We follow the lives of a few people from the Bronx in New York City Some overcome the poverty, the poor education, and the crime and drug culture to rise up and above We also see some, who sadly, do not make it They are the victims of both themselves and their harsh living environment In this predatory environment it is easy for the government to avoid improving the schools and housing, cleaning the streets of drug dealers The people in the Bronx are marginalized by their race, their poverty and their illiteracy.
The author provides us with a view of the streets and schools of the Bronx that would be unacceptable to the wealthier denizens of Manhattan who have the means and power to improve their living standards For instance, the affluent would never accept an unqualified teacher for their children.
But it is those who have helped to pull themselves out of the Bronx maelstrom that overwhelms me Some of them were helped by others, such as Pastor Martha Overall who has dedicated her life to assisting and guiding a community to overcome their obstacles Here we witness people of faith who are truly altruistic and make things happen for the better goodness of all The people they have aided get an education, become good human beings and often return better able to aid those who are living a life of crime, drug addiction, prostitutionIn the end these people become better parents and hold a job in the workplace.
This is a book about individuals struggling There are no easy solutions We witness all this through the telling observations of the writer over many years.
Overall, a very interesting look on how the poor in America are unable to get a solid education Kozol introduces us to a number of children who grew up in a part of the Bronx, NY, which is considered the poorest community in the US, and does a nice job telling their stories The important things that I learned from this book in no particular order are 1 success is relative and needs to celebrated as such 2 the kids who make it are the exception rather than the norm, and each one had someone who took an interest in them and helped them to get a better education and 3 in many parts of the US, education remains a segregated institution where the public schools are underfunded and the children who go to these schools are being ignored.
So what do we do The thought is to make incremental changes rather than taking on the entire issue, which is overwhelming For example, high teacher turnover makes it difficult for children to learn Another issue is the wasted funding for speciality schools that are intended to prepare children for different types of careers, say in the medical field, that don t work The money used to fund these schools could be used to create programs to try to get of these kids on the path to college.
All in all, this book gave me much to think about, and I give Kozol much credit in the amount of time he has spent with the kids that have been the subjects of his research What a great person he is True equality means equal opportunities and safety for all, and a book like this is a bit unique in that it doesn t just look at inequalities but also examines the long term effects of attempts at intervening and helping people who basically got the short end of the stick Kozol succeeds quite well in analyzing what has worked and what hasn t in the Bronx where a large part of his social justice career has been.
The chapters each focus on a different child, although a couple of children get their own chapters Kozol met the children either in one of the infamous 1980s NYC homeless shelters or at an after school tutoring program offered at a church St Ann s in the Bronx There are a few things that are immediately apparent from observing the long term trajectory of these kids, which is why a book like this is so valuable for social justice work.
First, all of the kids who were homeless or who spent a long time in homeless shelters had many problems and difficulties later in life It is clear that homelessness has a long lasting negative impact on children, no matter how many good opportunities come to them later in life Similarly, girls seem to stand a better chance than boys of climbing out of the poverty they grew up in Kozol never makes any clear speculative statements as to why he thinks this is, but the multiple lives we observe clearly demonstrate that boys are targeted than girls both by the crime lords and by the police The other big theme of the book is of course how educational inequality entrenches classism and racism Kozol has spent most of his career working in improving education so it s not surprising this is a theme of the book One thing that stood out to me was how quickly kids are lost if they never get a firmly established literacy and sense of confidence in their ability to learn Once kids start getting held back a grade or fall below grade level, it is incredibly easy to become discouraged and turn to what appears to be an easier life of crime.
