Friday, July 22, 2011

A Q&A With Jonathan Kozol

You may find this hard to believe, but I actually tire of going after Ravitch again and again, so I'm actually grateful to Valerie Strauss and Michael Winerip for occasionally providing me with rich fodder to rip.  I used to have a lot of fun with Linda Darling-Hammond and Jonathan Kozol as well, until they completely disappeared the past couple of years, so it was great to see that Kozol is showing up at The Rally to Continue the Insanity and did this interview with Ed Week.  Here's an excerpt (full text below):
Our Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is fond of saying that "Education is the civil rights issue of our time." Is he right about that?
Arne Duncan is recycling exactly the same slogan George W. Bush invented. On its face, it sounds benign. But, in reality, Duncan's policies run directly counter to the purposes of civil rights. He doesn't lift a finger to address the glaring fact that public schools for black and Latino kids from coast to coast are now more wildly and shamefully segregated than in any year since 1968. I walk into high schools, with as many as 3,000 students, from Chicago to Los Angeles, from Dallas to Miami, from Denver to New York, and in an entire day I might see ten white students. It's like the bull in the China shop. Duncan pretends it isn't there. But, by his passivity, he's hammering the final nails into the coffin of Brown vs. Board of Education. Meanwhile, he's eagerly doing "Plessy v. Ferguson," pretending he knows how to make separate and unequal schools into bastions of success by relentless testing and humiliation of the teachers.
Separate and unequal didn't work 100 years ago. It will not work today. And anyone like Duncan who attempts to tell us otherwise is guilty of historical myopia.
Kozol is a lot like Ravitch, in that he's a serial liar/distorter and offers only criticisms (never any solutions/ideas), but unlike Ravitch, he's also a crackpot (Ravitch, in contrast, is really good – at the top of her game – in spreading her toxic message).  Lest you think I'm just engaging in ad hominem attacks, I've documented my critique of Ravitch endlessly (see for some of it) and have done so as well re. Kozol, but haven't done so recently, so for the benefit of the thousands of readers who've joined this email list since I last wrote about Kozol, here are the key links:

Here's an excerpt from the first link:

Since Kozol is so widely read and admired and since so many people have joined this email list recently, I thought it would be worth sharing two emails from last year and the year before in which I explained why I think "he's a dangerous crackpot who will cause this country's most vulnerable children immeasurable harm."
In 2005, I wrote the email below, which began:

I applaud Jonathan Kozol's passionate commitment to America's most disadvantaged schoolchildren and for shining a light on the (to quote the title of one of his books) "savage inequalities" in our schools. That being said, his diagnoses of the problems and his remedies leave much to be desired... [see below for the rest of this email]

But in June of last year, after learning more about what he was up to, I arrived at a far harsher conclusion, which I still stand behind:

I've always been a little muted in my criticism of Jonathan Kozol because, while I felt he was misguided in his view that simply spending a lot more money would somehow fix our schools (all evidence to the contrary), at least he wasn't doing children any direct harm.
I take it back. In light of his email below, in which he outlines the organization he's forming to try to kill NCLB entirely, I now think he's a dangerous crackpot who will cause this country's most vulnerable children immeasurable harm. He writes about "the murderous impact of the NCLB legislation" and "our efforts with the goal of mobilizing educators to resist the testing mania and directly challenge Congress, possibly by a march on Washington, at the time when NCLB comes up for reauthorization in 2007."
Doesn't Kozol realize that, while NCLB may have some warts and need to be tweaked, it's the best thing that's ever happened to disadvantaged children?! For the first time, school systems can no longer sweep these children under the rug and are FINALLY being measured, which is the first requirement of accountability.
Kozol may well understand this, but it's now clear to me that he is a stooge for the unions, masquerading as a researcher and advocate. Yeah, he's an advocate all right -- but for the ADULTS in the system, not the children!

To read Kozol's letter, which triggered my email, see:

Finally, for an insightful and detailed ripping of Kozol's dangerously wrong-headed views, see this article in Education Next, "Check the Facts: Savage Exaggerations", at:, which concludes:

It's difficult to visualize the system Kozol wants for us. Beyond his insistent pleas for an equitable distribution of the money in education, he provides few specifics. In fact, though, the best argument against Kozol's prescription is that the money spent on American public schools doubled over the past 30 years—yet outcomes in education have remained as savagely unequal as ever and will remain so until the incentives of urban schools are changed. To the extent that it persuades people to avoid reforms that change school incentives in favor of ever-increasing school spending, Jonathan Kozol's work is an impediment to the very thing that he claims to desire most: a day when urban minority children receive an acceptable education.

Confronting the Inequality Juggernaut: A Q&A With Jonathan Kozol

Anthony Cody

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