Jonathan Kozol, the most widely read and highly honored education writer in America, will give a keynote address, titled “Fire in the Ashes: The Deepening Crisis in our Public Schools — Victims and Survivors,” on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Shafer Auditorium at Allegheny College. The public is invited to this free talk. A book-signing will follow.
Kozol’s visit to Allegheny is part of the college’s Year of Transforming Education, an exploration of the inequalities inherent in American education, the future of the U.S. public education system and the value of liberal arts education.
In the passion of the civil rights campaigns of 1964 and 1965, Kozol gave up the prospect of a promising career within the academic world, moved from Harvard Square into a poor black neighborhood of Boston, and became a fourth-grade teacher. He has since devoted nearly his entire life to the challenge of providing equal opportunity within U.S. public schools to every child, of whatever racial origin or economic level.
“Death at an Early Age,” a description of his first year as a teacher, received the 1968 National Book Award in Science, Philosophy and Religion. Among the major works he has written since are “Rachel and Her Children,” a study of homeless mothers and their children, which received the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award for 1989, and “Savage Inequalities,” which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1992.
His 1995 best-seller, “Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation,” was featured on the “Oprah Winfrey Show” and in 1996 received the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, an honor previously granted to the works of Langston Hughes and Martin Luther King Jr. Ten years later, he wrote “The Shame of the Nation,” a powerful expose of conditions he found in nearly 60 public schools in 30 districts.
In August 2012 Kozol published “Fire in the Ashes,” a stirring culmination of the stories he has told over a quarter-century about the children of the poorest urban neighborhood in the United States. “Fire in the Ashes” follows these children out of their infancy, through the struggles of their adolescence, into their young adulthood. The stories are interwoven with the crisis in our public schools and the decency of teachers who fight against the odds to defend the dignity of kids who are largely written off by our society.
Kozol’s talk also is part of the “Passport Challenge,” a way to mark attendance at selected Year of Transforming Education events and to win prizes such as T-shirts, mugs and keychains. Depending on the level of challenge reached, entrants may also be eligible to enter drawings for laptops, iPods and gift certificates. To participate in the challenge, Transforming Education passport holders must have their booklets stamped at each event they attend. Passport booklets can be found at various locations around Meadville, including the YMCA, the Meadville Public Library, the Market House and the Chamber of Commerce at the Founders House.
Kozol’s talk at Allegheny is co-sponsored by the college’s Black Studies, Values, Ethics and Social Action (VESA) and Women’s Studies programs along with the William Beazell Memorial Fund.
For more information on Allegheny College’s Year of Transforming Education, go to allegheny.edu/yearof; or on Facebook, search for Transforming Education Allegheny College.