Kozol ends the book by talking about what he sees as progress and how the now grown up kids he worked with see possible solutions He s adamant that even small gains are gains He views any child whose life ultimately is one of peace and self worth as an accomplishment, whether they even completed high school or not To a certain extent I agree with him, but to a certain extent I agree much with one of the grown up kids who just so happens to be about my age who argues that small changes aren t good enough That the inequality is so deeply entrenched that we must truly rock the system and not just save one child at a time She does ultimately agree that the small changes are still worthy of praise and is working on a degree in sociology so she may go back to the Bronx and focus in on small changes That then is the question at the heart of this book and one for which there are no easy answers How do we fix this problem It s difficult to say who this book will appeal to It s not a clear treatise on the educational system or social justice It is one man s observations of the lives and life stories of inner city youth he worked with It is not academic per se but it s also not exactly a memoir either I think perhaps that it will appeal most to anyone whose day to day job involves having small influences on the education of individuals It clearly shows how much impact one person can have on another person s life, particularly when it comes to education and literacy.
Overall then I recommend this to those who work in education whether formally or informally It is encouraging to see the perspective of an older person who has clearly seen how his life work has impacted the kids he worked with.
Check out my full review.
Note I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
I have been a fan of Jonathan Kozol and his work since I read Savage Inequalities in college, and I was thrilled to be able to review an ARC of his newest book, exploring the intersection of race, poverty, and childhood in the South Bronx, illustrated by children and families near and dear to Kozol s heart The book, which is a compilation of about a dozen stories, each one focusing on a different child or family, but framed under the general narrative of the effect of poverty and racism on education, is typical of Kozol s style His writing is clear and at times stark, free of flowery prose, incisive, and utterly effective The journey starts out at the Martinique Hotel, a hotel in Midtown that used to house many homeless families before it was shut down in the eighties or nineties as a blight on the affluent City Proper The early passages reminded me of a story I read in sixth grade that piqued my interest in child poverty in America Monkey Island by Paula Fox, which made a tremendous impression on me as a child in a small, private school in the Chicago suburbs where I received quite a good education At the time, I simply couldn t believe that children like Clay Garrity fictional character that he was existed in America.
But there are many Clay Garritys in America, and Kozol introduces us to some that he knows quite well Some of them have prevailed over the incredible odds stacked against them, and some some have not Kozol doesn t mince words when he writes about the Martinique Plagued by drug addicts, criminal activity, vermin, rape, violent and cruel management, and according to one occupant, tension so thick you could cut it with a knife, the Martinique is hell on earth He writes of several similar tenements in the city, each with the same problems, used to house the most vulnerable among us, the ones in need of the most care, including many, many children I cannot adequately describe the horrors there on my own, so I ll simply provide Kozol s words I would later spend considerable time in a number of his buildings because so many of the children I was meeting in the Bronx were Mr Schuster s tenants There was one building in that complex that I got to know particularly well because I went there several times to interview the family of a child named Bernardo after he d been killed by falling from an upper floor through an empty elevator shaft The elevator door wasn t working properly and would open unpredictably even when there was no elevator there The tenants had complained about the danger many times but the company refused to make repairs Bernardo s body landed on the steel roof of the elevator unit, which had stopped four floors beneat his own He was not found until his blood began to drip on passengers Mr Schuster managed to clean up his image at a later time by making contributions to important Democratic politicians, some of them strong advocates for the very people he had treated with contempt and whose lives he had imperiled Hillary Clinton, Richard Gephardt, and John Kerry, among others or by giving parties to raise funds on their behalf, which won him a degree of prominence in Boston s social pages.
Many of the families that Kozol writes about lived at the Martinique for several years before being given an apartment which they had to accept no matter what the living conditions there were like and moving out The years at the Martinique affected these children tremendously, and early on Kozol notes a pattern when he explains that in two different families that had stayed at the Martinique, the older children had developed such harmful destructive tendencies that they had died very young, while the younger, resilient and at the time, oblivious siblings managed to pull through and survive I won t ruin the narratives by attempting to give a succinct account of them in this review I would do the stories of those families no justice that way You simply must read the book itself, and be introduced to the families that way rather than through a casual review And Kozol truly does introduce us to some spectacular characters, whose determination, ferocity, and even cheerfulness cause them to leap right off the page Keep in mind that these characters are Black or Hispanic, with a couple exceptions The reverend at Saint Anne s, for example, is a white woman named Martha who does her community in the South Bronx an incredible service, and seems to be Kozol s partner, a similar driving force, in this narrative But the other characters are overwhelmingly minorities, and the race relations that sulk between the lines of Kozol s text should surprise no one One woman we meet is Ariella, a mother of two young boys who is determined to give them the best she can, and she knows the key to a better life is a good education Kozol writes of her activism efforts,Projects of this nature, and efforts to reach out to influential and supportive sectors in the mainstream of society, have come to be her dedication She speaks from time to time at universities and colleges I spoke at New York University, she told me recently The students wanted to find out how anybody could survive on 16,000 in New York, even twenty years ago which she said was not the subject I had planned to speak about She holds her own effectively with people in the world of academia I don t need a Ph.
