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Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools

di Jonathan Kozol

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2,065156,373 (4.11)27
For two years, beginning in 1988, Jonathan Kozol visited schools in neighborhoods across the country, from Illinois to Washington D.C., and from New York to San Antonio. He spoke with teachers, principals, superintendents, and, most important, children. What he found was devastating. Not only were schools for rich and poor blatantly unequal, the gulf between the two extremes was widening--and it has widened since. The urban schools he visited were overcrowded and understaffed, and lacked the basic elements of learning--including books and, all too often, classrooms for the students. In Savage Inequalities, Kozol delivers a searing examination of the extremes of wealth and poverty and calls into question the reality of equal opportunity in our nation's schools.… (altro)
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While the circumstances in these 1988-1990 scenarios may be different from today’s particular circumstances, the principles still stand. There is an inequity in the education of our children in many school districts, especially in urban districts that represent the highest concentration of children in poverty. The promise of Brown vs Board of Education, much less that of Plessy vs Ferguson, has not been achieved. Much as the laws of Jim Crow have been circumvented by “nice white people” so the ways in which we finance schools and educate our citizens have been thwarted by circumvention. School choice, reliance on test scores, method of funding have all played a part in the erosion of our schools, and have helped to fuel the dissension we see in our culture and on social media. Kozol ends this award-winning book with this statement: “There is a deep-seated reverence for fair play in the United States, and in many areas of life we see the consequences in a genuine distaste for loaded dice; but this is not the case in education, health care, or inheritance of wealth. In these elemental areas we want the game to be unfair and we have made it so; and it will likely so remain.” Unfortunately, we have not been able to prove him wrong. ( )
  steller0707 | Jul 20, 2021 |
Simply put, this book is a report on how minorities in America are compelled to live in segregated schools with a fraction of the support that affluent white schools receive. The author is a good writer, but I take exception with his presentation. His whole argument could have been presented in a quarter of the space. A huge percentage of the book consists of examples of where white/affluent schools are good and minority/poor schools are trash. Fine, I believe him. I believed him after the first three or four detailed examples. I didn't need a dozen more examples. The author does eventually get around to reasons why the differences are so great and so prevalent and why the "haves" are making sure the "have-nots" stay that way. He also presents that case well, and much more concisely. However, he does little to say what we, the readers, should do about it, especially since he points out how strong the human element is for "protecting" what we have. Some reviewers of this book commented on how "angry" the author was. I'm sure he was, but it doesn't come through in his writing, unless you feel that pointing out injustice as poor manners. And for what it's worth, I finished reading this book the same day of the Newtown school shooting. Despite the horror and sadness of that event, the book had me thinking and wondering how that tragedy to a white affluent community compared to the day-after-day, year-after-year tragedy of poor minorities living with substandard schools, housing, and environmentally trashed neighborhoods. ( )
  larryerick | Apr 26, 2018 |
Although very well written, I had a hard time getting through this book in the beginning because a narrative of the author seemed so contrived and fake that I didn't have any faith in the author's credibility. He begins by recounting a time when he read poems by Robert Frost and Langston Hughes to 4th graders who read at a second grade level. My first reaction was incredulity, as this seemed like the least likely way to get kids interested in poetry (his initial intent). Shel Silverstein and his hilarious poems about boogers is more in their range of interests. He seems to get carried away when painting a picture of his deep impact on the children he encounters when he writes that one of these students cried when he read "What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like [b:a raisin in the sun|5517|A Raisin in the Sun|Lorraine Hansberry|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1165522672s/5517.jpg|3154525]?" I am not gullible enough to believe that a barely literate 4th-grader could comprehend the word "deferred," as a major cause of reading comprehension problems is a limited vocabulary. Furthermore, the idea of such a student applying this line of poetry to her own situation is even less likely. This seemed to me an obvious attempt at rewriting the past to fluff his own feathers. Needless to say, as Kozol passionately and indignantly describes the horrors of the inner-city schools he observed, I had a hard time actually believing him, as I had already detected his tendency towards hyperbole.

As I continued the journey, enjoying all the while Kozol's word artistry and trying to believe (and not to believe) what he was saying, I began to believe what seems to be an impossible truth about America. Thank goodness he quoted so many other people to give more credibility to his reporting and commentary. I'm horrified and appalled, naturally, but more importantly, I explored my own prejudices toward the victims of his story. He bitterly points out that Americans feel that children in poverty have less value---do I feel that way? Of course not. Well......it all started to sink in. It's true that I have my own child in private school and that I haven't advocated for or even been aware of the problem concerning the education of children in poverty. How can this be such a dirty little secret? We just celebrated this big anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education---how is it that people don't realize the truth behind segregation? The facts are public, it's all out in the open, and Kozol poses an apt question when he wonders why there is this lack of interest (at least),moral outrage, and action by almost all of us.

While much of the facts and supporting evidence is repetitive (it needs to be, to show that this is everywhere--a repeating pattern), the book gets even more interesting towards the end. The discourse on health care issues and how they correlate with education issues truly opens your eyes. The issue of a government choosing who lives and dies is the philosophical quandary that we toss back and forth in literary discussions of novels such as "The Giver" and "1984"--here is real life application.

This book really opened my eyes, posed real-life problems I had never considered, and gave me information I don't know what to do with. And tomorrow I go back to my teaching job--where I teach a 100% caucasion population and complain about the little things that are of no consequence in comparison to having 45 kids in a classroom with no windows. This time, I might realize what I take for granted. Maybe I'll discuss these issues with my kids, but they won't believe me. I don't know what else I'll really do with this new knowledge.

My favorite quotes from this book:

1) pg. 117 about prevention vs. remedy.


2) (About low-achieving students who disrupt the learning environment):
"Knowing one is ruined is a powerful incentive to destroy the learning opportunities for other children, and the consequence in many schools is nearly uncontrollable disruption."

My question: is tracking supposed to help or hinder this problem? When mixed in with kids who are striving to succeed, don't these ones just get weeded out anyway and put in alternative ed classes where all the students spend the day making their learning environment one in which it is impossible to learn?

Julie ( )
1 vota engpunk77 | Aug 14, 2015 |
I read this book pretty early in my teaching career, and it was an eye opener for me in learning about the disparity in schools. ( )
  dukefan86 | May 29, 2013 |
a searing look at the disparities between wealthy/well-funded and poor/substandard school districts; very interesting (and upsetting) ( )
  julierh | Apr 7, 2013 |
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For two years, beginning in 1988, Jonathan Kozol visited schools in neighborhoods across the country, from Illinois to Washington D.C., and from New York to San Antonio. He spoke with teachers, principals, superintendents, and, most important, children. What he found was devastating. Not only were schools for rich and poor blatantly unequal, the gulf between the two extremes was widening--and it has widened since. The urban schools he visited were overcrowded and understaffed, and lacked the basic elements of learning--including books and, all too often, classrooms for the students. In Savage Inequalities, Kozol delivers a searing examination of the extremes of wealth and poverty and calls into question the reality of equal opportunity in our nation's schools.

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