Jonathan Kozol is the National Book Award-winning author of Savage Inequalities, Death at an Early Age, The Shame of the Nation, Amazing Grace, and his newest work, Fire in the Ashes. He has been working with children in inner-city schools for nearly fifty years. Kozol recently published an article in the August edition of School Library Journal and shared his thoughts on “giving our poorest children the same opportunities as our richest.” In Fire in the Ashes, he returns to Mott Haven, the poorest section of the South Bronx, to answer the heavy question of why some students succeed despite poverty while others were unable to prevail against the obstacles they faced.
I wanted to answer the questions many readers ask: What happened to these children? How many have survived? And, among the ones who did survive, what were the ingredients of character—and what were the opportunities provided by their schools—that made it possible for them to win some glorious and unexpected victories?
Not surprisingly, easy access to good books—and, more to the point, a plentitude of books to satisfy the curiosities and stir the latent interests of the very wide variety of children that I met—turned out to be decisive. And this, of course, is where libraries come in.
In my new book, Fire in the Ashes, I catch up with all those kids, many of whom I came to know when they were only six or eight years old. They talked to me about the struggles they went through, which were often hardest in their adolescent years. Most are in their twenties now. As they look back on their formative years, they speak repeatedly of books that first awakened their appetite for reading—by which I mean real books, books that children read for pleasure, as opposed to the mind-dulling textbooks and those dreadful pit-pat phonics books, “aligned,” as the experts compulsively remind us, with state examinations. Most of the kids found those books immaculately boring.
Click to read the full SLJ article “The Other America: Giving Our Poorest Children the Same Opportunities as Our Richest”