Excerpt from Letters to a Young Teacher (2007): “In my writings through the course of nearly 40 years, I have always tried to bring the mighty and ferocious educational debates that dominate the pages of the press and academic publications, in which the voices of our teachers are too seldom heard, back from the distant kingdom of intimidation and abstraction—lists of ‘mandates,’ ‘sanctions,’ and ‘incentives’ and ‘performance standards’ and the rest —into the smaller, more specific world of colored crayons, chalk erasers, pencil sharpeners, and tiny quarrels, sometimes tears and sometimes uncontrollably contagious jubilation of which daily life for a real teacher and her students is, in fact, composed.”
Jonathan Kozol is a well known non-fiction writer and activist concerning the inequalities of public education in the United States. For over 40 years, he has fought against and raised awareness of racial segregation in the public school system and the neglect impoverished children’s education, and has published many award winning and bestselling books on the subject. He has founded two non-profit organizations, Cambridge Institute for Public Education as well as Education Action!, to organize and support teachers trying to create a more equitable system of public education.
Born in Boston in 1936, Kozol graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University in 1958. Although awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, he did not finish his graduate studies, and instead lived in Paris, learning how to write from the American ex-patriot authors there, including Richard Wright. Soon after his return to the U.S., he became a teacher in Boston Public Schools but was fired for reading a Langston Hughes poem with his class. Published in 1967, Kozol’s first book, Death at an Early Age, chronicled his year as a teacher in Boston and won the National Book Award in Science, Philosophy, and Religion.
Kozol’s other publications include Rachel and Her Children: Homeless Families in America (1989), which won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award and the Conscience in the Media Award; Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools (1992), which won the New England Book Award; Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation (1995), which won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award (previously earned by Langston Hughes and Martin Luther King Jr.); and The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America (2005), which documents the current racial segregation in public schools.
Kozol’s most recent book, Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America, was published in 2012. In it he follows the stories of impoverished children in America that he has worked with from their infancy to young adulthood. He is currently on the Editorial Board of Greater Good Magazine.