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The Poorest Children In America

Jonathan Kozol tracks the lives of the poorest children in America, and where they go.

Author Jonathan Kozol in the On Point studios. (Alex Kingsbury/WBUR)

Author Jonathan Kozol in the On Point studios. (Alex Kingsbury/WBUR)

Writer and teacher Jonathan Kozol has spent most of a lifetime following America’s poorest children.  Not in statistics or test scores, but in person.  In their schools and neighborhoods, homes and homeless shelters.

In book after celebrated book, he has brought their lives home to a nation quite willing to look the other way.  Now, as Chicago teachers strike and the country thinks again about what it really takes to build a ladder up, Kozol is reporting in again.  On who made it and who didn’t.

This hour, On Point:  Jonathan Kozol on twenty-five years among America’s poorest kids.

-Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Jonathan Kozol, writer, educator, and activist, best known for his books on public education in the United States. He has been working with children in inner-city schools for more than 40 years. His new book is Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America. You can find a link to his upcoming speaking events here.

Ariella Patterson, resident of the South Bronx, profiled in the book Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America.

From Tom’s Reading List

Slate “She also blamed him, a little angrily, for dawdling in the bathroom. The boy’s teacher testified that she’d tried to help by giving him an alarm clock. Also that when he came to school dirty and smelly, she talked to the whole class about washing and doing laundry, so as not to embarrass him. The boy listened to all of this, looking clean and pressed in a turquoise polo shirt.”

Boston Globe “Boston-born education activist Jonathan Kozol has been following the lives of marginalized children in the South Bronx for decades and through a dozen books, describing in award-winning detail how this nation’s “savage inequalities” have devastated the individuals, families, and communities he has observed firsthand.”

Washington Post “The inequalities are greater now than in ’92. Some states have equalized per-pupil spending but they set the “equal level” very low, so that wealthy districts simply raise extra money privately. And, even within a single urban district, parents in rich neighborhoods cluster together at a single school, then hold fund-raisers for that school, using celebrities to pull out a wealthy crowd, and raise as much as half-a-million dollars in a single night. No one forces them to share this money with the schools for poor kids that might be just three blocks away. The system is more savage now than ever.”

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  • Wm_James_from_Missouri

    For the secularist :

    If you really want to make those kids successful in life, then this is the podcast you MUST listen to. It talks about STRESS and the MARSHMELLOW TEST ! Solving these problems early in a child’s’ life will make them more successful and may be the key to GENIUS. Poke around this site and listen to the radio program. It is fascinating.

     http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/474/back-to-school

    _For the non secularist I would like to remind you of :

    1 Corinthians 13 (King James Version)

    11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

    12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

    13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

    • kaybee63

      Marshmallow

      • sickofthechit

         They bring back mellow memories for me.

    • JGC

      I am in total agreement with you on the insights from this This American Life podcast that was up over the weekend. Like the observation that several severe life events at an early age can disrupt learning and success potential, maybe forever.  And there are not many more disruptive events like the criminalization of formerly minor offenses, throwing people in prison to satisfy the investors in the corrections industry, and splitting up families for years. Now THAT’s a real crime!  

  • Shag_Wevera

    Some conservative poster today will attempt to compare poor American children to those in the Sudan or Sri Lanka.  Someone will also point out that these poor Americans can afford television or a decent pair of sneakers.  If we are REALLY fortunate, someone will mention the minority single mother who drives a cadillac and has more and more children to increase her welfare benefit.

    Just a prediction.  I could be wrong.

    • hatwood

      Sadly, I’m sure you’re right, Shag.  They are rather quick and cliche in their vilification of the poor.

      • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

         Unlike the way that so many here are quick and cliche’ in their vilification of conservatives?

        • Steve__T

          When you make statements like Williams above which you agreed with, you vilify your self.

  • http://www.facebook.com/irvwestyouthadvocate Irv West

    Mr. Kozol, you write with a passion that is so moving. I tried to emulate (not plagiarize) in my book about struggling teens: “Breaking the Rules: A Fresh approach to building on the strength and courage of our struggling youth.”

    We are criminalizing school behavior to remove those who, most often, are poor academic achievers; we are defunding trade schools where many students can find fulfillment; instead of building on a child’s ‘island of strength (my term),’ we punish with increasing indignation.