D to talk about the things I know I m not intimidated by professors when they question me I can handle their linguistics and gymnastics When they ask her how to stop the violence but, she says, don t want to hear about the way they put our kids in neighborhoods that are most violent already you know, put them in the fire, then tell them to stop burning I don t let them throw that at me I know what an oxymoron is I m not afraid to answer.
That passage made me love Ariella even This was a woman who became homeless with her two sons because she refused to stay with an alcoholic husband who beat her Due to cancer, I believe, she couldn t work and had to apply for welfare when she left her husband She fought tooth and nail to secure the best for her sons through education, and to help her community, and I loved and envied her strength and her clarity of purpose.
But that passage about her standing up to professors who found it so easy to condescend to her about her experiences I loved that most of all That made me want to stand up and cheer The image of a white professor trying to speak FOR people of color, or for those less advantaged, at the expense of their experiences, to interject with his own and erase their struggles and their experiences, is one I m quite familiar with, and one that still makes me angry I was so proud of Ariella for being unwilling to put up with that White Nonsense TM White Nonsense refers to white people using ideas and notions of white supremacy to demonize or erase People of Color, or to erase or diminish their experiences and struggles It s evil and pervasive and damaging to us all Alice, another strong woman we meet in this book, doesn t let Kozol off the hook with his White Nonsense, either She was a politically sophisticated woman When she came upon a story in one of the papers that offended her intelligence, she would cut it out and write her often pungent comments in the margins Understatements and omissions in the daily press in stories on the homeless and places like the Martinique stirred up her indignation The organized abuse of women in the building, she believed, would have made front page headlines in the press if those who were the victims were not overwhelmingly B lack and Latino When I was initially reluctant to agree with her, she grew impatient and she said, Come on You know they wouldn t tolerate disgusting things like this for women like your mother or your sister It seems pertinent to mention here, for those who are unfamiliar with the man, that Kozol is Jewish, and a white man I do not use the word Caucasian, which is built on notions of Aryan superiority I say white people I couldn t agree with Alice s remarks Not only am I glad she grew impatient and said those things to Kozol, but I m also glad that he chose to recount those words in his book That woman is absolutely right Systemic, organized rape for protection of white women would NOT be tolerated, but is ignored and excused by men who think like Kozol seems to have thought, that the race distinction just isn t there when it happens to women of color Because Black Brown life is cheap, in a way that White life isn t I know too well the meaning of those words men, women and children from the country of my parents births are dying daily in drone strikes 90% of the victims of drone strikes in Pakistan are innocent civilians, per the Brookings Institute White life is precious, Black Brown life is cheap This is a reality we face every day, but one that too many white people seemingly, Kozol at one point included ignore or try to ignore When Alice would chide Kozol for his impatience with his mother s impatience with his near senile father, she would remind him that his mother was elderly and they didn t have much time together, and he d hate himself every time he remembered something unkind he said to her Kozol writes,Friends can give advice like this, intending well but doing harm Sometimes they don t realize that the kinds of words they use, and the tone that they assume, can be crippling to you sometimes perhaps they do Alice was different in this sense She understood a lot about fragility in people that she cared for Even when she grew impatient with mistakes she thought her friends were making, she never showed the slightest wish to demonstrate her competence at the cost of someone else s self respect This was one of the qualities in Alice for which, in time, I came to be the most grateful.
