Response Essay on The shame of the Nation by Jonathan Kozol

False promise is the eighth chapter in the book The Shame of the Nation by Jonathan Kozol in which he addresses the issue of resegragation in American schools. The author focuses on the implementation of the programs like Higher Horizons and Operation Counterpoise. In the 1960s Kozol was working as a teacher in New York when he had the occasion to observe the implementation of these programs. The aim of the program was to improve the student outcome in segregated schools with increased spending combined with teachers' training.

Higher Horizons had a limited success for several reasons including their abandonment barely seven years after the experimentation began as the funds were reduced. The program claimed to improve reading and math skills among students, foster better relations with parents and bring down the suspension rates, but on the whole they turned out to be false promises. Kozol is aware of "the promises" made "today of new and even better ways to guarantee successful outcomes" that will ultimately turn into "disappointment, if not irony" (Kozol 2005:192). False promise is about what the nation was led to believe but the little that was delivered. The high hopes and expectations in the program were generated by media attention. New York City school chancellors Rudy Crew and Joseph Fernandez as well New Jersey Principal Joe Clark was highly optimistic of the success of the program. However, events and circumstances in the long run show nothing substantial really came off the program. Will a faith "in miracles embodied in dynamic and distinctive individuals" (Kozol, p.200) get us closer to the solution? Kozol thinks dynamic individuals cannot change the deep rooted system.

Kozol offers irrefutable statistics to state what he says. There is no denying the fact that discrimination in quality and funding meted out to poor schools where Blacks and Hispanics are preponderant is the root cause of evil that perils us. You cannot improve math or reading or for that matter any other academic or scholastic standard of children that remain deprived. It is a cardinal sin to write off deprived children as academically poor on racial or ethic grounds. At the national level it will take miracle to reverse the trend that we notice and miracles do not happen overnight. The doctrine of separate but equal is inherently fallacious because separate cannot be equal. Therefore, the planners must focus on (i) how to end separation or segregation, before putting in place those policies (ii) that compensate disadvantaged minority students. "Letting" minority children in schools where not all students are "black and brown" according to Kozol, would "reduce the damage done" to them (36). While integration may not be the complete solution to poor academic performance of the minority children as the socio-economic environment in school neighborhood also considerably impacts educational attainment and performance. Kozol doesn't offer a solution to this issue. Another area that needs to be addressed is the obsessive focus on tests and the need to pass these tests so that their schools could get funds. However, these standardized tests are "starting to control the teaching" as the principal of a school notes, with the consequence that they had to get rid of recess (qtd in Kozol 165) so as to use the time productively for the tests. More than a quarter of a year is wasted in these tests and their preparation. School curriculum reflects nothing more than what would be on these tests.

Kozol addresses some of the deep rooted issues adversely impacting American education system. One such issue is the poor performance of schools with preponderant minority students. The root cause of their poor performance is to be found in their segregation and state apathy. Some of the initiatives taken to address these problems appeared promising in the beginning but these programs died a natural death with funds tapering off. Even the current programs like "no child left behind" could be drag on resources with their obsessive focus on tests to the exclusion of a broad and holistic curriculum. While Kozol favors integration he doesn't show how integration can be a permanent solution or how to go about implementing.


Kozol, Jonathan. The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America. New York: Crown Publishers. 2005.