The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America (2005) by Jonathan Kozol

First Reading Assignment (pp. 1-63)

Introduction (1-12)

Note how Kozol establishes his bonafides to criticize our current educational policy:
  • How and when did he get into teaching?
  • How much experience does he have teaching in an urban public school setting?
  • When did he turn to writing books about the situation in our urban public school?

Note the method that Kozol will use to make his point. (12) This is not an academic study which relies upon statistical analysis of empirical data (i.e. test scores) in order to persuade the reader. Instead, he will rely upon the conversations he has had with students attending urban schools over the last fifteen years.

  • What is the danger of relying upon anecdotal evidence (the stories of these kids)?
  • How does he defend himself from these criticisms?

Kozol’s Thesis:

Kozol quotes Thomas Merton to describe his central purpose in this book:

“We owe a definite homage to the reality around us and we are obliged, at certain times, to say what things are and give them their right names.” (10)
  • What reality about the situation of students in our urban schools today does society seem so determined to ignore?
  • What does Kozol believe should be done to rectify the situation?

Note how Kozol summarizes the philosophy which guides conservative approaches to the problem. (11) 

  • What did Justice Clarence Thomas argue in his concurrence to Missouri v. Jenkins (1995)  (1995)?
  • Is Kozol’s characterization of the conservative position accurate?

Chapter One: “Dishonoring the Dead” (13-37)

  • What effect has the resegregation of PS 65 in the South Bronx had on students like Pineapple, the kindergarten student Kozol befriended in 1993? (13-16)
  • What, according to Kozol, is the most destructive effect of the isolation? (17)
  • Why, despite the milestone Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954, have America’s public schools remained segregated? (18-19) (Key Decision: Missouri v. Jenkins (1995)) (See Sprago Notes)
  • What are the benefits of integration for black students? (19)
  • List some examples of the surreal extent to which policy makers will go to avoid discussing the issue of segregation. (20-21)
  • Why does Kozol argue that Thurgood Marshall must be turning in his grave?
  • How could it have been that Martin Luther King High School, which resided in an integrated neighborhood on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, remained over 95% black until its closing? (25-27)
  • Why is it politically incorrect in today’s climate to assert that segregation has negative effects? (28)
  • How do the kids whom Kozol has interviewed understand the reasons for segregation? (28-29)
  • Note the language of Warren's opinion in the Brown decision. Why was de-segregation originally mandated by the Court? (29)
  • Why might Kozol have found the celebration of Rosa Parks’ life earlier this year profoundly ironic?
  • Explain the ‘attendance zone’ movement currently afoot among white NYC parents whose children attend public schools on Manhattan. (30-31) (Is such a policy already in place in the Patterson Park neighborhood in which Paca resides?)
  • How is it possible that schools in NYC’s suburbs also remain segregated? (32-33)
  • What is the goal of black educators today, now that the fulfillment of King’s Dream has receded into impracticality? Explain what the term ‘adequate funding’ means in the context of the “No Child Left Behind” law. (34)
  • Why does Kozol find the current school philosophy which exhorts children of poverty to achieve self-reliance so unsettling? Why does he believe it will not work? (34-37)
  • What questions for Paca students, teachers and administrators would you ask based on your reading of this chapter?

Chapter Two: “Hitting Them the Hardest When They Are Smallest” (39-63)

Use this chapter to help the class generate more questions for Paca’s students, teachers and administrators:

Physical Plant:

  • Are you satisfied with the current condition of your school’s physical plant? (If not, what are the highest priority challenges you face with upgrading your school’s facilities?)
  • Have you had problems with plumbing? Is there evidence of water damage? Ceilings? Bathrooms? Mold?
  • Does your school have air conditioning? Are your windows in good working condition?
  • Do your students get opportunities to play during recess? Where do they go for recess? (Is that facility in satisfactory condition?)
  • In your opinion, are your classrooms too crowded? What is the current student/teacher ratio?
  • Does your school have a library? Can kids take books home with them to read?


  • What percentage of your students are eligible for the free lunch program?
  • Do many of your students come to school hungry? Is there an opportunity for them to eat breakfast at school?
  • How would you describe the physical health of your students? In one of our reading assignments an inner city physician observed the high occurrence of asthma, lead poisoning, iron deficiency (anemia), and otitis (hearing loss). Have you noticed a prevalence of these maladies among your students?
  • Does your school have a nurse? (How do you handle health emergencies? How do you assist kids who arrive at school with signs of physical abuse?)
  • Does your school have a counselor? (How do you assist students who show signs of depression?)


  • Are you satisfied with your school’s curriculum? (If not, what would be your highest priority for improving the curriculum?)
  • Does your school have study skill specialists to assist students with reading, writing, or speaking problems?

Extra-Curricular Activities:

  • Does your school have an after-school program?
  • Does your school offer art, music or drama programs?
  • Does your school offer organized athletics?

School Funding:

  • What is the per pupil funding level for students who attend Paca? Is this funding level ‘adequate’ in your opinion?
  • How does this funding level compare to the county school system?
  • What is the median teacher salary at Paca?
  • How experienced are your teachers?
  • Does Paca receive private funding to supplement the subsidy it receives from the city, state and federal government? (If so, how are these funds spent?)
  • Does the PTA function at Paca? (If so, does it engage in fund raising activities like bake sales, candy sales, Xmas wrapping sales?)

Pre-K Programs:

  • How many Paca students come to the first grade from pre-school programs?
  • Were these one year or two year programs? How long did the sessions last? (half-day? full-day?)
  • Do your students get to take advantage of Head Start programs in their neighborhoods?
  • What adjustment challenges do students who have not been in pre-school programs face when they enter the first grade?
  • We have noted the marked improvement of Paca third graders on the MSA standardized tests. To what do you attribute these higher scores?
  • How are students chosen to attend your 4th and 5th grade academy?

Kozol’s Attack on Conservative Hypocrisy: (55-62)

  • How does Kozol demonstrate the hypocrisy of conservatives who argue that money alone will not solve the problems of city schools? (56-59)
  • What would conservatives say about the waste of taxpayers’ money in response to Kozol’s point?
  • How would Kozol criticize our own project to help inner city kids through volunteering to participate in mentoring, tutoring and service organizations? (58)
  • How does Kozol rebut conservative arguments that some impoverished children have been able to stay in school, get through college, and find success in the professional world without government aid? (60-62)