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racially-integrated schools

“A segregated education in America in unacceptable. . . . Integration is, it still remains, the goal worth fighting for. You should be fighting for it. We should be fighting for it. It is something that is good unto itself, apart from all the other arguments that can be made. This nation needs to be a family, and a family sits down for its dinner at a table, and we all deserve a place together at that table. And our children deserve to have a place together in their schools and classrooms, and they need to have that opportunity while they’re still children, while they’re in those years of innocence.

“You cannot deviate from this. You have to say, ‘Some things are good and right unto themselves.’ . . . No matter what the present mood in Washington is like, no matter what the people who are setting policy today believe, or want us to believe, no matter what the sense of temporary hopelessness that many of us often feel, we cannot give up on the struggle we began and on the dream that brought us here.

“You cannot give it up. We cannot give it up. As a nation, as a people, I don’t think that we have any choice but to reject this acquiescence, to reject defeat.”

These are the words of Congressman John Lewis, interviewed by Jonathan Kozol in The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America. He is talking about the de facto segregation in our educational system, segregation that, as Kozol documents, has increased in our nation in the last 20 years. Lewis connects the current crisis of our segregated schools with the civil rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s and sees true desegregation as a continuation of that fight. Considering the history of his work at that time (if you don’t know about Lewis, check out his wikipedia entry), few people can speak with as much authority on this issue.

Lewis’ quote is a fitting conclusion for Kozol’s unabashed polemic for mandating and enacting the integration of our schools at the federal level. Along with interviews of politicians, scholars, and thinkers on education in our country, Kozol uses reasoned argument, statistical research, personal narrative, and, most significantly, interviews with administrators, teaches, and children from “approximately 60 schools in 30 districts, situated in 11 different states.” And, even though the point of his sentences is sometimes difficult to follow (the nouns and verbs can be separated by a lot of intervening qualification), his work is solid. The arguments he develops—often with the help of his interviewees—against our current system of education and for the necessity of a national movement to change the course of public education in the U.S are compelling and should not be ignored. A movement we need. A movement that carries on where the civil rights struggle in our country stopped.

But I believe he is a scholar and polemicist only because he must. At his heart, Kozol is a journalist. More than that, he obviously loves children and relishes getting to know them; he elicits their thoughts, worries, ideas, anger, and dreams, and when he focuses on telling these stories, the book shines. He has spent hours, days, weeks, and years in public schools since he first became an inner-city Boston public school teacher in the mid-1960s. Personal narratives and observations give the book its powerful authenticity. I could quote these stories at length, but it would be a poor substitute for the whole experience of the book. To understand the depths to which we as a nation have fallen and the heights we might achieve, all through the words of the teachers and students in our schools, you must read the book.

Read the book.

Read the book.

Read the book.

Read the book.

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