Thursday, September 5, 2019

Kozol reminds us of love in the classroom

Hero. That's the best way to say it.

Jonathan Kozol is a hero of social progress, truth and education, and if you happen to be unacquainted with him, please go check out his stuff.

I can think of no better person to kick off the education category of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend than Kozol because of his lifetime commitment to social progress, honesty and education. Plus, today happens to be his 83rd birthday.

Happy birthday, Mr. Kozol! You are an inspiration, and I love the work you have given us.

In my mind, Kozol's name is the biggest in education. I know that many people mention John Dewey, who passed away in 1952, and Jean Piaget, who died in 1980, as key progressive educators. But, heck, Kozol is still alive, and his stuff hits home with me.

Kozol is most known for Death at an Early Age (1967), Savage Inequalities (1991) and The Shame of a Nation (2005), which look at embedded racism in the educational system and major disparities in funding among schools in different neighborhoods. Those are worth a read, but of all of his books, I first recommend Letters to a Young Teacher (2007), especially to anyone in the education profession.
When done correctly, teaching is a beautiful and artistic profession. In his book, Kozol reminds a fictional teacher "Francesca" of this and what I, too, believe is the main reason why a teacher should teach — love. To be effective, you got to love yourself, love the kids and love building trusting relationships.

The tone of Letters to a Young Teacher is so soft and warm that it's hard not to connect to it and find proper perspective as an educator. While it's true that many systems in the educational world could be improved, a teacher needs to keep the right perspective in order to be effective and fulfilled.

Kozol does not shy away from the over-importance placed on testing, the politics of education and a lot of things that need improvement. But through it all, the book is a humanistic pro-teaching, pro-education, pro-public school treatise.

In my 12th year as a public-school secondary teacher, I am revived and love my profession now more than ever. I do have an administrator credential and might go that route one day, but it would be hard for me to leave the classroom, where I like to think we engage in magic each day. Magic is not supernatural; it is tapping into our best selves. I like to think we do that daily.

I believe kids need proper teachers more than ever as parents find themselves overworked, on their screens too much and maybe even overweight. It can be a punishing economic world out there, and I see that kids need genuine support. Teachers need support, too, and Kozol's words do help.

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