by Debra Johnson, Published June 14, 2013
YPSILANTI - Social rights activist Jonathan Kozol gave up a promising career within the academic world to become an advocate for equality for inner-city children in public schools.
Kozol is regarded as one of the most widely read and highly honored non-fiction public education writers in the country. He has been called "today's most eloquent spokesman for America's disenfranchised" by the Chicago Sun-Times.
He has had several books on various bestseller lists, and he is the recipient of many national book awards, including the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the New England Book Award.
Kozol will be the first guest speaker in the 2013-14 John W. Porter Distinguished Chair in Urban Education Speaker Series. His talk is on Wednesday, June 26, at 1:30 p.m. in the EMU Student Center ballroom, located at 900 Oakwood Street, Ypsilanti, Mich. A reception and book signing will follow the lecture. The event is free and open to the public.
The John W. Porter Distinguished Chair in Urban Education is named in honor of the late John W. Porter, a former Eastern Michigan University president who served with distinction from 1979-89. The Lecture Series was established to expand the EMU College of Education's role in urban education and provide a venue for stimulating discussions to promote urban initiatives.
In his latest book, "Fire in the Ashes," Kozol followed a group of inner-city children from the South Bronx through the struggles of their adolescence and into young adulthood. Some of their stories are painful and heartbreaking, but others show their audacity as they refuse to be defeated by the gross inequalities of our education system.
During his talk, Kozol will share the poignant story of one child, whom he has known for 20 years. "This child has prevailed despite the inequalities he's encountered during his life," Kozol says.
Kozol will also discuss racial segregation in public schools and what he calls the threat to public education represented by privatization and the spread of charter schools, along with the unhealthy pressure imposed upon creative teachers by test-driven and robotic methods of instruction adopted by too many urban systems.
"The Porter Chair Lecture Series has a long history of providing unique and helpful information on how public education exists in the U.S.," said Derrick Fries, associate professor of special education at Eastern and chairperson for the 2013-14 Porter Lecture Series. "I don't think there is anyone better than Jonathan Kozol to give us insight into our educational system and its effect on kids."
Kozol graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude in 1958 with a degree in English literature, after which he was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University.
When he's not with children and teachers in their classrooms, or at universities speaking to future teachers, Kozol can be found in Washington, D.C. advocating to free schools and children from what he characterizes as the punitive and unsuccessful federal testing law "No Child Left Behind".
Visit the College of Education Porter Speaker Series homepage for more information.