In his most recent book, Fire in the Ashes, celebrated education writer Jonathan Kozol follows some of the nation’s poorest children, from infancy through young adulthood.
As part of KERA's American Graduate initiative, Kozol talked about struggles many students face to succeed in school, and obstacles schools confront to teach them.
The conversation touched on a variety of topics based largely on improving high school and college success rates for kids from low income families, often where English is the second language.
Kozol stressed the importance of individual intervention by caring adults to help students overcome obstacles to learning. Sometimes the obstacles are at home; sometimes they're in school. The barriers may be personal or academic. And the adults who help might be teachers or those in the community -- they might not even be associated with the school.
He also talked about reform efforts such as charter schools. He said that some charter schools succeed, while others do not -- just like public schools. He said there is a difference between the two. He sees charter schools as more selective, even though the state classifies both as “public schools.”
He reminded listeners that the public school system is historically based on the Jeffersonian philosophy that an educated electorate is necessary for a strong and healthy democracy. Kozol worries that those who champion vouchers, especially for private schools, would damage the education system as we know it -- and harm democracy in the process.