Jennifer's Reviews > Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America

Fire in the Ashes by Jonathan Kozol
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Jul 08, 13

Read in September, 2012

Kozol's Savage Inequalities moved me so much when I was an undergraduate. There was something about Kozol's black-and-white portrait of injustice that really appealed to my emerging political identity. Sometimes I assign it in my clases today, and students seem to love it just as I did.

This newest book is a revisiting of many of the kids he described in his last decades of writing. And if you like Kozol, this book will be right up your alley.

I, however, was not fully enamored by this book. Kozol makes composites of people, "recreates" conversations, and alters events -- supposedly to protect the identity of the people he describes. But in practice, this device makes his descriptions seem fictionalized. I hear too much Kozol in the "quotes" he uses. I want to trust him, but I didn't believe every piece of this book.

But the thing that really prevented me from loving this book was his lack of a clear thesis. Essentially, he shows the reader that poverty makes kids struggle -- in different ways and at different times. It is not until the very end that he writes, "If any lesson may be learned..., it is not that we should celebrate exceptionality of opportunity but that the public schools themselves in neighborhoods of widespread destitution ought to have the rich resources, small classes, and well-prepared and well-rewarded teachers that would enable us to give to every child the feast of learning that is now available to children of the poor only on the basis of careful selectivity or by catching the attention of empathetic people...Charity and chance and narrow selectivity are not the way to educate the children of a genuine democracy." (304) This is a huge and interesting point, but why wait until the last pages to make it? Ultimately, this idea comes across as more of an afterthought than an anchor to his writing.

Nonetheless, this is classic Kozol, and I'm sure that his writing will spark some fiery conversations. I'm glad I read it.

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07/08/2013 marked as: read

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