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Teacher Power


Jonathan Kozol wants to team up with NEA in a new movement to banish ‘apartheid schooling.’


By Alain Jehlen


Author and teacher Jonathan Kozol has gotten to know a lot of America’s teachers, and basically, he loves them.

Over four decades and 11 books, much of his powerful writing has been devoted to describing the “treasured places” that fabulous teachers can create for children.

But those treasured places are like the Florida Everglades—slowly disappearing. Increasingly, it’s up to NEA and other advocates for the teaching profession, like Kozol, to defend the conditions and job security that make it possible for good teachers to work their magic, and also stave off an onslaught of misguided federal dictates. Dictates like the high-stakes testing craze, which Kozol believes is “not to benefit children but to humiliate the public enterprise in order to set the stage for the voucher program.”

“[The bureaucrats] are so accustomed to making decisions for us, about us, without us, in spite of us, and think that we should follow those dictates and mandates without having anything to say,” NEA President Reg Weaver said to Kozol during a recent meeting in Washington, D.C.

“They don’t give us credit for having the professionalism, the knowledge, the care we must have in our classrooms today for kids.”

“I’m going to encourage teachers...to speak out politically, to rise up and protest, not only against this testing madness...but also about the perpetual separation of our children so they don’t know each other any longer in America.” 
—Jonathan Kozol

“What a way to welcome a teacher to a school system!” said Kozol. “‘Oh, we’re so happy to have you in our school. Here’s a teacher-proof lesson which is so perfect that even you can’t do it wrong.’”

In his new book, The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America, Kozol reserves some of his most passionate denunciations for what he sees as the assault on professionalism by advocates of scripted literacy programs—which, he notes, are used almost exclusively in low-income, minority communities. White, middle-class

parents, he says, would never stand for these programs’ rote learning strategies.

In The Shame of the Nation, Kozol, who got his start teaching fourth grade in a segregated Boston classroom in 1964, casts his searchlight on the comeback of racial segregation today. He calls it “the restoration of apartheid schooling.”

Almost all of the education debate these days, Kozol says, is about how to make segregated schools better—how to “polish the apple of apartheid” is the way he puts it—rather than how to abolish segregation and finally let America’s races go to school together.

Kozol hopes working with Weaver and the NEA will help mobilize teachers to take action politically and launch a new movement for racial integration.

He said to Weaver, “I’m going to encourage teachers, who are the best witnesses because they’re in the classroom, to speak out politically, to rise up and protest, not only against this testing madness—which is sociopathic in its consequences—but also about the perpetual separation of our children so they don’t know each other any longer in America, and to protest the bitter unfairness of investing twice as much money in a White suburban child as we do in a low-income inner-city child in America. These things have to change.”

“The 2.7 million members of the National Education Association are with you, Jonathan,” said Weaver. “We are on the front lines, working to make sure that every child, not just some but every child, has access to a quality public education. You want what the NEA wants.”

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February, 2006