Jane Ehrenfeld is a first-grade teacher at Nathan Hale Public School in Boston. In her class of 21 students, none are white.
“I”ve been in five schools in four states in seven years, and I”ve never taught in an integrated school,” Ehrenfeld said from her home in Boston. “That”s pretty horrifying for me. I see on a daily basis what segregation does to children. They lose their ability to talk to other people and understand other people.”
Ehrenfeld said she will address that and other concerns as part of a panel discussion at the Law School on Saturday morning. The panel is part of a two-day symposium titled “Separate But Unequal: The Status of America”s Public Schools” in Hutchins Hall in the Law Quad.
Author Jonathan Kozol has been spending time with students in Ehrenfeld”s class and will join her in Ann Arbor this weekend as the symposium”s keynote and closing speaker. He said his opening address will focus on urging students to become active against what he called “the shocking dimensions of apartheid in our northern cities Detroit, Chicago and New York.”
Segregation and its effects are the topic of Kozol”s 1995 best seller “Amazing Grace.” He has written nine other books since 1967.
“Most of the kids I write about in the south Bronx have never seen white kids when they go to school,” Kozol said. “Of those 11,000 kids (in that school district), 21 are white. They didn”t do much worse than that in Mississippi 50 years ago.”
Kozol said standardized testing in public schools, such as the Michigan Educational Assessment Program, exacerbate the problem.
“A lot of (Ehrenfeld”s) kids don”t get preschool, they don”t even get kindergarten, but they”re going to live or die on these tests. It”s punitive hypocrisy,” he said.
Kozol also said his talk will focus on what he calls “neo-liberals.”
“There are a lot of people who have sort of given up the fight for racial justice in this country, but still feed off the nostalgia of the civil rights movement,” he said. “I”m thinking of people who live in virtually segregated suburbs outside of Chicago, and outside of New York, and who refuse to send their children to schools in those cities but still play their Pete Seger LPs at night and get nostalgic about their undergrad days at Ann Arbor. They still love their John Lennon songs, but it seems they”ve gone down Abbey Road too many times and come back empty-handed.”
Kozol said he finds current campus activism heartening, but more can be done to aid students in segregated districts.
“I don”t mean just going in and tutoring them once a week. That”s charity, but it”s no substitute for racial justice,” he said. “I”m going to urge the students who come out to hear me Friday to take some big risks in their careers and to take political action and not to simply listen to politically correct music.”
Kozol”s keynote address is at 7:30 p.m. and is open to the public. Saturday”s events require a registration fee.