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Edu-legend Jonathan Kozol thundered against No Child Left Behind last night before hundreds of teachers, parents and school staff packed into Saint Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral on Sixth Street. Kozol is the author of a dizzying list of educational exposes, including “Death at an Early Age” and “Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools.” His talk veered between touching anecdotes about a Boston teacher, the subject of his new book “Letters to a Young Teacher,” and blistering critique of the “corporate gibberish” and testing mania that have taken hold in schools nationwide.
If you missed his talk, here are a few choice highlights.
On Superintendent Carl Cohn, who attended the event:
I’m always giving superintendents a hard time. That’s my job … I’ve seen them when they come to big cities … when they get their brief honeymoon with the press … when the press starts picking on them … and I see them when they get decapitated … I sometimes think that the job of urban superintendent was created so that one person could die for our nation’s sins.
On the corporate language that seems to cluster around NCLB: “Words can dehydrate your soul, if you know they’re inauthentic.”
On the achievement gap: “Every state I know says it has some sort of universal pre-K … but no one has it.” Kozol went on to recommend that schools focus on narrowing the gap before kids are enrolled in kindergarten, instead of pushing high-stakes tests during elementary school, and to pare down class size dramatically.
I think there’s something deeply hypocritical [about a system] that would hold a little girl, a third-grader … accountable for her performance in the third grade, but does not hold the President or the Congress accountable.
On school facilities: Kozol lamented the use of trailers in a Fremont high school, which he noted have also been dubbed “portables” in New York and “bungalows” in Los Angeles. [The same term is used in San Diego, at least at Correia Junior High, which I visited this week.] “Bungalows are cute little houses with thatched roofs!” Kozol argued.
On his weight: Kozol lost 30 pounds fasting this month, in protest of Senator Ted Kennedy’s support for No Child Left Behind. A Boston Globe reporter noticed it during an interview, and made it the focal point of her story. After the article was printed, Kozol noted that Senator Kennedy has agreed to meet with him Oct. 22.
“I’m too old to bite my tongue,” he concluded his remarks. “I intend to keep fighting ’til my dying day.”
— EMILY ALPERT