Savage Inequalities

Jonathan Kozol

I’ve been meaning to read this for several years and finally managed to get my reminder of it and a gap in reading prospects at the same time. Kozol spent a few years in the late 1980s visiting urban schools across the US, observing students, their schools and districts, and the disparities between them — centered around race and class lines. While schools have officially been desegregated since Brown v. Board of Education, the reality is that new, sneakier forms of segregation have arose in their place. Between rich districts isolated from the poorer areas around them through private incorporation and largely race-based tracking within one school and magnet schools that essentially act as publicly-funded private schools for those accepted into them, it’s hard to believe that this continues to happen, despite attempts through legislature and court rulings to change it. Late in the book O. Z. White, who I think is or was a sociology professor at Trinity University in San Antonio, TX, says,

We’re not talking about some abstraction here. These things are serious. If all these poor kids in Cassiano get to go to real good schools — I mean, so they’re educated well and so they’re smart enough to go to colleges and universities — you have got to ask who there will be to trim the lawns and scrub the kitchen floors in Alamo Heights … Folks can hope, and folks can try, and folks can dream. But those two worlds are never going to meet. Not in my life. Not in yours. Not while any of these little kids in Cassiano are alive. Maybe it will happen someday. I’m not going to be counting.

Against odds, you may hope he’s wrong, and then realize how much worse things must be now, in the era of testing as a ruler of education. In the end, you just wonder if there’s any way to change it or if racism and classism are just built into the structure of “modern society” itself.