Alice had quite a sense of humor, too When commenting on a club employee s strike because they suddenly weren t being paid extra, like they used to, for cleaning the blood vomit excrement of party goers at the Harvard Club on 44th in Manhattan, she said, If people who went to Harvard can t control themselves and drink too much, she said, I think they ought to be grown up enough to clean up their own vomit She often spoke as if she was convinced that a persistent self indulgent immaturity was one of the entitlements of privilege She noted, for example, when erotic misbehavior by the very rich was granted absolution by the press that would not be given to the men and women in her neighborhood Another millionaire who didn t bother to get married had another baby, she reported to me once in speaking of a well known real estate tycoon I notice that they never say rich children are born out of wedlock They never say these babies are one parent children If you re rich, you don t get judged the way poor people do In ways than one I m reminded of a political cartoon I see make the rounds every now and then the gist being that if you re poor and found with drugs, you go to jail if you re rich and found with drugs, you go to rehab Another story from Alice struck me as especially poignant Once, on a steamy Sunday afternoon, she showed me a story in the New York Times that said the heat had been especially uncomfortable for the carriage horses, which are popular with tourists in the midtown area It wasn t much of a week to be a horse.
, the paper said People, at least, have air conditioning and friends with pools Her reaction to the glibness of this sentence was less bitter than resigned I guess that puts me with the horses, she said quietly I found this book problematic because in several places like where he disagreed with Alice about rape being easily tolerated when WOC were victimized Kozol showed his own naivete and the unique ignorance that comes with being a white person in regards to race relations and I m sure we can agree that when it comes to racial relations, Kozol is no slouch that s why it s important to highlight that even if a white person really educates himself herself in these matters, he or she will make mistakes He speaks to a young Latina about Barack Obama being president, and probes about us edging closer to a post racial world because of him Most of my fellow POC, that I know, would laugh themselves hoarse upon hearing this post racial White Nonsense Now we have a president but she cut me off who, she said, knowing right away where I must be heading, happens to be B lack Doesn t that mean something might be going on Something in that attitude of white superiority that must be attacked she had just described Not really, she replied You don t think it means we re getting closer to a point where we can start to find solutions to at least a couple of the problems you described Huma here HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA Nope, she said Because that s not the reason we elected him And if he did the things he should, a lot of people who elected him, from what I understand, wouldn t be behind him any A lot of people aren t behind him even now, and he hasn t done a thing that I can see that will make a difference to poor children and the schools we have to go to and the places where they almost always put us, you know, in the neighborhoods, not just in New York Once she got her teeth into a big and meaty chunk of obvious injustice she d experienced first hand, Pineapple clearly wasn t going to hold back President Obama didn t have to go to inner city schools You know Where everyone is poor And everyone s Hispanic or everybody s B lack Why does he think it s good enough for other kids, like children in the Bronx This girl gets it I m glad she explained it to Kozol Post raciality is a concept White TM people love I use White TM to mean those people, who happen to be white, who diminish the effects of racism and or think it is something that can be solved as if it were a simple problem, and not a pervasive social, political, cultural force that has persisted, violently, over centuries White TM people love post racial shit They re the ones that say things like, I see no color, we re all the human race That statement, of course, does nothing but diminish erase the harmful effects of racism that POC suffer daily It is not a helpful statement No POC wants to hear that White Nonsense TM Again, this does not refer to ALL white people This refers to the douchebags who actually think this way I loved that Kozol chose to write about these little anecdotes in which POC schooled him, however gently, on the vast differences between the reality of a white man and a POC Person of Color, if you haven t picked up on the lingo yet Kozol s stories about these children and families he cares for deeply end with the story of his godson, a story I particularly recommend to readers He saves it for the end, he says, because it s the hardest to write Toward the end of the book, Kozol draws us out of the small world he created for us in the South Bronx, and forces us to confront the larger picture, especially in terms of our rhetoric THe word accountability is very much in fashion now Children in the inner cities, we are told, must be held accountable for their success or failure But none of these children can be held accountable for choosing where they had been born or where they led their childhood Nor can they be blamed for the historic failings of their schools Nor, of course, are any of these children responsible in any way at all for the massive unemployment, and the flight of businesses and industries, that have put so many young men on corners of the streets with no useful purposes within their daily lives Visitors, Martha told me at the time of the recession in 2001, are asking if the economic crisis has taken a high toll on people in our parish I tell them that we ve always been in a depression in Mott Haven, so it s hard to see a difference This, of course, would be an excellent launch into a discussion of the GOP platform of seeking to ban abortion, even in the case of rape per the 2012 platform , and then seeking to privatize gut Medicare and Social Security and all sorts of other programs for the poor It would be quite pertinent to point out that the GOP doesn t give a shit about children unless they re unborn, in which case the GOP will fight to the death for those children to be born while Mitt Romney quietly makes a profit off aborted fetuses through Bain Capital Look up the Stericycle deal But I m not going to go into that Any than I already did The epilogue strikes the perfect note of weariness and optimism and, above all else, persistence and resilience.
