Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Fire in the Ashes - Jonathan Kozol

I first read Jonathan Kozol back when I was in high school in the mid-90s - just over 20 years ago.  He writes about the American education system - focusing on children in the inner-city and really highlighting the differences between the haves and the have-nots.  As a teenager attending a very affluent suburban high school, Kozol really opened my eyes to my own privilege and provided the foundation for my interest in providing equal opportunity and education to all children.  Fire in the Ashes is a re-telling of Kozol's basic points.  He goes back to a housing project in New York and revisits families that he has known for decades in an attempt to figure out what helps children succeed and emerge out of poverty.  Is it enough to provide a good education by sending these children away from their families to private schools?  Is it enough for them to have one adult in their life who really takes an interest in their success?  What are the differences between adolescent boys and girls who grow up in neighborhoods riddled with drugs, crime, and prostitution.  What does it mean to see your peers die at young ages?  To have parents suffering from HIV?  How much can a child survive, and how much should we really expect our nation's children to endure.  This book is shocking - to think that people in this first world country live in these conditions is horrific.  But, at the same time, the book is uplifting - there are tremendous stories of success here - parents and children who are not just surviving, but actually thriving, despite all efforts to keep them down.  Kozol is an incredible individual - and I would love to hear from the people who invited him into their homes - to know that he told their stories correctly and made them feel heard.  For me, again, this was an eye-opener, and a reminder that we still have so much work to do.

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