Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America

Jonathan Kozol’s The Shame of the Nation exposes the ways in which the school desegregation achieved by the civil rights movement has been dismantled since the late 1980’s. Exploring Brown v. Board of Education and its impact, Kozol also examines the widespread successful efforts to dismantle that case’s effects, the crippling results of school segregation and the sometimes harmful attempts to overcome segregation. Kozol also examines some ways in which desegregation can be achieved, chiefly through a civil rights movement that can also use state and federal legislatures and courts. Kozol’s book reveals an alarming situation, though some of his conclusions seem extreme.

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Chapter 1 – Dishonoring the Dead (pp.13-38)

Chapter 1 discusses the Supreme Court 1954 decision, Brown v. The Board of Education.

Thurgood Marshall, who gave his opinion for that decision, said that separate-but-equal schools are not possible and that school segregation on the basis of race deprives minority children of equal opportunities. That decision led to the racial desegregation of U.S. schools in the late 1950’s until the mid-1980’s. Since that time, the Reagan Administration and the Supreme Court have dismantled desegregation and society allows it without mentioning racial segregation. The lip service that is paid to Thurgood Marshall’s words while our society deliberately segregates schools is dishonoring Marshall, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And Rosa Parks, who are dead, and other people who fought so hard for desegregation. The people who deliberately create school segregation call it progressive school reform but it is really racist. Kozol uses examples like Pineapple and her sister Briana, from the South Bronx, to show that Thurgood Marshall was right. Kozol uses Pineapple throughout the book to prove his points. Pineapple and Briana are nonwhite, closed off from whites in their lives and taught in segregated schools with inexperienced teachers who leave quickly. As the years went by, Pineapple’s school became progressively worse. Also, some segregated schools pretend that the message of desegregation is still alive but that is a lie; some of the worst educational situations because of segregation and poverty exist in schools named after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks and Thurgood Marshall.

ii. Chapter 2 – Hitting Them Hardest When They’re Small (pp.39-62)

Chapter 2 discusses the ways in which society requires that small nonwhite children in racially segregated schools be heroic in order to succeed. Segregated children in the South Bronx are in schools that do not have gyms, outdoor playgrounds, enough room for all the students, adequate libraries, art and music, adequate medical staffs, enough desks for children, roofs secure from leaking, etc. And they know it. They know that other schools have those things but their schools do not have those things. Young nonwhite children in segregated schools also have teachers who have much lower salaries; therefore, the teachers tend to have less experience and seniority. In addition, far less money is paid per pupil for the education of children in segregated schools than is paid for the educations of white students. What is more, white children tend to get preschool while nonwhite children get less and less preschool and Head Start serves fewer and fewer minority children. With all this unfairness based on segregation, third grade nonwhite students must take high-stakes standardized performance tests. Society is demanding that very young nonwhite children be heroic when the deck is stacked against them and they know it is stacked against them.

iii. Chapter 3 – The Ordering Regime (pp.63-88)

Chapter 3 discusses some of the ways in which school administrators and teachers in racially segregated schools have tried to compensate for the inequality by using strategies that actually hurt the students. Some principals and teachers do not expect the racial segregation of schools to change, so they develop strategies to adapt. They emphasize: raising test scores; strict policies that will not allow students to be promoted to higher grades or graduate unless they meet rigid requirements; and conformity. The attitude of the administrations and teachers is that if the students do exactly what the administration and teachers say, then the students will do it right but if the students do not follow what the administration and teachers say, then the students will do it wrong. Some of these tough systems name learning processes and achievements, such as: authentic writing, active listening, accountable talking and zero noise. These rigid measures are aimed at passing state tests, they sacrifice true education and they make the students anxious. They also label the students and even teach the students to label each other according to whether test results put them at level 1 — the lowest reading level — through level 4 — the highest reading level.

iv. Chapter 4 – Preparing Minds for Markets (pp.89-108)

Chapter 4 discusses the strong influence on segregated schools by corporations that want employees to be team players. From kindergarten on, students are taught to think of the jobs they might want and as the students get older, they are pushed to tailor their learning to the jobs they might want. Kozol says that college is never mentioned. Instead, these students are taught to have lower expectations than higher education and to focus on being ready for work when they are through with school. Also, education is treated as though it is a thing that a person can own and sell instead of a lifelong process. These measures severely lower the horizons of students and teach them tunnel vision toward getting and keeping a job. Education is supposed to teach skills that will be useful in a job but education is supposed to be more than that; it is supposed to teach students the process of learning and teach them to have higher expectations than just a job.

v. Chapter 5 – The Road to Rome (pp.109-134)

