Savage Inequalities

The inequalities described in Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools seem to paint a picture taken from a third world country, appallingly however; these are scenes from modern day America, the realities of inequalities and their pervasiveness. Racial, educational, social and economic disparities not only survive in our post-Martin Luther King and Brown vs. Board of Education society, but thrive across America in both its neighborhoods and cities. Choices made over the past 40 years have paved the road for an America that is both separate and unequal.

It doesn’t take a clear stretch of the imagination to see the patterns and themes that have developed, nor the feigned and pled ignorance from those who remain most accountable. Neighborhoods remain separated by race through the means of the prison in which those living in poverty find themselves. Schools become segregated and unequal on the basis of school systems and district lines being drawn to accommodate the separation of such neighborhoods. (Savage Inequalities, pg. 180) The disparities continue into adult life as the spirit of the children is effectively extinguished as they learn to accept the lot America has chosen for them. (pg. 183)

How awful it is that in one school a Home Economics class would be one to teach you to be able to be prepared for cooking and keeping house, and throwing dinner parties and social events, while another provides “job instruction” – for all intents and purposes a training program for Burger King and McDonald’s. (pg. 27) Meanwhile, the plants that destroy their town are filled with white faces as the local residents lack the education for the specialized jobs. (pg. 18)

“Nobody in East St. Louis has ever had the clout to raise a protest. Why Americans permit this is so hard for somebody like me, who grew up in the real Third World, to understand… I’m from India. In Calcutta this would be explicable, perhaps. I keep thinking to myself, ‘My God! This is the United States!'” (Ahmed, pg. 17)

I believe the answer to this ever growing problem of disparity between races and socioeconomic classes can only be solved by starting at the root of the problem. At the earliest ages children are learning to accept that life isn’t fair and are seeing this prominently displayed by the inequalities in their schools. The rich have nice schools with adequate or superior education, while the poor deal with sewage, broken heaters, lack of heat, and flooding, let alone the lack of supplies and equipment. “We have a school in East St. Louis named for Dr. King. The school is full of sewer water and the doors are locked with chains. Every student in that school is black. It’s a terrible joke on history.” (pg. 35) I am left to wonder, as Kozol did, why so many more people haven’t acknowledged the irony of naming segregated schools, or neighborhoods for that matter, for Martin Luther King.

Swift, decisive and unwavering or swerving action needs to be taken to start instilling equality, and therefore segregation, in schools. I fell asleep thinking about this last night, and I know it’s easier said than done… Separate is consistently not equal, but what do you do when neighborhoods, and entire cities, have become so segregated that there isn’t a white face in miles upon miles? Plans need to be made that reach beyond school districts and even state lines. This is a national crisis, and we need to act like it. We are now “in a dramatic retreat” from Plessy v. Ferguson. “Our nation, I fear, will be ill-served by the Court’s refusal to remedy separate and unequal education… In the short run, it may seem to be the easier course to allow our great metropolitan areas to be divided up… into two cities – one white, the other black – but it is a course, I predict, our people will ultimately regret.”

If there are distinct ties to relate how a child grows up and the educational opportunities they receive to the quality of life, and/or behavioral issues that they may succumb to later, then isn’t it easy to show that while this may continue to be a distant neighborhood or city problem far from your own, eventually it will affect you. Simply working to ensure equal opportunity education for our children may have a dramatic effect through generations going forward on crime and poverty levels, and on how we view each other.

“Segregation was evil in [Martin Luther King’s] mind not because of skin color but because it almost always led to unequal opportunities, given the realities of American society, and because it produced both ignorance and damaging racial stereotypes in the minds of both the segregated and the segregators.” (Gary Orfield and Chungmei Lee 2005)

Kozol, Jonathan.1991. “Savage Inequalities”. New York: HarperCollins.

Jones, LeAlan and L. Newman. 1997. “Our America“. New York: Scribner.

Orfield, Gary and Chungmei Lee, 2005. “Why Segregation Matters: Poverty and
Educational Inequality
” Cambridge: Harvard University. The Civil Rights Project, * Apparently this research is now hosted by UCLA. [August 2008]

Taub, Richard P., D. Garth Taylor, and Jan D. Dunham. 1984. “Paths of Neighborhood
Change: Race and Crime in Urban America
“. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


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