    It is a far greater immorality than when one of my teens, in the depth of frustration and despair, uses a four letter word in speaking with me.

  • William

    It is sad some Liberal poster will claim we don’t spend enough on the poor or admit the failure of the Great Society programs to lift people out of poverty. 

    • jefe68

      No, what is sad is that you have the mindset to make such a comment.

      • William

         No what is sad you are afraid to deal with the failure of Liberalism.

        • jefe68

          What a load of bull. How is that the worst cases of poverty in this nation are in red states and mostly in the South?

          The failure here is that you don’t have any compassion. That you let your warped sense of regressive ideology guide your world view to the point where you think it’s OK to post such mindless mendacity on poverty, and on children no less.

    • Steve__T

       Nasty childish cruel elitist sycophant statements, like this are a true measure of what America has become.  You would tear the statement off the statue of liberty and replace it with Give us your rich and well to do the rest just go away. I bet you call your self a true American with no clue of what it really means to be one.

  • JGC

    There are currently about 3:1 comments posted on the Foreign Policy in the Muslim World versus The Poorest Children in America hours.  I think this reflects the interest people generally have in this forgotten segment of our population. 

  • JGC

    There was an article in the NYT last week “Bulk of Charitable Giving Is Not Earmarked for the Poor.”  According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, looking at the top 49 charitable gifts in the New York metro area, “not one went to support social services explicitely.” Of the top donations, totaling $190-million, one was made to Columbia University’s business school, another to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, third was a $40-million gift to build an indoor cycling track, and on. 

    And I never want to overlook a chance to slam a Koch brother, so also on the Chronicle of Philanthropy website, they had a look at the Philanthropy 50. On the list is William I. Koch, who donated a total of $65-million in 2011.  The biggest beneficiary (a pledge of $60-million) was the Oxbridge Academy Foundation, which is to establish the Oxbridge Academy of the Palm Beaches, a private high school in West Palm Beach, FL. Mr. Koch started Oxbridge “because of what he saw as a lack of top-level college prep schools in the Palm Beach area.” Two of his children are enrolled at the school.

    People make their billions and millions by whatever means, and it is their prerogative to donate their own money as they wish, but if the funding is going to the likes of business school, prep schools, and indoor cycling tracks, that makes it even more imperative for a government safety net for the poor that is not based on personal whim and personal benefit.

  • MarkVII88

    I think an important realization to be made is that, poor or not, not all children are destined for college for various reasons.  Instead of spending billions trying to put a square peg in a round hole (with much frustration) this money should be spent to find the square holes for those square pegs where they can be enriched and realize success instead of constant failure to achieve.  There is no shame in enrolling in a vocational program instead of pursuing college and there will always be a need for skilled trades like auto-body, electrician, plumbing, heavy equipment operation, welding etc.  

    • http://twitter.com/Dragonsong73 Eric R. Duncan

      And all of those trades could use some basic business skills, how to apply for small business loans and grants, writing and reading contracts, labor regulations etc so as to be able to generate successful labor force or small business owners. A technical college/ voc. program is still legitimate post secondary education and provides better opportunities

    • monicaroland

      Mark, this is spot-on.  I have seen this as a reading teacher.  My students were completely turned off by the demanding standardized tests.  They do not measure ability in the areas you reference.  I challenge anyone to examine the New York State 8th grade English Language Arts assessment.  It’s very difficult, and only the “upper half” academically can pass it.  Many of my students worked very hard for me, but simply blew off the state assessments.

    • Call_Me_Missouri

      Amen.  My brother went to a VoTech for welding and has parlayed that education into a QA job making good money.

      It used to be that only the top 10% of students went to college.  I’m not sure that is the wrong approach.

      I’m a big fan of the apprenticeship program concept where employers pay to educate their workers.

      But I am also a big fan of finding ways for kids to skip college and have job skills when they leave High School.  And I believe that with all of this on-line education and Skype based classes that it would be possible for school systems to offer to ALL graduating high school students a specialized education without having to bus them all over the place.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    The floor – the lowest point that an American who is leading a “normal” (barring mental illness, addiction, etc.) life can descend to is being dismantled. There are more children falling through the cracks now, the scary part is we’re actively moving towards removing the floor entirely.