Chapter 5 also talks about the school tests given to children but stresses how the strong focus on those tests lowers the quality of education. Rome is the test and if the road made up of educational lessons does not lead to Rome, at least some administrators in segregated schools are not interested in those lessons. They insist on uniform teaching that does not allow flexibility and freedom in education. These administrators are so determined to raise test scores that history, geography, art, music and recess are not allowed because they will not help the students get better test scores. History, geography, art and music are all part of a quality education, so eliminating them means lowering the quality of education. Also, nonwhite children in segregated schools have such limited resources in their schools that they do not get quality educations and will probably fail the tests. These tests, that start when the children are in kindergarten and continue through the grades, can create anxiety in very young children and can force them to repeat grades, which makes it likelier that they will drop out of school.

vi. Chapter 6 – A Hardening of Lines (pp.135-160)

Chapter 6 discusses the way in which the segregation of white from nonwhite that is started when the children are very young students becomes increasingly worse in our society. The hardening of the lines between white and nonwhite is shown in the competition for New York City’s best schools: white, educated, aware parents know that children must apply to those better schools a year before they start school; nonwhite, uneducated, unaware, sometime foreign language-speaking parents do not know about that 1-year requirement. As a result, the white children’s parents are able to help their children get into better schools while the nonwhite children’s parents are not able to help them get into better schools. The privileged educational system of whites and the opportunities they are given in life are linked, just as the inferior educational system of segregated nonwhites and the lack of opportunities in life are linked. What is more, the white parents who provide better educational and life opportunities for their children resist the desegregation that will share better education and life opportunities with nonwhite children. They believe that sharing will lower the quality of education and limit the life opportunities for their white children.

vii. Chapter 7 – Excluding Beauty (pp.161-186)

Chapter 7 discusses the fact that many segregated schools lack different types of physical and functional beauty found in quality schools and the lack badly affects students. Many segregated schools lack the beauty of computers, pleasant surroundings, structurally sound buildings, air conditioning, heat, sufficient room for all the students, desks, chairs, textbooks and enough room in advanced placement classes, among other things that should be found in a quality school. This lack of beauty makes it tougher for students to learn and makes students unhappy to be there, less likely to take advanced placement classes, more likely to take lowbrow classes that just happen to be available, more likely to skip school and more likely to drop out of school.

viii. Chapter 8 – False Promises (pp.187-214)

In Chapter 8, Kozol writes about the false promises connected with school segregation. In order to sell the idea of segregated schools, people favoring segregation speak in terms of progressive school reform and promise that this actually helps students. Also, administrators and teachers in segregated schools try to cope with the inequality by adopting strategies that promise to churn out successful students. However, the very fact of segregation and the lack of funding make them false promises. Kozol talks about the Higher Horizons program that started when he was a teacher in a segregated school in the 1960’s. Higher Horizons was supposed to spend more money per pupil, train teachers to raise expectations for themselves and their students, improve student skills, keep more children in school and help parents and teachers work together. According to Kozol, the program started to work but funding was cut so severely that the promises of Higher Horizons could not be kept. Those promises became false promises and the program died after 7 years. Kozol then talks about the expectations placed on new school superintendents and other educators and the promises they make to cope with the unfair segregated system. These superintendents and other educators end up being so crippled by the system’s segregation, the pressures put on them and the students’ underachievement on tests that they quit or are replaced. The huge turnover in superintendents and other educators means that long-term goals and promises cannot be kept. Their promises become false promises.

ix. Chapter 9 – Invitations to Resistance (pp.215-236)

Chapter 9 discusses some of the modern efforts to fight segregation. Some administrators and teachers, for example in Prince Edward County, VA, which used to be one of the most segregated school systems in the nation before Brown v. Board of Education. Through the efforts of people like Margaret Blackman, the county school superintendent, Prince Edward County is now one of the most integrated school systems in the U.S., with 91 — 93% of all children in the county attending the public school system. Though Prince Edward County is successful, its desegregation success is fragile and could be destroyed, along with the desegregation efforts of other administrators and teachers around the nation. Kozol also calls for a broader resistance to segregation. Kozol claims that the civil rights movement entered Limbo before it accomplished all its goals; therefore, the civil rights movement should be revived nationwide to regain the desegregation ground that was lost and push ahead to finally accomplish all the goals of the civil rights movement.

x. Chapter 10 – A National Horror Hidden in Plain View: Why Not a National Response? (pp.237-264)

Chapter 10 discusses the reasons why clearly needed school reforms have not formally been made in the United States through the courts or the legislatures. One reason is people do not understand that there is a need; most Americans believe that the U.S. Constitution somehow protects equal quality of education, though the Constitution does not guarantee educational equality. Since school segregation and its bad effects exist throughout the country, many cases have been brought throughout the country in local, state and federal courts to fight segregation. Some of those cases, such as Brown v. Board of Education, were successful; however, many other cases have failed. In many of those cases, the judges either cannot or will not issue rulings for desegregation. Another method of desegregation is by legislation: Reverend Jesse Jackson Jr. has attempted to have a Constitutional Amendment passed that would outlaw segregation throughout the country; also, Congressman Chaka Fattah has worked for the passage of the Fiscal Fairness Act that would guarantee equal resources among all schools. However, neither of these legislative measures has been enacted. While neither the courts nor legislatures have sufficiently promoted desegregation, their potential to do so remains and could be used in the future.