Kozol is talking to Pineapple a pseudonym for one of the girls in his book about his work I explained that I was simply having trouble finishing my book I said I wasn t sure how much had changed back in the neighborhood where she and I had met, but I told her I kept going back and forth on this, because I didn t want to end up on a dreary note Jonathan, she said, I want you to think positive Lara and I are going to go back and help to change things once we both have our degrees You know Make little changes that we can If lots of people do that, then the changes won t be little any I said, I m going to steal those words Do it she said And she asked if I remembered something that I told her once when we were walking by the water near her parents home You know Picking battles that we have a chance to win And not getting frozen up and flustered in your mind by things that are too big for you and me to change, not at least for now Which isn t any use to anyone at all I said, I think I ll steal those words as well Do it she said a second time You re the one who said that to me anyway I ll give it back to you for free A riveting, compelling story, clearly written and effectively told Don t ever expect anything less from Jonathan Kozol Note Kozol mentions a discretionary fund, comprised of donations from readers, that he uses to help the children in this book and many others with things they need Sometimes this is for health insurance when a child develops a serious illness and needs to wait a semester before going back on a college s health plan Sometimes it s for food Sometimes it s for clothes that actually fit If you d like to learn about the fund or help sustain it, contact the Education Action Fund, 16 Lowell Street, Cambridge MA 02138, or email EdActInc gmail.
Jonathan Kozol breaks my heart every time I open one of his books Who knew the suffering children are experiencing in homes in the poorest areas of our country Who knew how schools, the last hope of many, are giving up on these children Who knew Kozol revisits children he has run across in his work in the schools in the past forty years For many of these children, life has only gotten difficult and many of these stories end tragically, with prison time and even in death But there are happy stories, too As I was reading along, with one devastating story after the other, I was at the point, mid book, where it was too painful to go on It was almost as if Kozol realized that, too, and the stories suddenly began to shift and Kozol began to tell the stories of lives redeemed and saved along with the bleak A book that is a reminder to all of us of the power we hold in our hands to help or hinder those too weak or too tired to make it on their own.
I ve read a selection from Kozol s book The Shame of the Nation in an ENGL 101 anthology from which I teach It s a powerful excerpt, so I figured that since I ve been tasked with teaching a new class fall 2016, ENGL 100, I would do a couple of non fiction journalism essay type books to get my students reading and engaged with big topics Fire in the Ashes was the best book I found to really jump into Kozol s work It covers from 1985 to 2012 Kozol follows and does his best to keep in contact with families that often started in what sounds like the world s worst building, located across the street from Macy s and a block over from 5th Ave in New York City To my knowledge, homeless families were stuck in these buildings that were owned by the most awful of slumlords, who would encourage women to have sex with the guards or him for protection Children missed school, were exposed to drugs, were robbed or shot at, and played in garbage.
