"In Praise of a Beautiful Profession: Educators Working in the Front Lines of the Public Schools"
In the passion of the civil rights campaigns of 1964 and 1965, Jonathan Kozol moved from Harvard Square into a poor black neighborhood of Boston and became a fourth-grade teacher in the Boston public schools. He has devoted the subsequent four decades to issues of education and social justice in America.
"Death at an Early Age," a description of his first year as a teacher, was published in 1967 and received the 1968 National Book Award in Science, Philosophy and Religion. Now regarded as a classic by educators, it has sold more than 2 million copies in the United States and Europe. Among the other highly honored books that he has written since are "Rachel and Her Children," a study of homeless mothers and their children, and "Savage Inequalities."
His 1995 bestseller, "Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation," described his visits to the South Bronx of New York, the poorest congressional district of America. Praised by scholars such as Robert Coles and Henry Louis Gates, and children's advocates and theologians all over the nation, "Amazing Grace" received the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 1996, an honor previously granted to the works of Langston Hughes and Martin Luther King.
Ten years later, in "The Shame of the Nation," Kozol returned to the battle with his strongest, most disturbing work to date: a powerful exposure of conditions he had found in visiting and revisiting nearly 60 public schools in 30 different districts in 11 states. Virtually everywhere, he found that inner-city children were more isolated racially than at any time since federal courts began dismantling the landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. "They live an apartheid existence and attend apartheid schools. Few of them know white children any longer." The proportion of black children who are now attending integrated public schools, he noted, is at a lower level than in any year since 1968.
"The Shame of the Nation," which appeared on the New York Times best-seller list the week that it was published, has since joined "Amazing Grace," "Savage Inequalities" and "Death at an Early Age" as required reading at most universities and as part of the curriculum for future teachers and for professional development in dozens of our major urban systems.
In his most recent work, "Letters to a Young Teacher" (Crown Publishers, 2007), Kozol draws upon four decades of experience to guide the newest generation of our nation's teachers into the ethically complicated challenges but, also, "the sheer joy and passionate rewards" of what he calls "a beautiful profession."
When he is not with teachers in their classrooms, or at universities and colleges speaking to future teachers, Kozol is likely to be found in Washington, D.C., where he devotes considerable time to what he calls "my lifelong efforts at remediation" of the members of the U.S. House and Senate. He has spent much of the past year attempting to convince his friends within the Senate leadership, as well as advisers to President Barack Obama, to radically revise the punitive aspects of No Child Left Behind.
Kozol received a summa cum laude degree in English literature from Harvard in 1958, after which he was awarded a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University. He has been called by the Chicago Sun-Times "today's most eloquent spokesman for America's disenfranchised."