    When this is completed much of America will be indistinguishable from most third countries – because we will be one.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=739705324 Adam Brabant

    I wonder if this Chicago teacher’s strike is just a publicity stunt to promote the new movie “Won’t Back Down”.  

  • Grav22

    While we all talk about education being a solution to long term poverty – and I agree – we often forget to put it into the context of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  If people are worried about adequate food, clean water, shelter and security, they can’t focus on higher order needs like education.

    Our first priority must be on providing these families with good food and a safe place to live.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

       We’ve had that answer for a while.  How do we overcome a cycle of dependency that runs generation after generation?  Clearly, we have various links in the chain, but they’re not connected.

      • http://www.facebook.com/eileen.brennan Eileen Brennan

        Combating racism, for one.

        • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

           Racism at this point isn’t the problem.

  • gala1

    It infuriates me, listening to this, and then hearing Romney and Republicans say that it is not FAIR to not cut taxes for the rich, when everyone else will get a tax cut.

    Want something else infuriating?!

    Romney “made” over 20.9 M last year.
    And paid ~15% on it.
    None of his income comes from salary or wages.

    Yeah, lets vote for him!

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

     O.K., you’ve got my attention.  What do you propose that we do about it?

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

     There is a measure of parental fault here.  Teenagers shouldn’t become parents.  People who can’t support children shouldn’t become parents.

    • gala1

      And what about people who have no empathy or compassion? What do you suppose we should do with them?

      • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

         Those are vague terms, and they don’t address the problem.

    • Steve__T

       No disagreement on that, but that is what needs to be addressed with education at an early age, It’s too little to late after the deed is done.

  • gala1

    It’s interesting hearing Mr Kozol say that she became poor for no fault of her own.

    Republicans BELIEVE that poor people have the power and will and ability to get themselves out of their crappy situations.

    The American Dream – is that you can work hard and get yourself out of poverty. Get from Ariela’s point to Romney’s! Where you make nothing to making 20M in a year!

    Reality check. None of us on this site, will ever, make 20 M in one year, no matter how hard we work.

    Pisses me off!

    The only way we will get ahead as a nation, and as people, is by helping those less fortunate.
    Increasing funding for programs that help those less fortunate!
    Not cutting taxes on the rich.

    It breaks my heart, hearing people give their votes to someone who would make their lives, their neighborhoods and their communities worse off.

    • eat_swim_read

      this is not an accurate recitation of GOP policies. speak for yourself, not other (parties.)
      thanks.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Note what the caller here is saying.  His wife teaches in public school, but they send their children to private school.  This is a main part of the problem.  Public schools are failing in the cities.  There are solutions, but we’re unwilling to use them.

  • levrier

    Please name the Boston landlord of those slum buildings you mentioned in NYC.  Why should so many of these terrible preditors appear at galas and ballet openings as if they are wonderful philanthropists, socialites and people to be admired!

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    Sadly most of our neofeudal lords prefer not to look upon the squalor and choose not to reflect upon its causes, costs or victims. Sadly they choose a leap of faith to their ideologies which blame individuals for their misfortune and not the economic system or society which supports it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=739705324 Adam Brabant

    Could your guest respond to Mitt Romney’s comment “Everyone deserves the best education they can afford.”?

  • monicaroland

    This is such an important issue, with no perfect answers.  I just retired after 21 years of teaching reading to mostly lower-income middle schoolers.  This followed 15 years as a newspaper reporter and editor.  I see this issue from so many different perspectives.

    There are two huge problems that may focus the discussion.  

    One, the curriculum and standardized tests are much too difficult for many of the students.  One size does NOT fit all.  We have devalued career/technical education on the altar of the notion of four-year-college-for-all.  The curriculum and tests discourage millions of very fine young people.  They are defeated by 6th grade.  I have seen this with my own eyes.

    Two, far too many children have unstable family lives.  They cannot learn under these circumstances, and it’s impossible for teachers to teach.  They see no relevance in school.  Somehow we need to find a way to encourage young people to make long-term goals, finish their education, avoid early pregnancy, and stay away from drugs and alcohol.  Too many see only the short-term.  They have babies, but cannot take care of them, and the cycle continues.  If somehow we can encourage teens to put off parenthood until they are educated and engaged in a stable long-term union.  Then they a much greater chance of avoiding poverty.

