Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools

An Overview of the Book by Jonathan Kozol

Chicago Teachers Union, SIEU Local 1, friends and sympathizers protesting planned Chicago Public School closings. The Loop, Chicago, March 27, 2013. Kenneth Ilio/Getty Images

Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools is a book written by Jonathan Kozol that examines the American educational system and the inequalities that exist between poor inner-city schools and more affluent suburban schools. Kozol believes that children from poor families are cheated out of a future due to the vastly underequipped, understaffed, and underfunded schools that exist in the poorer areas of the country. He visited schools in all parts of the country, including Camden, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., New York’s South Bronx, Chicago’s South Side, San Antonio, Texas, and East St. Louis, Missouri between 1998 and 1990. He observed both schools with the lowest per capita spending on students and the highest per capita spending, ranging from $3,000 in New Jersey to $15,000 in Long Island, New York. As a result, he found some shocking things about America’s school system.

Racial and Income Inequality in Education

In his visits to these schools, Kozol discovers that black and Hispanic schoolchildren are isolated from white schoolchildren and are shortchanged educationally. Racial segregation is supposed to have ended, so why are schools still segregating minority kids? In all of the states he visited, Kozol concludes that real integration has declined significantly and education for minorities and poor students has moved backwards rather than forwards. He notices persistent segregation and bias in poorer neighborhoods as well as drastic funding differences between schools in poor neighborhoods versus more affluent neighborhoods. The schools in the poor areas often lack the most basic needs, such as heat, textbooks and supplies, running water, and functioning sewer facilities. For instance, in an elementary school in Chicago, there are two working bathrooms for 700 students and the toilet paper and paper towels are rationed. In a New Jersey high school, only half of the English students have textbooks, and in a New York City high school, there are holes in the floors, plaster falling from the walls, and blackboards that are cracked so badly that students cannot write on them.

Public schools in affluent neighborhoods did not have these problems.

It is because of the huge gap in funding between rich and poor schools that poor schools are faced with these issues. Kozol argues that in order to give poor minority children an equal chance at education, we must close the gap between rich and poor school districts in the amount of tax money spent on education.

The Lifelong Effects of Education

The outcomes and consequences of this funding gap are dire, according to Kozol. As a result of the inadequate funding, students are not simply being denied basic educational needs, but their future is also deeply affected. There is severe overcrowding in these schools, along with teacher salaries that are too low to attract good teachers. These, in turn, lead to inner-city children’s low levels of academic performance, high dropout rates, classroom discipline problems, and low levels of college attendance. To Kozol, the nationwide problem of high school dropouts is a result of society and this unequal educational system, not a lack of individual motivation. Kozol’s solution to the problem, then, is to spend more tax money on poor schoolchildren and in the inner-city school districts to equalize the spending.