Friday, November 7, 2008

Illiterate America

Jonathan Kozol. Illiterate America. NY: New American Library, 1985.

R. Stuhr

Although this book is over 25 years old, I don't think that the statistics on illiteracy presented by Kozol have changed. No Child Left Behind may be the only thing that is different, and I am not sure that that notorious piece of legislation has made a difference. I think that too often policies are put in place and carried out in a way that those who are successful continue to manage to thrive regardless of what environment they are thrown into. And those who are suffering or left out will continue to be left out. Programs are not designed to help the most in need but to capitalize on those who are already making it. They will contribute to getting the numbers that will prove the program successful. Not so different from the tax breaks offered time after time to those at the very top--helping those who are already doing just fine.

So, in Philadelphia, the statistics quoted by the Mayor and the president and director of the Free Library show that 2/3 of the adult population of Philadelphia are considered to function at a very low level of literacy, 47% of the school children drop out of school, usually between 8th and 9th grade. Fewer than 1/2 the households in Philadelphia have internet or computers, and nearly all public school children qualify for free lunch (this is an area with a very high population of private school attendees). Philadelphia just announced a $1 billion budget short fall over the next five years and this will mean cuts in library hours and services, cuts to public recreational facilities, and cuts to other social services across the city. These are all places that provide safe havens, programming to encourage reading and literacy, daily homework help and more. This is happening in a city where the Mayor is clearly dedicated to improving the literacy and school attendance rate.

Based on these statistics, I would say that Kozol's statistics have not changed for the better. Kozol is passionate about his topic. In this book, he presents the problem in the starkest possible terms, he finds fault with on-again off-again government funding and over reliance on the private sector, and he is leading a call to arms to address the situation. Kozol makes the argument that both economically and in terms of safety and well being, we all suffer from the high rate of illiteracy in this country and so it is well worth our personal investment and worth political and governmental investment. He describes programs that have failed because of a lack of understanding and respesct for those who would be the recipients of literacy programs, and he describes the grass roots efforts that have been successful. He makes recommendations for successful programs, and Kozol calls on college students and adults from all communities to hit the pavement to recruit for and to offer literacy programs.

Just coming off of the election where we either had the good fortune to be part of the grass roots effort or at least were witness to what can be achieved by people hitting getting out and working together for a common cause ... seeing something that seemed to be impossible come to fruition... I think that this book is worth reading in 2008. It will make you angry and it will make you sad but it may inspire readers to see where and how they can be of service in their community.

Burling Library LC 151 .K68 1985b

Kozol has written many books all on the theme of education and children:

Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of A Nation.
HV875.57.N48 K69 1995.

Children of Revolution: A Yankee Teacher in the Cuban Schools. 1978
LA486 .K69.

Death at an Early Age: The Destruction of the Hearts and Minds of Negro Children in the Boston Public Schools.
LC2803.B7 K6 1967.

The Night is Dark and I am Far from Home.
LA217 .K69 1975.

On Being a Teacher. 1981
LA217 .K688.

Ordinary Resurrections: Children in the Years of Hope
HQ792.U5 K69x 2000.

Rachel and Her Children: Homeless Families in America
HV4505 .K69 1988.

Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools
LC4091 .K69 1991.

The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling
LC212.62 .K69 2005.

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