    The three biggest causes of poverty are:  1.) having a baby as a teenager, with no permanent union;  2.) not earning a high school diploma;  and 3.) abusing drugs and alcohol.  

    How we deal with these issues will define us as a nation.  Improve the schools by acknowledging that career/tech ed is honorable, and can provide for a good income.  Encourage stable, committed family relationships.  

    I don’t know how to effect these changes, but I do know that each child is important.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kami.kane.5 Kami Kane

    While I agree that we should have better support systems and programs to help move people out of poverty, I also think people should not have kids if they can’t afford them.  I dealt with infertility so I understand the longing for a child, but 4 kids?! 

    • gala1

      Why don’t we just sterilize them?! Sterilize all the poor folk!!!!
      Why not?! They shouldn’t be anyways!
      If they can’t decide whether to have a 20 oz soda or not, then they should definitely not be allowed to make a decision to have a kid?!
      It’s only logical!

      Of course, it should be reversible, because if they ever make it into the upper echelons of society and able to afford a child, then they should be allowed to have a child.

      You know who else wanted to dictate to sterilize people?!

      • gala1

        Read above as sarcasm. I forgot to put up my “sarcasm” flag.

        • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

           Can’t you see that there is middle ground between accepting people having more children than they can support and calling for sterilization?  Telling people to be reproductively responsible isn’t a call for a eugenics program.

          • Michele

            Poor families with the very youngest
            heads of household (ages 20-24) may have more children than their more prosperous contemporaries, but even then the margin is
            very small. Beyond this age group more prosperous families are the ones that tend
            to have more children. There is no evidence, and only bias that suggests
            poor families have more children.

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

             The point is that parents should have only the children that they can afford to raise.  I don’t care if poor families have more or fewer children.

  • gala1

    Increasing funding to the organizations that provide mental health – for free – to people that need it.
    Increasing funding for free lunches and after school programs.
    Increasing funding to organizations that provide support and education to women and young mothers and homeless families.

    There are such organizations, but they are overwhelmed and understaffed and underfunded.

    And if Republicans win this election, they promise to cut funding to all of the social programs! AND cut taxes on people making MILLIONS!

    Infuriating!

    Ariela’s story is so inspiring and my heart goes out to her and her family.

    Thank you for bringing this story to us.
    It makes me grateful for the life that I do have. As a single mom, I understand how hard it is, and just today I was thinking: If someone could just acknowledge how hard we work, how hard our life is, and that they understand. Without excuses or advice or scolding; that it would make it just a little bit easier.

    So, I understand.
    And my situation is not as bad as Ariela’s. But I understand, and I wish her all the best.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=739705324 Adam Brabant

    It also seems to me that some people in this country are pro-life until the baby is born.  At that point they are so against supporting that life any further. 

    • soulten

       those who are pro-life, also believe in the right to torture people, cant have them running out of victims can we?

  • TinaWrites

    I first learned of Jonathan Kozol when I was in graduate school for a particular education degree.  I was convinced that his vision would help things get better, when, tragically, I think that things have gotten even worse!  

    I consider this —  eliminating childhood poverty — to be America’s most fundamental imperative, followed by stopping global warming.  Children and our planet:  if we can’t protect them, what are we doing anyway?  

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Now we’re getting to an answer.  Ask teachers how to fix schools.

  • distractedriver

    It’s hard to discuss the topic of welfare and having a social security net with someone who’s a staunch Republican. I don’t mean to swing the conversation to such a narrow political scope, but I can’t avoid it when trying to make my point. In general Republicans believe those who depend on welfare or other public services are lazy and don’t want to find work. I’m of the belief that those who need help haven’t necessarily chosen to live their lifestyle in such a way. A normal middle class individual in many cases is just 1 catastrophic event away from poverty. In many other cases, children plunged into poverty and without the opportunities or resources are almost destined to stay in these poor conditions because they don’t have the tools, education or outside assistance to get out. Usually when I have a conversation of this nature, I try to bring a comedy based perspective of the situation from the past. “Trading Places” from 1983 with Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd. In a comedic way it highlights the truth of the privileges given to those who’s parent have money, and the kicked-to-the-curb inheritance those with less are given.

  • dgdroll

    Tom & Co. –  (If not already addressed,) Would you ask Mr. Kozol speak to the silence in the current presidential campaign re: poverty and social justice please?

