An admirer of Jonathan Kozol faults the Washington Post for asking Wendy Kopp to review his latest book. Wendy likes to say that we don’t need to fix poverty,just “fix” schools with more TFA and more charter schools. Jonathan’s book shows how harmful poverty is. Obviously she would not like Kozol’s latest book:
The Washington Post (Sunday, September 30) has just published an inaccurate and biased review of Jonathan’s new book Fire in the Ashes, written by Wendy Kopp, President of Teach for America.
The Post’s choice of Kopp to review Jonathan’s book broke all the rules of literary fairness, and her acceptance of it even more so, in light of their opposing positions on school reform. Jonathan is well known as a thoughtful critic but strong defender of public education, while Kopp has come to be a leading figure in the corporate invasion of the public sector. Kopp is well aware—and has voiced her displeasure—of Jonathan’s critique of Teach for America, which, he’s noted, guarantees instructional discontinuity and high faculty turnover in inner-city schools, since TFAs remain in those schools for only two years. He also believes that TFAs do not receive sufficient training to take the place of well-prepared instructors committed to the education of children as their life’s vocation.
Jonathan recognizes that many bright young graduates are attracted to Teach for America as a charitable service project, but he states clearly in this book that short-term, top-down, charitable action has never been a viable or enduring substitute for systematic justice in our public institutions.
Kopp, too, asks that we “commit ourselves to systemic changes and address the root causes, from poverty to segregation” and then cites a number of organizations—among them, KIPP and the Harlem Children’s Zone—which operate even more deeply segregated schools than our public systems do and divert civic and political support from the public schools that support the vast majority of children.
In promoting her own agenda, Kopp manages to grossly misrepresent Jonathan’s book, which is not, as she leads readers of the Washington Post to believe, a dated summary of the problems facing schools in decades past, but a stirring narrative of the lives of children, from the time he met them, through their teenage years, into the present period of their young adulthood—the failure of some to overcome adversity, and the victories of many others in completing school, doing well in college, and returning to the neighborhoods where they were born to share the benefits of their education with those they left behind. To claim that the book is a critique of past education policy is to have missed its point entirely.
Her attack on Jonathan’s intensely moving portrait of children he has known and loved for nearly twenty-five years is part of a larger ideological attack on educators who believe that public education, for all its imperfections and blatant inequalities, remains a precious legacy in a democratic nation.
I am one of the many friends of Jonathan who do not like to see his work misrepresented and condemned by embittered adversaries. I’m asking those who admire and respect his work to make their opinions known by writing letters to the editor of the Washington Post.
Jonathan is continuing his travels across the country to speak in defense of teachers and the public schools that serve our children. He is honored to be alongside each of you in this fight.