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“Savage Inequalities” by Jonathan Kozol – AND “Lighting their fires” by Rafe Esquith

savage As a parent, and as a homeschooing mom-to-be, I’ve found myself reading a lot about educational theories, the education system in general, and ways to encourage kids to want to learn.

Unfortunately, I also live in the city of Chicago, which is currently presided over by a mayor who slashes school budgets to the point where our CPS schools have to have toilet paper drives, while at the same time giving millions of dollars to build a new stadium for DePaul University and a hot dog company.

Yeah, the state of the American education system is pretty terrible.

Jonathan Kozol’s landmark book, “Savage Inequalities,” shed light on this in the smartest way possible; by actually visiting some of the poorest, most depressing schools in the country, and comparing them to rich and vibrant schools that are often only a few miles away.  Is it due to the underlying racism that still exists in America that predominately black and latino schools are in terrible shape, while largely white schools in wealthy suburbs are flourishing? Who knows. It’s the truth, though.  Kozol’s book is remarkable, and makes the reader angry for all the right reasons.  Our children, regardless of skin color, economic class, or location of residence, should all have access to education – and education in a safe, clean  building with the necessary supplies like pens and paper and, you know, toilet paper.

lightingtheirfiresRafe Esquith’s “Lighting their Fires” made me angry for another reason.  Esquith, an award-winning teacher in L.A., is best known for teaching his inner-city kids Shakespeare, and achieving remarkable results.  His most famous book, “Teach like your hair is on fire,” is an inspiring read, and one I’m glad to have read and enjoyed.  However, since reading that, I’ve come to realize that his books are often filled with an awful lot of his patting himself on the back.  In “Lighting their Fires,” he takes a group of students to see a Dodgers game (to which they got free tickets because they’re so remarkable, thanks to Esquith) and the behavior of the baseball fans around them serves as the catalyst for Esquith to sound off on his methods – many of which were already explained in previous books.  “Lighting their Fires,” frankly, annoyed me.  I plan to expose my son to great literary works, baseball, and the whole world – but I’m okay if I don’t meet celebrities and get book deals for doing so.  I applaud Mr. Esquith for making a difference, but it’s starting to come off as humble-bragging.

Kudos, however, to any book or show or person that draws attention to the state of the American Education System. (The documentary, “Waiting for Superman,” is amazing.  Just throwing that out there.) When something is broke, fix it. It’s time.