Jonathan Kozol Awtt Portrait

Jonathan Kozol

Educator, Writer, Activist : b. 1936

“If you grow up in the South Bronx today or in south-central Los Angeles or Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, you quickly come to understand that you have been set apart and that there’s no will in this society to bring you back into the mainstream. The kids have eyes and they can see, and they have ears and they can hear. Kids notice that no politicians talk about this. Nobody says we’re going to make them less separate and more equal. Nobody says that.”


Jonathan Kozol grew up in Newton, was educated at Harvard and was the recipient of a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University in England.

In 1964, Kozol left his comfortable surroundings in Cambridge, Massachusetts to begin work as a teacher in low-income, predominantly African-American Roxbury neighborhood in Boston.

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), drew upon his experiences as a fourth-grade teacher and won the National Book Award. He continued to immerse himself in the lives of his subjects to write searing studies of the injustices that 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 his experiences 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) revisited the courageous and resilient children of the South Bronx.


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