#bookreview – Death at an Early Age – by Jonathan Kozol

It’s hard to convey how powerful this book is. Winner of the National Book Award. Awarded five stars on Goodreads.

deathearlyageThe author, Jonathan Kozol, an educator and activist with 50 years experience, taught for a short time as a white teacher in a predominantly black Boston city school in the 1960s. He was ultimately fired for introducing his fourth grade students to a Langston Hughes poem called “Ballad of the Landlord” which he read in an attempt to spark his class interest in something,  anything ”

Kozol’s first person narrative about his experience reads like a Dickensian novel. The illegal but frequent beatings children received from teachers in the hidden bowels of the decaying school building. The complete lack of understanding or interest in the difficult home lives of many of these children. The psychological smashing of any spark of creativity or independence displayed by a child. And the repeated blaming of students for the shortcoming of their teachers. And these are just of the insidious ways blatant prejudice was administered on a daily basis in the city’s public schools.

Living in the Boston area, I picked the book up after hearing an interview with the author on the 50th anniversary of the book’s publication. I thought it would be an interesting look at the history of the Boston Schools. But it was MUCH more than I bargained for.

jonathankozol
Jonathan Kozol

It is a scathing indictment of an institution with deeply entrenched bigotry and cruelty and completely explains why court-ordered bussing was the only way to achieve at least a degree of educational parity.

 

Beyond that it’s a shameful portrait of our country during the early years of the civil rights movement. I think it should be mandatory reading in all US history classes in this country.

Book Forward by Robert Coles— author, child psychiatrist and professor emeritus at Harvard University.

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