Jonathan Kozol

From Academic Kids

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Jonathan Kozol at Pomona College April 17, 2003

Jonathan Kozol (born 1936 in Boston) is a nonfiction writer, educator, and activist, best known for his books on public education in the United States. In the passion of the civil rights campaigns of 1964 and 1965, Kozol moved from Harvard Square to a poor black neighborhood of Boston (Roxbury, MA) and became a fourth grade teacher in the Boston Public Schools. It was after he was fired from the Boston Public Schools for reading Langston Hughes poetry to his class that he was thrust into the limelight and became a more prominent figure on the Boston civil rights scene. After being fired from BPS he was offered a job to teach for Newton Public Schools, the school distrct that he had attended as a child, and did so for several years before becoming more deeply involved in social justice work and dedicating more time to writing.

Death at an Early Age, his first non-fiction book is a description of his first year as a teacher in the Boston Public Schools. It was published in 1967 and received the 1968 National Book Award in Science, Philosophy, and Religion. It has sold more than two million copies in the United States and Europe.

Among the other books by Kozol are Rachel and Her Children (, which received the Robert F. Kennedy Book award for 1989 and the Conscience in Media Award of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and Savage Inequalities (, which won the New England Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1992.

His 1995 book, 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 in the United States. It recieved the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 1996, an honor previously granted to the works of Langston Hughes and Dr. Martin Luther King.

Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison wrote that Amazing Grace was "good in the old-fashioned sense: beautiful and morally worthy." Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Garrow called Amazing Grace "elegiac, memorable, and haunting." Elie Wiesel said, "Jonathan's struggle is noble. What he says must be heard. His outcry must shake our nation out of its guilty indifference."

In a widely quoted speech delivered before two thousand of the nation's publishers, Kozol said, "I believe the questions that we should be asking about justice and injustice in America are not chiefly programmatic, technical or scientific. They are theological. But I disagree with those who think we should be asking questions of theology primarily to those who live in poverty. I think we need to ask these questions of ourselves."

Despite the political conservatism of the 1990s, Amazing Grace became a national bestseller. In a front-page review, The Washington Post described the book as "devastating" in its portrayals but "as good as a blessing" in its tribute to the courage of the mothers of the poor. Amazing Grace has since joined Savage Inequalities and Death at an Early Age as required reading at most universities and is part of the curriculum for future teachers and religious leaders.

Kozol's most recent book that has already been published (A Fierce Injustice is scheduled to be released in the fall of 2005) is Ordinary Ressurections ( A vivid narrative that steers away from fevered ideologies and partisan debate, Ordinary Resurrections is a book about the little miracles of stubbornly persistent innocence in children who are still unsoiled by the world and can view their place in it without cynicism or despair.

Here too, for the first time in his career, Kozol describes the poorly paid but morally committed teachers in an underfunded public elementary school that manages, against all odds, to be an island of protectiveness and love and optimism for the segregated children that it serves; and he takes us also to a model afterschool, based in a church on the same block, where children are watched over by the vigilant grandmothers of the neighborhood and by a Radcliffe-educated priest who gave up a career in law to serve a ministry to children.

In a setting of poignant symmetry -- a pubic school led by an eloquent Hispanic principal at one end of the block, a beautiful small church led by a brilliant priest of rare political courage at the other -- the children find a sanctuary from the dangers that continue to exist in New York's poorest neighborhood; and the author finds a personal and spiritual rebirth.

Kozol is still active in advocating for public education in the United States and is an an outspoken critic of the voucher movement. He continues to condemn the vicious inequalities of education and speaks unrelentingly of the apparently perpetual apartheid of black and Hispanic children in the deeply segregated public schools of almost every major city of the nation.

Kozol graduated from Harvard University Summa Cum Laude (1958) with a degree in English Literature and was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford. He did not, however, complete his Rhodes, deciding instead to go to Paris to write a novel. He spent four years in there writing his only published work of fiction The Fume of Poppies and getting to know the likes of William Styron. It was upon his return that he began to tutor children in Roxbury, MA, and soon became a teacher in the Boston Public Schools and deeply involved in the civil rights movement.

He has been called by The Chicago Sun-Times “today’s most eloquent spokesman for America’s disenfranchised.” He has since held two Guggenheim Fellowships, has twice been a fellow of the Rockefeller Foundation, and has also received fellowships from the Field and Ford Foundations.

His books include:

  • Death at an Early Age: The Destruction of the Hearts and Minds of Negro Children in the Boston Public School. First published in 1967, it won the National Book Award and sold more than two million copies. It describes his year of teaching in the Boston Public School System. Reissue ISBN 0452262925
  • Free Schools (1972) ASIN: 0395136067
  • The Night is Dark and I am Far From Home (1975)
  • Children of the Revolution (1980) Describes his visit to Cuba. ASIN: 0385281528
  • Prisoners of Silence: Breaking the Bonds of Adult Illiteracy in the United States (1980) ISBN 081649004X
  • On Being a Teacher (1981; revised 1994) Revised edition ISBN 1851680659
  • Alternative Schools: A Guide for Educators and Parents (1982) ASIN: 0826402267
  • Illiterate America (1986) ASIN: 0452258073 History of Education ( website by Daniel Schugurensky discusses the importance of this book.
  • Rachel and Her Children: Homeless Families in America (1988) Awarded the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award for 1989 and The Conscience in Media Award of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and the Christopher Award, 1988. Reprint ISBN 0449903397
  • Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools (1991) A finalist for the 1992 National Book Critics Circle Award and awarded The New England Book Award. Reprint ISBN 0060974990 Bookfinder ( collected reviews.
  • Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation (1995) Reprint ISBN 0060976977 Review ( and appreciation by Mary Leue.
  • Ordinary Resurrections: Children in the Years of Hope (2000) Reprint ISBN 0060956453. Review ( by Jana Siciliano at
  • A Fierce Injustice : Apartheid Schooling in America (to be released in Fall 2005)

Co-Authored Works

  • Choosing Excellence: "Good Enough" Schools Are Not Good Enough (2001) With John Merrow. ISBN 1578860148

External Links

  • Brandeis Libraries ( brief biography
  • The My Hero Project ( repeats some of the Brandeis Libraries biography and provides other links
  • Keppler Associates ( provides another brief biography
  • Third World Traveler ( has excerpts from some Kozol books and a few brief articles
  • Brief article ( and reviews of Kozol books by Alan Nicoll

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