Spectators filled the seats, clogged the aisles and lingered in the hallways of Hutchins Hall Auditorium Friday evening, searching for a place to hear Jonathan Kozol, the keynote speaker for the Michigan Journal of Race and Law”s symposium last weekend.
Kozol has written several books and traveled extensively to describe de facto segregation in the public schools of America”s northern cities.
“I think that every politician who pontificates about the problems of our public schools and every so-called education value babbles in bad syntax,” he said.
Condemning the use of tax dollars to fund private and charter schools, which he said “skin our children from the public schools, diminishing the common ground of shared democracy,” Kozol described at length the destitution resembling the conditions of third-world nations in which many children live.
For example, Kozol said inequities in the environment have caused an epidemic of asthma and many children can only visit their fathers in prison because high unemployment forces them to commit crimes.
“Children, mothers, teachers face challenges I couldn”t even dream of when I started out,” he said.
In the area of the South Bronx where Kozol works, only 21 children are white of 11,000 a sign of gross segregation which he described as “modernized millennial apartheid.”
He added that children in New York receive just $8,000 per year for their education, while those in the wealthy suburban schools of Long Island receive an average of $18,000.
“These schools are not just segregated but flagrantly unequal,” Kozol said.
Kozol urged students to take action against the social injustice in the education system before they become too comfortable with their own success, noting that after an activist graduates from Harvard”s John F. Kennedy School of Public Policy, he will become more reluctant to take action.
Following the speech, students said they felt invigorated by Kozol”s words.
“I don”t think you can listen to him and not be inspired,” said Katie Locker, a third-year Law school student. “I was impressed. I thought it was sort of a call to action.”
Third-year Law school student Andrea Clark said, “I have never heard him speak, nor have I read any of his books, but I heard a lot about him and that he”s really inspirational, so I thought I”d come take a listen. I really liked listening to him.”
LSA freshman Aaron Regberg knew of Kozol before he heard him speak. “My roommate read his book for a history class and I read it after he finished with it. I thought it would be interesting to see what he had to say.”
Although Regberg said Kozol made a significant impression on him, he still did not know how to act on his inspiration.
“I don”t know what to do with the information that I”ve been given. I don”t know how to help,” he said.