Jonathan Kozol: Letters To A Young Teacher


Jonathan Kozol was born in 1936 in Boston, Massachusetts. He went to Harvard and majored in english. He lived in Paris for four years and when he returned, he began tutoring children which led him to teaching. He has written many books throughout his life time and is still writing. (Wikipedia)
"Letters To A Young Teacher" consists of letters to a teacher named Francesca. Jonathan Kozol is trying to help her learn how to deal with what goes on in her class room and how life really goes.

"The letters in this little book were written to a first grade teacher I will call Francesca who, after she had taken a position at an inner-city school in Boston, soon began to write to me, as many teachers do, and invited me to visit in her classroom” ( ix).


This quote introduces what Kozol is going to be doing throughout the book. He wrote his letters in this book to Francesca.
Kozol is trying to help this teacher understand what is going on in her classroom.

"But teachers, and especially the teachers of young children, are not servants of the global corporations or drill sergeants for the state and should never be compelled to view themselves that way. I think they have a higher destiny than that. The best of teachers are not merely the technicians of proficiency; they are also ministers of innocence, practitioners of tender expectations. They stalwartly refuse to see their pupils as so many future economic units for a corporate society, little pint-sized deficits or assets for America's economy, into whom they are expected to pump "added value," as the pundits of the education policy arena now declaim. Teachers like these believe that every child who has been entrusted to their care comes into their classroom with inherent value to begin with" (4-5).

Kozol did a lot with kids. He was always helping less fortunate children in their school work. He thinks that kids will learn most of their manners and actions through the class room and what the teacher says and does with the children. He thinks that teachers are one of the biggest influences on inner-city children.

“I’ve been wrestling with your question about children who come into school with a defiant attitude that seems to challenge every effort that we make to teach them and who seem to mock our very presence in the classroom, as if they’ve decided in advance that we are someone they won’t like and who probably should not be trusted” (59).


Most of the inner city school children that Kozol has interacted with come into school thinking they will hate it and that their teacher will be mean. Little do they know is that they will become a huge part of their life, especially in elementary school when the children sometimes don't have a stable homelife. In some cases, the teachers become like a parent to the kids.
“I also agree with you entirely that the way the subject of diversity is introduced to children in most public schools has come to be a very bland and boring ritual in which the word itself, ‘diversity,’ has been adulterated to the point where it can only mock reality instead of openly describing it.
‘The ugly little secret,’ as you put it, is that there is almost no diversity at all in most of the schools in which diversity curricula are generally used. The word you said has come to be a cover-up for situations to which it can’t possibly apply.” (73-74)


At this school, the student body is mostly of color, and the teacher does not want the kids to think that the 'real world' will be like that. Kozol tells her to tell them to not care about peoples races, treat everyone equally and be kind. He wants everyone to know that just because someone is black or white does not mean they are mean or nice. Also, he knows the worlds is not diverse like this mostly black school.

“At a New York City high school named for Dr. Martin Luther King, a classic segregated institution (96 percent black and Hispanic) in the middle of an affluent white section of Manhattan, students who apparently had thoroughly imbibed the lessons of their elementary grades went into the most remarkable contortions when I asked them if they thought it accurate to say that they were pupils in a ‘segregated’ school.” (79).

The kids say the school is segregated because it is mostly black. But if a school is in the middle of Manhattan and mostly black people go there, then they will feel segregated. They will feel segregated because they are surrounded by rich white people but they are in an 'all black' building. This makes the kids think that they will always live like this, living with all black people, not getting out of poverty, but what Kozol wants them to realize is that they have to make an effort and try to get out of their situations no matter how bad they are.

“I told you once of a young teacher whom I met some years ago in the South Bronx whose name was April Gamble, a perfect name, I thought, for someone in the springtime of her life who was starting out on her career in the third grade. Her students had sent me one of those fat envelopes of friendly letters children sometimes send to writes, asking if I’d visit them someday when I was in their neighborhood. One of the children wrote, ‘My name is Pedro. I am 7 years old. Would you come and visit us for 6 hours so we could tell you everything about our life?’ he signed his letter, ‘From my heart to my eyes, Pedro.’” (100-101).

Everybody wants Jonathan Kozol to come talk with their class. He brings most of them hope and the desire to learn. The child Pedro that wrote him the letter, was a hispanic boy who is living in poverty and just wants to hear something to modivate him. Kozol comes to the school to hopefully see Pedro, but Pedro was not there that day and that made Kozol wonder where he could have been. He wants to help kids like him. Kozol wants to see and be around kids like Pedro.

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