Urban Studies
Spring 2006

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

Final Reading Assignment (pp.265-317)


Chapter 11, “Deadly Lies” (265-284)


Summary: Kozol begins this chapter by quoting President Bush’s assertion that he went to Washington “to combat the soft bigotry of low expectations.” Conservatives characterize criticism of “No Child Left Behind” as insulting to blacks. Liberals, in this argument, regard blacks as dependent upon government help in order to perform as well as whites. Conservatives argue that more money will not help; instead, teachers and students need accountability. Black kids must be held to the same standards as any other student. “All children can learn! No excuses!” To think otherwise is to judge blacks as inferior to whites. (See Justice Thomas' Concurrence in Missouri v. Jenkins (1995))


Conservatives cite scholarly support for ‘standards based school reform’. These studies claim no correlation between spending increases and higher performance levels. Federal aid is part of the problem, not the solution. The teachers themselves are to blame. Their effectiveness will only improve if they are held accountable for their students’ performance in the classroom. (265-68) “Teacher proof” curricula may even be necessary in schools which are failing to give students the discipline they need. In this round-a-bout fashion, conservative thinkers justify an especially structured educational program for inner city children and go so far as to suggest that it is not only sensible but ethically acceptable to isolate blacks in schools appropriate to their needs. (271-72)  


Kozol spends the rest of the chapter rebutting these “deadly lies”. At the heart of his argument is his assertion that these justifications of segregation are leading to a dual school system, one for affluent whites, the other for poor minorities. The longer we allow the two roads to diverge, the bigger the problem will get and the harder it will be for kids to find common ground. Integration, not further segregation, is his answer, and he points to study results which demonstrate that integration improves the educational experience of poor blacks. Integration breaks down their isolation, exposes them to college prep expectations, and teaches both blacks and whites to look past differences in style and culture to embrace their common humanity.



He begins his argument by acknowledging that liberal educational programs contributed to the current crisis. What went wrong with the “open education movement” of the late 60’s and early 70’s? (269)


Kozol believes that smaller schools can be helpful, but he warns that just doing that alone will not achieve results. How would he criticize the decision at Paca to separate higher performing students from the rest of the school community in their academy?


When, in his opinion, do small schools work best? (278)


As he has done throughout the book, Kozol attacks programs heavy on discipline like “Success for All” which embrace rote-learning drills, which teach to the test, and which rely on incentives such as token economies to motivate their student. What is the bottom line problem, in his opinion, with these teaching methods? (281-84)


Chapter 12, “Treasured Places” (285-300) and Epilogue (310-317)


Summary: Kozol describes what is happening in schools where dedicated teachers and principals are succeeding against the odds despite isolation and low funding.


What does a great principal spend all day doing?


 What makes a great teacher?


Why is teacher autonomy in the classroom so essential?


Kozol concludes his book with his interview of Rep. John Lewis, one of the renowned leaders of the Civil Rights Movement: a Freedom Rider and a co-founder of SNCC. Lewis spoke just before Martin Luther King, Jr. on that famous day in Washington during 1963. He has been a member of the House of Representatives from Georgia since 1986.


What is his assessment of the current state of Martin Luther King's dream?


What is his advice to the current generation of young people?