lot of factors that go into terrific education, but one thing I know for sure is that the size of the class a teacher teaches is one of the most important factors in the entire pedagogic world.I’ve heard plenty of old-time conservatives – Pat Buchanan once yelled at me, remember him?

He once yelled at me on TV and said, “Oh, that’s nonsense. I had 50 in my class and it didn’t hurt me.” Oh, I said, “Well, I’m not sure.” (Laughter) But the fact of the matter is look, let’s be blunt about it. I have rich friends, some who still like me, and a few, like Harvard classmates, and they’ll say to me, “Jonathan -” and these are people who read my books and they say they care about these poor kids in the Bronx.

They’ll say to me, “Jonathan, does class size really matter for those children?” and I’ll always ask them where their kids go to school and how many children in their classes. Typically, if they’re in a lovely suburb, it’s 16, 18. Parents panic when it gets to 21. If they go to lovely private schools like some of our friends in Washington, it’s more like 15.

Then I see these kids packed into classrooms where there are more children than chairs. I don’t know how everybody else on this panel feels, but here’s what I believe. A very small class size and the intimate, affectionate attention, this enables a good teacher to give to every little girl and boy.

If that’s good for the son of a prosperous physician or a successful lawyer or the daughter of a senator or congressmember or the president himself, then it’s good for the poorest child of the poorest woman in America. (Applause) That’s my own belief.



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