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Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  18,221 ratings  ·  792 reviews
National Book Award-winning author Jonathan Kozol presents his shocking account of the American educational system in this stunning "New York Times" bestseller, which has sold more than 250,000 hardcover copies.

"An impassioned book, laced with anger and indignation, about how our public education system scorns so many of our children." -- New York Times Book Review
Paperback, 272 pages
Published June 12th 1992 by Harper Perennial (first published August 1991)
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 ·  18,221 ratings  ·  792 reviews

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Nov 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: all Americans
Two cases of mothers lying about where they reside in order to get their young children into better school districts have made news recently. In Ohio in January, Kelley Williams-Bolar was sentenced to 10 days in county jail and three years probation for enrolling her children in the Copley-Fairlawn School District rather than Akron, where she lived. "School officials said she was cheating because her daughters received a quality education without paying taxes to fund it," said an ABC article. "T ...more
Jun 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
A heart-wrenching jeremiad about the sorry state of minority schools in this country. Kozol has stated in interviews that we are worse off (both in conditions and segregation) than we were before Brown vs. Board of Education. That seems hyperbolic, but after reading his observations here, it's hard to argue. A blistering attack on the use of local property taxes to fund schools, it's also a sobering testament to the intractability of problems of class and race in America. Should be required read ...more
Cindy Rollins
Jun 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Every American should be required to read this book.
Jun 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2008

Is this just going to be Mama Might Be Better Off Dead: The Education Chapter?


Answer to the question above: yes.

Look, Mr. Kozol, I'm not anti-expose, but I hate being confronted with a tragic and intractable problem to which the author presents no viable solution. Sure, it's important - and crucial - to acknowledge the inequities, to publicize them. But Kozol's hortatory exclamations of "yes, let's equalize the money" do little, if anything at all, toward buil
May 28, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: persons interested in social justice and education issues in america
A college professor of mine who i greatly admire once labeled Jonathan Kozol as a modern day prophet. The idea is that he is a person willing to say things that most of us don't want to hear. And that he is willing to say it starkly. Its true. Kozol does an excellent job in this book talking about a number of failing school systems in the country, and then comparing them to thriving (and well-funded) school systems very close by. I read the book a long time ago, but it still resonates, and i st ...more
Karan Bajaj
Apr 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I picked this book up while researching for my book, since my protagonist grew up in the Bronx housing projects. But Savage Inequalities ended up meaning so much more, and led to a big Jonathan Kozol reading spree. Racial inequality, our apathy for the poor, all such concepts that seemed distant, became urgent and real for me. Having grown up in India, I have to admit, I didn't know this side of America, and I was struck deep in the gut by the stark description of the realities in the housing pr ...more
May 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
The reason I became a teacher
Nov 15, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Everyone knows that this is a masterpiece. If you ever found yourself trying to argue with someone who believes that money does not matter in schools and that urban schools need tough leaders to getthemselves together, then read this book. It tears this argument into scraps. Also it helps to debunk the myth that Hollywood sells of dedicated teachers who work magic in the classroom. Schools need resources like buildings and classroom materials. Teachers just need to be not evil before anything el ...more
Dave Schaafsma
Sep 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: education
Important, seminal book. Class, money matters. New Trier is not Crane HS. The separate but unequal treatment of Amerca's children through school funding is tragic, criminal. ...more
Erik Burke
Jun 13, 2022 rated it really liked it
I read this book in junior year in highschool in tandem with Huckleberry Finn, and I remember that during a Socratic Circle presentation, I began my opening argument by asking the class what they thought would happen if Huck's Father and Jonathan Kozol were locked in a room together.

This is a very harrowing read, and I'd argue a necessary one for those seeking a career in education in the United States. My main problem with it is that it tends to devolve into tragedy porn, and while I'm certainl
I first read Kozol's Savage Inequalities in a college education course, and I remember that what I read left me confused, sickened, and hoping for change. That was about 10 years ago--and Kozol's book was written 10 years before that. The first thing to remember and consider when picking up this book--however challenging it may be--is that it is 20 years old. I think things have changed for urban schools in a lot of ways. Not completely, not entirely, not "equally"--but changes have been made.

Sep 03, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sad to read this in 2020 and think about how not a lot has changed for public education since the late ‘80s / early ‘90s when it was written. Really makes you think if a lot of the problems in our society couldn’t be traced back to education. (Shocking take, I know.)

I took off one star because, although I think this is an extremely important book that should be read by everyone, it got pretty repetitive. The book was organized into chapters by city, but the underfunded public schools in every ci
Apr 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: It should be required reading for every lawmaker at every level of government.
Recommended to Meen by: James Lee
As it did for some other folks who have posted reviews, this book cemented my desire to go into sociology. It is a devastating critique of our educational system and how it perpetuates inequality, keeping poor children from achieving their potential and locking them into poverty. This book was written almost 20 years ago, and rather than improving the quality of education for ALL children in impoverished school districts, we now give vouchers to allow the "good" children to leave them, creating ...more
Jun 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: higher-education
This book makes me simultaneously want to scream and sit down to write a revised education budget.

A quarter century later and you *know* none of this has changed for the better.

We should make this required reading in high school... Or at least in the high schools where students can read.
Kozol does and should discompose suburban liberals like me. This extraordinarily thorough and compelling book goes far beyond suggesting that there is a problem with America's schooling and priorities; it delves deeply into statistics, causes, and, most powerfully, reasons why we have allowed the problem to persist. Spoiler alert: Americans don't come off looking particularly ethical or sensitive in this analysis.

