Savage Inequalities exposes the inequality found within the United States education system. The author, Jonathan Kozol, visited and researched various schools throughout the 1980s in order to compile compelling evidence of this unfairness. Most of these devastated schools are overflowing with children from low income families whose parents lack a quality education. Kozol finds that many of the students and educators in deprived schools have admitted defeat, for they see no reason to hope for a successful future.
A flawed education closes innumerable doors for children before the idea of a career is even conceivable to them. In the town of East St. Louis there are various factories and plants, which would lead one to believe that employment is bountiful there. Unfortunately, this is untrue, for “most of these are specialized jobs. East St. Louis men don’t have the education” (Kozol, 18) according to a local reporter. Most employers will hire the person with the more prestigious academic background, leaving people in lower income areas behind. Mr. Solomon, a teacher at East St. Louis High School, shares that: “very little education in the school would be considered academic in the suburbs” (Kozol, 29). His opinion is that: “a diploma from a ghetto high school doesn’t count for much in the United States today” (Kozol, 26). This fact is proven by the unemployment rates in cities of poverty. Children in these schools are labeled based on the school itself, not their intellectual level. This automatically puts them a step behind students in wealthier areas with more modern schools. Before attaining what is considered a decent job in today’s society, one must usually attend college. According to Bob Shannon, the football coach at East St. Louis High School, “maybe 55% will graduate from [East St. Louis]. Of that number, maybe one in four will go to college. How many will stay? That is a bigger question” (Kozol, 26). For adolescents in these low income areas, graduating high school is a phenomenal accomplishment, but with what knowledge are they leaving with? Most of these kids did not have access to the likes of preschool, nor were their elementary schools up to par. Kozol mentions that those who do have these advantages are more likely to achieve “selective entrance to selective high schools” (Kozol, 60), and therefore they will graduate with a better academic foundation. This is more appealing to a college and, later on, an employer. Quality schooling is a large part of life, and it begins with apt teachers.
Numerous educators who work at destitute schools do not hold their students to high expectations - provided they expect anything of the kids to begin with. The purpose of attending school is to gain knowledge from the teachers. In order for this process to operate smoothly, the teacher is required to be present. In some underprivileged schools this is not the case. When Kozol visited East St. Louis High School, he noticed that there was a room full of students. He asked a passing teacher what was happening in the classroom, and was told that it was a supervised study hall. Upon entering the room, no supervisor was present. Kozol was given the explanation that “the teacher must be out today” (Kozol, 28). If teachers cannot even put in the effort to come to a room and watch the students work, how serious are they about actually teaching these kids? When the kids are left to fend for themselves they feel that they are not worth the teacher’s time. By no means does this encourage the pupils to work hard in school. Another problem is that the teachers automatically picture these children working in low end jobs. For example, a teacher at East St. Louis High School explained that “the [students] who move on to Advance Home Ec. are given job instruction… [for] fast food places – Burger King, McDonald’s” (Kozol, 27). The teachers are not pushing their students to aspire for a world outside of poverty, and therefore the kids do not feel such a thing is possible. The fact that there are so many inexperienced teachers being used at these pitiable schools does not ameliorate the situation. According to Kozol, “the school system… has been using 70 ‘permanent substitute teachers’ who are paid only $10,000 yearly, as a way of saving money” (Kozol, 24). These teachers not only lack the familiarity of handling special situations, they lack monetary motivation. If a teacher is not being paid the standard salary, they are more likely to neglect their duties. Not only have the teachers given up, so have the students.
Students of poverty stricken public schools are aware of their disadvantaged situation. They feel that they are trapped. According to a fourth grade Chicago-area teacher, “these kids are aware of their failures. Some of them act like the game’s already over” (Kozol, 57). Fourth grade students have accepted that they are not likely to produce grand results – and this is only heightened as they age and their eyes are opened wider. Children in impoverished areas are exposed to the brutal truths of society at such a young age that their innocence is lost and their world turns grim. When various East St. Louis kids are speaking with Sister Julia they mention the likes of murder and rape as being a part of their lives. One child, Smokey, already realizes that in their life “[there’s] a lot of hate” (Kozol, 14). When they are facing these kinds of horrors, why would these kids focus on school? Mr. Solomon remarks that there are four girls in one of his classes that are either pregnant or new mothers. The young ladies explain that “there’s no reason not to have a baby. There’s not much for [us] in public school” (Kozol, 29). This sad reality displays how so many students have settled for less than they deserve. Even when the school system tries to encourage the children to think about a career path, the kids will have nothing to do with it. New Trier High School, in Chicago, opened an office education class. It soon closed because too few students enrolled. A teacher’s opinion is that they “just don’t think of themselves as future secretaries” (Kozol, 76). White collar employment opportunities are unheard of amongst the desolate, and so the students see no reason to prepare themselves for mere disappointment.
So many children are caught in a relentless cycle of poverty and inequality, and it begins with the school system. If people of power do not step in and try to break this vicious progression, it will continue to be passed on from one generation to the next. Low income children and their families require more advocates, not only to plead their case but to give the students a sense of importance so that they will actually want to attend school. Educators and students both lack drive within the boundaries of the classroom, and so no advancements are made. Kozol is right in thinking that too few are battling the crisis of unequal education. This issue is one of epidemic proportions.