    • TinaWrites

      Tavis Smiley and Cornel West can’t get the President to talk about poverty, so your question is a good one!  

  • OnpointListener

    I live in a rural area.  The school system, facing the need for budget cuts, eliminated funds to special education and technical career development.

    No cuts to the after school sports programs.  No cuts to over the top administrative salaries and retirement benefits.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Standardized tests only show how well a child has been pressed into the sausage grinder.  Such tests don’t reveal critical thinking and show only the lowest level of knowledge.

    • eat_swim_read

      so what? many of us took Iowa tests annually, it was no trauma or big deal. it identified kids who had a lagging skill and they were pulled out for extra help.
      teachers’ unions have labeled standard testing that has been given for decades “high stakes” because they are aware of the poor skills many of their students have. so, work on the core skills.
      not much critical thinking going on with illiterate students, start with reading and math and then build.
      it’s an age-old formula…

      • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

         Are you a teacher?

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    Privatizers are about profit. There’s no profit in public schools so how do privateers plan to profit without either sacrificing services or quality or… increasing cost. This is madness.

  • Aure Luce Morreal

    I am 23 years old and I grew up in extreme poverty, like never knowing from day where I would be, if I would be sleeping in a car or in a condemned house; or when my stomach would be filled. I learned early on not to trust someone else to help me, and as my mother was unable work any more I learned to support my family in any way I could. No one ever helped me in a way that wasn’t passing and insubstantial until I was 11. I spent the latter half of my teen with people who cared deeply for me and tried to help me recover.

     As I look back on it though, having fought through college, I remember that they never taught me anything that translated well to life. I only ever remember learning how to take tests.

    If only I could find a job filling out bubbles! 

    • TinaWrites

      This economy is not helping anyone except the 1-2%; so don’t let that get YOU down when you have stayed Above the pain for so long:  you have proved your mettle and you will eventually thrive!

      Just as an aside, not all colleges focus on taking tests.  Many get you to learn how to learn and how to create and even how to build.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1630953663 Kalyani Krishnan

    Not all charter schools are alike.  My son attends the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School in Devens MA which does NOT cherry pick students, takes everyone that wins the lottery, does not have a fairy godparent endowment and does a fabulous job of teaching all the students. The difference is that this is a school that was started by people who were involved in education reform and who cared about social justice and education. I think we need to look at which schools succeed and why!

    • Thinkin5

       Parents are the first building block.

      • Michele

        Parents are the first building block when they appreciate the value of education.  If one is brought up in a system where education is not valued and survival is, then parents are not going to pass on an appreciation of education or provide a great foundation. 

        Moreover, what kind of society throws away its own future by disregarding certain members because the circumstances of their births were less than ideal?

    • seoulredwriter

      “Cherry picked” can also mean that charter schools attract children who have parents who seek alternatives to their neighborhood public schools.  Not all children have such a luxury.  An involved parent is the foundation for success in school.

    • http://www.facebook.com/eileen.brennan Eileen Brennan

      The median household income in Devens is $126,171.

  • Rex Henry

    What else was in the prep school Pineapple was sent to? A BETTER LIVING SITUATION. Kozol is ignoring the callers emphasizing out-of-school circumstances and talking too much on the schools. 
    This whole conversation starting with living situations and now he’s pushing education.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    You want good teachers?  Pay them what they’re worth, and good people will see teaching as a financially viable career.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/TN36GORC3S76PR6GHVUXSV4VVM Ethan

    Was there ever any mention of the whereabouts of the father(s) of the 4 kids? A lack of an organized family unit is, in my opinion, one of main reasons people cannot get out of poverty.

    • Rex Henry

      No, because Kozol would have ignored that issued and turned the conversation back to the schools.

      • http://www.facebook.com/kami.kane.5 Kami Kane

         I think Mr. Kozol’s point is valid – focus on the things you can control.

  • Thinkin5

    If private schools are a successful model of great education, just give the same money and teachers and ficilities to the public schools. Except that they will have to teach the kids who live in poverty and have learning disabilities too. Do the private schools do that? Do private schools have 35 kids in a class? Don’t think so. It would be interesting to see the private schools “achieve” with these children too.

    • eat_swim_read

      many private schools have a disability focus of some kind, mental illness, physical issue (like UCP schools) and so on. also – dyslexia.
      this is not new. private schools have been succeeding with special needs kids for decades. and many offer scholarships and have, indeed, dealt with poor as well as disabled students.