That's good. This journey through East St. Louis, Chicago, New York City, Camden, W
Feb 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
It's a very disheartening book and is sadly still relevant today. I hope we can come up with solutions to education inequality problems and implement them but it will be tough to do. ...more
Jun 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
""But [no one] can tell us what it means to a child to leave his often hellish home and go to a school -his hope for a transcendent future-that is literally falling apart."- Jonathan Kozol

If I could choose one book to give to people who seem to be oblivious to the ways in which racial inequalities are often put into place from a very, very early age, it would be this one. I'm often dumbfounded when I encounter someone who honestly believes that every has the same opportunities in life in Americ
Nick Klagge
Jan 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
This is one of the most compelling books I've ever read. Written in 1991, it is Kozol's account of the state of inner-city public schools at the time, and sadly, I believe the analysis to be practically unchanged in the intervening twenty years. It was especially meaningful for me as I try to move to a job in charter school management, both reinforcing the importance of the work and complicating my view of the problem and its solution.

Kozol does not pull any punches, and at times this book was q
Nov 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ahhh! This was so frustrating to read! How can this be happening? In America? Education is supposed to be the great equalizer, but what students receive from public education is far from equal and definitely not even close to equitable. “One would not have thought that children in America would ever have to choose between a teacher or a playground or sufficient toilet paper. Like grain in a time of famine, the immense resources which the nation does in fact possess go not to the child in the gre ...more
Connor Oswald
Apr 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In short, sad in 1992, sadder still that little has changed in 2018.
Apr 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 26, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars. I know, I know, this is a well-known classic of nonfiction that has stood the test of time. And by no means do I disagree with his premise — since the time that I was in high school 15 years ago, I've been making the argument that funding public education with property taxes leads to entrenched inequalities, and that was without knowing the ways in which state and federal funding utterly fail to rectify the differences. But holy goodness, talk about beating a dead horse. This could ha ...more
Nikki Gorman
Feb 27, 2021 rated it it was amazing
It's possible this was a reread -- some of the information seemed familiar, but if I did in fact read this book before, it was long enough ago that I no longer retained any of the specific details. I have a lot of respect for Jonathan Kozol and his work for educational equity in America (and may be just a tad impartial because I got to meet him and assist with his appearance at my college during my graduate studies).

Highly recommend if you are interested in or passionate about equity in public
Nov 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was published in 1991, but nearly 30 years later, we still have neither equitable or equal public education systems. Kozol points out that Americans like to believe that everyone in our country has an equal shot at being successful at whatever they choose, but because of racism and classism, this is absolutely not the case. He gives examples of solutions that have been discussed, but rarely put into practice, and people's arguments from both sides. I had to admit that I might have been one ...more
Jun 22, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food-for-thought
Jonathan Kozol shares anecdotes from his visits to schools in some of the poorest neighborhoods across America. Given that this book was first published in 1991, some of the information is out-of-date, but I still found it worthwhile to learn what the poorest school districts looked like back then.

This snippet in which Kozol quotes John Coons summarizes my main takeaway from the book, a statement that is still relevant in today's society:

The reliance of our public schools on property taxes and
Mar 04, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A necessary but horrific read about America's school district (and within district) inequalities. We wonder why we see such anger in poor communities. People who feel misjudged and mistreated...because they have been misjudged and mistreated. A solid education for every child should be a basic right. We aren't even close. Parts of this book made me want to weep and yet I'm part of the problem. My own children went to a school within 10 miles of the some of the high end schools described here. W ...more
Jonathan Berry-Smith
However heart-wrenching it is to read about disparities in schools between the rich and the poor, as a millennial reading this it's old news. We shouldn't be surprised that funding differences result in unequal outcomes for children across our nation. I appreciate Kozol for bringing this issue into the popular discourse, but we can no longer be complacent. Change needs to happen, but unfortunately there is no strong argument for what can be done differently to affect this change. Good book, espe ...more
Michael Escalante
Savage Inequalities is pretty depressing and requires a tough stomach from the reader. Kozol explores the enormous disparity in the quality of public schools (and resources allocated to schools) throughout the US. The entrenched socio-economic and racial segregation in my country is multi-dimensional and an extremely difficult problem to understand and begin to address. I do however think that quality education is foundational to meaningful progress. I would love to see an increased focus on edu ...more
Jun 22, 2019 rated it liked it
This was an interesting read on contextual influences, especially with the backdrop of the College Board’s new SAT adversity score, but it was primarily descriptive. I would have liked to see a discussion of politically feasible proposals to redress the issue. There was also no mention of The Coleman Report, which was a significant omission given the book’s subject matter, and Berliner’s work was only briefly referenced.

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Jonathan Kozol is a non-fiction writer, educator, and activist best known for his work towards reforming American public schools. Upon graduating from Harvard, he received a Rhodes scholarship. After returning to the United States, Kozol became a teacher in the Boston Public Schools, until he was fired for teaching a Langston Hughes poem. Kozol has held two Guggenheim Fellowships, has twice been a ...more

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“Placing the burden on the individual to break down doors in finding better education for a child is attractive to conservatives because it reaffirms their faith in individual ambition and autonomy. But to ask an individual to break down doors that we have chained and bolted in advance of his arrival is unfair.” 22 likes
“Research experts want to know what can be done about the values of poor segregated children; and this is a question that needs asking. But they do not ask what can be done about the values of the people who have segregated these communities. There is no academic study of the pathological detachment of the very rich...” 22 likes
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