Educator, Writer, Activist (1936— )
In 1964 Jonathan Kozol left his comfortable surroundings in Cambridge, Massachusetts to begin work as a teacher in low-income, predominately black Roxbury, first in a freedom school and later in a public elementary school. He grew up in Newton, was educated at Harvard and a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford.
His first published nonfiction, Death at an Early Age: The Destruction of the Hearts and Minds of Negro Children in the Boston Public Schools (1967) winner of the National Book Award, drew upon his experiences as a fourth-grade teacher. The practice of immersing himself in the lives of his subjects became the pattern for his subsequent searing studies of the injustices a wealthy society visits upon its most vulnerable members.
A commission to study the problem of adult literacy resulted in Illiterate American (1980). In Rachel and Her Children: Homeless Families in America (1988) Kozol examines the stunted lives of people deprived of the raw necessities. Savage Inequalities (1991) details the differences between schools in affluent neighborhoods and those attended by the children of the poor.
In 1995 Kozol produced another powerful study, this time based on first-hand experience among schoolchildren in the South Bronx: Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation. He said: “Of all my books, Amazing Grace means the most to me. It took the most out of me and was the hardest to write, because it was the hardest to live through these experiences. I felt it would initially be seen as discouraging but, ultimately, sensitive readers would see the resilient and transcendent qualities of children and some mothers in the book—that it would be seen as a book about the elegant theology of children.” Ordinary Resurrections: Children in the Years of Hope (2001) revisits the courageous and resilient children of the South Bronx.