  • Elizabeth_BO

    Those who could improve the education system and make sufficient changes to it along with other social benefit programs are not going to do so bcs the “kings” have already decided that our future for now does not include an adequate social benefits system for this country.  This is what I read out of Kozol’s statement of  “I want to be a king for a month” instead of becoming the Secretary of Education. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/chris.petherick.18 Chris Petherick

    A strong, well funded, well managed public school system would make this country great again.  Education is at the heart of democracy.  the pols keep chattering about returning this country to a place where everyone has an equal shot at success.  This will never happen without a strong public school!

  • http://www.facebook.com/chris.petherick.18 Chris Petherick

    A strong, well funded, well managed public school system would make this country great again.  Education is at the heart of democracy.  the pols keep chattering about returning this country to a place where everyone has an equal shot at success.  This will never happen without a strong public school!

  • http://www.facebook.com/chris.petherick.18 Chris Petherick

    A strong, well funded, well managed public school system would make this country great again.  Education is at the heart of democracy.  the pols keep chattering about returning this country to a place where everyone has an equal shot at success.  This will never happen without a strong public school!

    • BforReal

      “returning this country to a place where everyone has an equal shot at success.” The problem is that that place never existed. (I’m tired of people harping on about this myth!)

      We can’t return to what never existed. We have to become what we never were: a place where everyone has an equal shot at success.

    • eat_swim_read

      “well-funded” schools? they are well funded. it is what happens to the money has it runs thru the hands of contractors, layers of admin, vendors, ineptness and then, finally – the student.

  • http://twitter.com/LilPecan Pecan

    Sometimes we, as a society, need to help the poor with education and employment opportunities and then GET OUT OF THE WAY. Providing lip service to the “stigma” of poverty only further stigmatizes the poor. While some poor may be damaged and/or demoralized by their difficulties there is danger in harping on their past experience that may perpetuate their victim-hood.
    I was a poor child. It was assumed I was learning disabled simply due to my family’s poverty. I was unable to get the education I needed until I was old enough to speak up for myself and be heard and when I say “education I needed” I mean, the same education my non-socioeconomically challenged peers. For years I was taught down to.
    In my teens, I was able to secure a part time job after school and during summer vacation but was interrupted several times a week by a social worker assigned to counsel my “trauma.” My employment gave me purpose, income and a boost to my self esteem. The only trauma was in my past and being forced to relive it over and over again by a social worker who insisted I could never move beyond poverty and loss to live a productive, successful life. What is the point in helping the poor if society will never let us move beyond it?

  • Call_Me_Missouri

    I guess Tom and his Guest didn’t listen to Ira Glass and This American life this weekend…  

    I agree the female caller who brought up the fact that there is a HUGE (and IMHO unnecessary) difference between the schools of today and the schools from when she was a child.  Teachers are putting up with entirely too many distractions, lack of discipline, etc.  Our school classes were pretty big and we were disciplined students… OR ELSE.  There were no phones, video games, electronics of any kind allowed in school and we’d be much better off getting back to that model.

    I also agree with the caller who brings up the point that there is more than one problem that has to be addressed and that fixing the schools in isolation will not fix the problem.  

    The This American Life episode was quite telling this weekend and if you haven’t listened to it, you should.  They discussed Non-Cognitive skills (soft skills) and Attachment Disorders and how they affect a child’s ability to be disciplined and pay attention and learn in school and how many children, poor children especially, are affected in this way.

    • JGC

      I agree.  Kazol insists the main ingredient is the proper education skills within a small (around 15ish kids) class, but if the deficits are so large from day one: missing parent, no stable home, lack of proper nourishment, no books or verbal challenges, perhaps neighborhood violence, how does a kid claw his or her way out of that hole, to be ready to learn in that small class?

