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Expert addresses plight of public schools

February 15, 2001
By: Ben Paynter
State Capital Bureau

COLUMBIA - The South Bronx ranks as the nation's poorest neighborhood. But to education activist Jonathan Kozol, who has visited the area more than 200 times since 1993, the neighborhood's children are more than just a statistic.

In his new book, "Ordinary Resurrections: Courage and Resilience in the Urban Poor," Kozol offers a unique, intimate glimpse into these children's

psyches, and in the process strips away his journalistic distance. On a few occasions, he told the children that he might bring his Golden Retriever, Sweetie Pie, to the neighborhood sometime.

"Eventually the kids starting saying, "You promised," Kozol said. "Kids are like espionage agents. They see right through you."

This led to a six-hour drive with Sweetie Pie from their home in Byfield, Mass.

As the featured speaker in MU's annual Lloyd B. Thomas Lecture and Performance Series, Kozol will appear at 8 p.m. in the MU Conservation Auditorium. He will also do a book signing between 3 and 4 p.m. Monday, at the MU Bookstore in Brady Commons.

His lecture will focus on the children he met in the South Bronx, and then address funding inequalities in the national public education system, a subject at the heart of his award-winning 1992 book "Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools."

"These are nice kids with high ambition and a lot of resilience," he said. "They get knocked down and get up again. The book is entitled, "Ordinary

Resurrections," because they keep getting up," he said.

Specifically, Kozol hopes to show how his experiences with the South Bronx children dispel economic and racial stereotypes.

"People tend to assume that a lot of city kids are the same," he said.

"These kids are very sweet and lovable. They aren't all angels but they are very much like children everywhere in the U.S., filled with variety." Kozol's journalistic account of people and events lend authenticity to his work, MU sociology professor Joan Hermson said. Hermson has been using

Kozol's 1996 book, "Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation," as an aid in her social inequalities class.

"He brings a lens on urban poverty, a very complex phenomenon," Hermson said. "Through a realistic study, his books create a connection for us."

Kozol will talk about the teachers and religious leaders that help support children in public schools.

"They stay because they are loyal to the children," he said. "They show the way to change the world, one child at a time."

The Thomas Series was founded in memory of MU chemistry professor Lloyd Thomas. The Series seeks speakers with the ability to challenge and inspire audiences, series coordinator Ted Tarkow said. He said Kozol has been high on the selection committee's list for the past several years.

"I am delighted to have a person of his stature here for this week." Tarkow said. "He is central to the issues that we need to address as citizens of the 21st Century."