xi. Chapter 11 – Deadly Lies (pp.265-284)

Chapter 11 discusses Kozol’s belief that underfunded, segregated schools fail to give students adequate educational opportunities, no matter how strongly segregationists talk about progressive school reform and no matter how strongly their student are told that they will succeed. This, according to Kozol, shows the failure of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind. Despite the attractive title, the Executive Branch’s policy promoting underfunded, segregated schools means that many children are systematically left behind in terms of educational opportunities. No Child Left Behind is a lie and the fact that so many people are willing to believe it makes it a deadly lie. Kozol also claims that No Child Left Behind is merely one more facet of the 28-year Republican-controlled presidency’s encouragement of school segregation and betrayal of the nation’s children. Kozol also discusses other deadly lies, such as: standard-based reform that uses positive thinking and willpower to bridge the gap in test scores, making students score well in individual tests but ultimately be no more competent; small school initiatives that deal with segregation on the local level but can also actually result in segregated small schools.

xii. Chapter 12 – Treasured Places (pp.285-300)

In Chapter 12, Kozol points out several instances within segregated schools where teachers and principals managed to make such a difference that their students can still achieve excellence. Through the efforts of dedicated teachers, those schools are treasured places where students can overcome at least some of the bad effects of segregation and poor funding. Kozol specifically mentioned Mr. Bedrock, the teacher to whom his book is dedicated, and Miss Rosa, the principal of Mr. Bedrock’s school.

b. Statement of Policy Implications for Legislators and Criminal Justice

Kozol touched on the policy implications for legislators and justice systems in Chapters 10 and 11. State legislators can enact statutes providing guarantees of desegregation, equality of educational opportunities and sufficient funding for all students within their states. Those same statutes should carry severe civil and criminal penalties for violating those laws. Civil and Criminal Justice systems can enforce those statutes, penalizing any educational systems, towns, cities and counties that do not comply with those statutes. On the federal level, Congress can enact statutes or even a Constitutional Amendment providing guarantees of desegregation, equality of educational opportunities and sufficient funding for all students in the United States, thereby forcing states to comply with federal law. Those same statutes should carry severe civil and criminal penalties for violating those laws. Both Civil and Criminal Justice systems on the state and federal levels can enforce those federal statutes or that Constitutional Amendment, penalizing any educational systems, towns, cities, counties and states that do not comply with federal statutes or a Constitutional Amendment.

c. Personal Observations

The revelations in Kozol’s book are alarming, though I do not necessarily agree with some of his conclusions. Desegregation was certainly a worthwhile aspect of the civil rights movement and the quiet dismantling of desegregation on local, state and federal levels by supposedly well-meaning people and institutions is outrageous. Since segregation is not consciously demanded by law, I would not go so far as to call it “apartheid.” However, the fact that segregation forces are able to achieve segregation through other means and in the name of progressive school reform is disgusting and the fact that it stacks the deck against children is equally shameful. However, Kozol is too harsh about administrators and teachers who try to overcome the bad effects of segregation, though their methods might be rigid and tough. While Kozol might be correct about the outcomes of these strategies, it is easy to see that these administrators and teachers are attempting to overcome a system that undermines their students and that is largely beyond the control of administrators and teachers. Finally, Kozol’s argument for a new civil rights movement, as long as it involves state and federal courts and legislatures, does seem to be a possible answer to the segregation problem. Segregation is so wide and deep in this country’s educational system that only forces as strong as state and federal courts and legislatures can effectively combat it.

3. Conclusion

Jonathan Kozol’s The Shame of the Nation explores several themes about educational racial segregation in the United States. Kozol discusses his observations that: educational segregation dishonors notable civil rights heroes by giving lip service to their fight while quietly achieving segregation; segregation stacks the deck against students from an early age and they know that the deck is stacked against them; educators whose students are trapped in segregated schools try strategies to overcome segregation but those strategies are often oppressive and harmful; children in segregated schools are conditioned to train for and expect jobs rather than the higher horizons and freedom of quality education; some educators eliminate elements of quality education because those elements “aren’t on the test”; segregation is hardening the lines and increasing the educational/opportunities gaps between white and nonwhite children; the lack of funding excludes the physical and functional beauty of adequate resources, making education that much tougher for segregated children; there are a number of false promises and deadly lies by both the ones seeking segregation and the ones forced to react to segregation; segregation can be effectively fought by schools, school systems, courts, legislation and a revived civil rights movement; some educators still manage to help their students overcome some of segregation’s bad effects. State and federal legislatures and justice systems can combat segregation through statutes, a Constitutional Amendment and courts that can enforce those laws. All in all, Kozol’s book was interesting but some of his conclusions seem to extreme: “apartheid” is too strong a word for what is happening, though this segregation is still alarming and should be combatted through state and federal legislatures and justice systems.

Works Cited

Kozol, J. (2005). The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America. New York, NY: Crown Publishing Group.