Judgments and Justice
Jonathon Kozol’s Savage Inequalities is a text that explores the operations of various schools throughout the United States. It serves as a medium to expose the unjust factors of the educational system. Henry Giroux’s article, “Racial injustice and disposable youth in the age of zero tolerance,” strives to exhibit the similarities between schools and prisons, as well as the destitution of the education level. Both Giroux and Kozol find that racial minorities are typically not offered decent educations due to stereotypes about them and their socioeconomic class.
Race appears to play a significant role in the schooling received by students. Though many tend to avoid this conclusion, it is ever-present within the United States. Writer Jack Geiger, quoted by Giroux, states: “racism in this country . . . [leads to] the failure of inner-city schools, which are, in American social and political discourse, racially coded” (563). Students in lower-end schools are increasingly portrayed as “criminal suspects who need to be searched, tested, and observed under the watchful eye of the administrators who appear to be less concerned with educating them than with policing their every move” (554). These coloured children are seen as savage, troublesome animals that could never learn to read or write, but must learn to be controlled. Giroux also finds that racial minorities are “more likely than whites to be suspended or expelled” (562). Teachers feel that if the kids cannot restrain themselves from ‘acting out,’ it would be easiest to just remove them from the school’s jurisdiction. The problem with this method is that by taking the students away from school they are even further deprived of the opportunity to learn. Giroux’s examination of schools reveals that “black students in public schools across the country are . . . far less likely to be in gifted or advanced placement classes” (562) than white children. Not only are they unable to meet the criteria to be a part of these programs, they are not expected to. Kozol’s experiences at East St. Louis High lead to this realization. He found that “the [students] who move on to Advanced Home Ec. are given job instruction” (Kozol 27) – for Burger King. These desperate students are not pushed to aspire for lives beyond the poverty filled ones they know all too well. Kozol finds similar prison-like themes as Giroux revealed in several schools. For example, at one school Kozol walks in and sees that “beyond the inner doors a guard is seated . . . There are no windows” (85). These so-called protective measures reinforce the idea that the stereotypes surrounding minority groups are detracting from the teaching environment. They affect the ability of the students to learn, as it would be difficult to focus on math when there are security guards and video camera’s constantly watching. Kozol discovers that a report from the Community Service Society of New York City states: “it is inescapable that these inequities are being perpetrated on [school] districts which are virtually all black or Hispanic. . . .” (99). The quality of education received by these children is also based on their social class.
Socioeconomic class is also a primary factor of the inequality found within the United States school system. Giroux remarks that “instead of providing a decent education to poor young people, we serve them more standardized tests and house too many of them in underfunded and underserved schools” (555). The government is only concerned with ensuring that the minimum grades on standardized tests are reached so that it appears that the students are learning at an acceptable level. Poverty can often be linked to race; “36 percent of black and 34 percent of Hispanic children [live] in poverty”, and so they are not demographically able to attend elite academies. Giroux’s research finds that “20 percent of children are poor during the first three years of life and millions lack . . . decent early childhood education”. According to Kozol, kids who are granted access to the likes of preschool are more likely to be permitted “selective entrance into selective high schools” (60). At one location he discovers that “the school is 29 percent black, 70 percent Hispanic. Few of these kids get Head Start. There is no space in the district. Of 200 kindergarten children, 50 maybe get some kind of preschool” (89). Without admission into a learning environment during the most important developmental years many children of poverty fall behind early. Kozol also uncovers that “affluent districts [are] funded ‘at a rate 14 times greater than low-income districts’” (98). These children already have minimal resources at home to boost their knowledge, and yet the government refuses to provide decent funding so that they can learn within their schools. For example, one school that Kozol investigates only has “26 computers for its 1,300 children” (87). Materials such as computers, encyclopedias, and textbooks all have significant roles in teaching children well.
Without the ability to learn fundamental aspects, such as writing, children’s limits are amplified. This lack of quality is often found in schools comprised of students of an ethnic minority, particularly those who are more destitute. These kids are already fighting against daily vicious impoverishment. If they cannot receive a proper education their chances of escaping the cycle of poverty are slim. With evidence of this inequality in schools dating back many years, one must now question how much of a priority this issue is to society, and whether it will ever be resolved.
Giroux, Henry. “Racial Injustice and Disposable Youth in the Age of Zero Tolerance.” Qualitative Studies in Education 16.4 (2003): 553-565.
Kozol, Jonathan. Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools. New York: HarperPerennial, 1992.