Most families were then placed in homes in the Bronx, where things were no better The first section of Kozol s book describes families with a child who did not make it stories that ended in death Just when you think the whole book is going to cripple your nerves from guilt and shame and sorrow, section two tells the stories of children who did become successful Fire in the Ashes humanizes the homeless and the poverty and laughable excuse for schools that people endured after they were placed in permanent homes One story that touched me in particular was when a woman described how she would know when she was happy again I pray, she said, for something that I haven t done in thirteen years Kozol asked her what it was To pick up my knitting needles, she replied.
A soft smile lighted up her eyes I used to make a sweater in three weeks if I had nothin to upset me I d start when it was summertime and I d have six sweaters made for Christmas If you ever see me get my needles out again, you ll know I m feelin happy Another story that stood out was of a man named Pietro who recognized the squalor of the building in which the homeless were stashed It cost so little to have that he kept a duck in the room in which he and his children lived I know, he said, it seems a little crazy for us to keep a duck in the apartment But the children love him, and the neighborhood is so depressing and they have so little I just want them to remember that they re children Pietro works hard to keep in contact with Kozol The author loses track of many families and individuals because it is common for the homeless or those living in extreme poverty, like the families he grew to know, to move frequently or have their phones turned off Therefore, it s on the part of the individuals to keep in contact with Kozol Pietro was one of those people Kozol describes how Pietro s letters began, typically, on a long and crowded page, would continue on another page if he had another piece of paper, and then on smaller scraps of paper or the backs of envelopes or whatever other bits of paper he might have It really hit me though I d read about the bullets and gangs and drugs and rape and children being robbed for their food at knife point, it was when Pietro never had than 1 2 pieces of paper that I realized just how poor poor can get most likely because I relate to paper and can t fathom the rampant violence Fire in the Ashes was the perfect read to follow Barbara Ehrenreich s Nickel and Dimed.
While Ehrenreich mentions housing issues and her co workers struggling to keep their families together, I didn t get the full feel of it Kozol fills in this other part of the working poors lives, and together, the experience was hard hitting I m pretty excited to teach both books this coming fall
Jonathan Kozol follows the lives of children he met 10 20 years ago living in homeless shelters or poor neighborhoods in New York These stories alternate between inspirational and heartbreaking, but it s mostly just heartbreaking It shouldn t be surprising, but children who spend their formative years hungry and homeless in poor, violent neighborhoods with terrible schools often do not turn out to be healthy, well adjusted adults It could easily seem exploitative to write about these children and their parents, but Jonathan Kozol has an incredible amount of compassion and respect for the people he writes about, and I get the impression that not only does he really care about them, but they in turn really care about him The children who do go on to succeed in this book are able to do so only because of luck Luck that they were born intelligent, luck that their parents were loving, healthy, and alive, luck that some outsider cared enough about them to try to help them, luck that they managed to even make it to adulthood without being killed This is great, and these kids should be celebrated for their hard work, because they certainly wouldn t have made it without a great deal of hard work But hard work is not enough to help anyone without luck What about the others The book is best summed up by this quote from the epilogue Charity and chance and narrow selectivity are not the way to educate children of a genuine democracy.
In this book you see the tremendous amount of caring, cost and nurturing it takes to help a child who has lived in and around trauma acquire the skills to leave poverty behind The children profiled in this book have seen family members and neighbors die through violence, drugs and suicide They have been hungry and bullied by others suffering the same social conditions They have loyalty to family, guilt for having opportunities Some waver between confidence and doubt I would imagine their lives are lonely than they let on.
Each of these is a story of hope, but each of these is an exception How many scholarships to boarding schools are there How many homes are there like Marta s that have the patience to endure betrayals of a child in need like Benjamin There was a time when a Kozol book was a best seller upon publication There was once interest in the education of poor children there was concern about the plight of the poor in general Today, not so much Those who once had the shelter of Welfare Hotels are now homeless and very little political or press time is devoted to their plight.
Jonathan Kozol and Robert Coles have spent their lives helping children in need Their direct help to children has been supplemented by their books which have inspired others to take on this challenge Kozol and Coles won t be with us forever I hope some young people, perhaps some such as those covered in this book, will rise to carry the torch of this mission and bring attention the needs of poor children.