    • Dawson Williams

      Your rationale is absurd.  This country has had to deal with poverty, children who are orphans, and young people exposed to violence for decades.  The current era is no different.  Schools have declined in quality to a significant degree in the last 30 years.  This country has opted not to invest in the new generations.   This has been particularly true in populated states, where the majority of school-aged children are minorities.  If the investment in places like New York and California was at the level it was in the 1960s controlled for inflation you would see significant changes.  Charter schools, magnate schools and the other pseudo-solutions to the public school crisis, merely mask the problem.  They self-select and then make the remaining public schools that much worse off by siphoning off the better students.  My kids are in public school, where half of the student body is middle class.  The quality of education pales in comparison to what I grew up with.  I was raised in town of 6000 in Northern California, where the average educational attainment was a high school diploma.  Today, I live in Fairfax County one of the wealthiest per capita counties in the U.S. and the one highest levels of educational attainment per capita.  The public schools here are mediocre at best.  The facilities are in poor condition, the quality of teaching is often lacking, and the resources have not kept pace.  

      Nonetheless, the principal who drives a new Mercedes and her staff of 3 assistant VPs who will get full retirement and health benefits think that they are doing a great job.  This is a lesson to those in public education.  The teachers and employees are a big part of the problem (nobody in the private sector who is not CEO of a major corporation has that kind of guarantee of full employment plus salary and full benefits) and so is the myopic viewpoints of the Romney/Ryan crowd.  Together the two groups will systematically destroy the one great economic equalizer left in our democratic society.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Richard-Jablonski/1835563435 Richard Jablonski

    Jonathal Kozol and your call-in guests provided some superb insights about the deficiencies in America’s secondary schools, especially in low income environments.

    To move from where we are today to where we need to be in our schooling system in my opinon requires a fundamental change: This is to provide the huge funds that will enable superior schools to thrive. Accordingly, this will require changes in the priorities supported by the public. We must shift some of the funds allocated to sectors such as defense to educating children.

    But I suggest that we, the public, must recognize that funding low income group education can produce an immense renaisance in the American economy which in turn will create greater revenues and tax-based income to pay for the vastly better schools. Persons in poverty or at the income fringes will be transformed into super consumers who will drive the economy to accellerate and grow in size. We all will benefit.

    Unfortunately, the re-engeering of our economy cannot be done overnight and it must be done with great foresight so that the U.S. GDP is not adversely affected in the interim. So a question that should be posed to your listeners and to our scholars is, how can we move from the current greed-based, ego-centric economy to a education-first economy?

  • James Turner

    I’m a retired public school teacher after nearly 28 years in
    the classroom.  Granted, pupil spending has a huge impact on the staff support and academic offerings available to
    students, and a great teacher can have a permanent influence on a student’s educational career.

    Kentucky per pupil spending averaged $8,948 in 2010 — and
    it ranked 38th in the nation per spending average. Neighboring Indiana ranked 31st with an average of $9,611 spent per pupil. Sounds like the tuition outlay for an elite, la-di-da private school to me.  Think we’re getting our comparable bang for our bucks?

    The point is that good or bad teachers or huge or little
    spending does have an impact on a student’s education, but family support or lack thereof is the biggest influence.

    When requesting a parent/teacher conference regarding
    concerns I had for a student, parent responses such as, “I can’t do nothin’ with him/her,” or “You deal with it.  That’s
    what you’re paid for,” or just being completely ignored wasn’t uncommon.  Wouldn’t common sense tell any parent that a
    call form a kid’s teacher merits some concern and attention?

    My now retired sister/former 1st grade teacher once had a little girl who was an absolute terror — no social skills, no
    empathy for others, and no concept of letters or numbers.  Surprisingly the mother did show up for a requested conference — with her three other kids in tow, a belly that foretold that child number five would soon arrive — and mom wasn’t even yet 20-years-old, still a teenager herself. Unfortunately no father of any of the kids was in the picture, let alone a stable working husband for the mom.

    Having grown up as a Kennedy (and even McGovern) liberal,
    I recognize that poverty can impose horrendous conditions on a family, but I’ve finally realized that individual choices can create the impoverished conditions.  Face it — five kids, no educational degree (not even H.S.), no concept or even a desire of a different life all result in a life of perpetual welfare multiplied by five.

    So what’s the answer? Super teachers, megabucks, or charter schools — which only admit selected students (forget behavior problem or special needs students; my 11-year-old autistic niece wouldn’t even be considered for admission)?

    It’s all too simple, but any teacher with experience will
    attest that family life is the overriding determinant for student success.  I wish it weren’t the case and that super
    teachers, megabucks, and government programs were the answer, because when it comes to family stability and support, it’s all too lacking for all to many kids. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.

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