Sunday, March 28, 2010

Kozol and Networking

For my Cultural Capital class I read Shame of the Nation, by Jonathan Kozol. The book details the widening gap in the different types of education being received by white children and minority children using poignant stories and statistics over the last thirty plus years. Immediately, I was uncomfortable with how the language of the book was very black and white. That is to say, Kozol spoke of race aggressively, without qualifiers, and honestly from page one to page three hundred and fifteen. This was a style of writing I had not come across in any of my academic texts. I was uncomfortable not because he talked about race but because he did it without trying to "sugar coat" his position or the true position of the educational situation for majority of minority children. Thus, I think my uncomfortablenesses was something Kozol was hoping to achieve. Something I believe he was hoping would sit badly with me enough to cause me to react. In this, way I believe the book is successful because I did find I was asking myself afterwards what can I do to change this reality in America. A reality that lets elementary children go to schools infested with rats, high school students forced in to vocational classes and education paths because a lack of open and over crowded classes, and misappropriated state funding that does not work on a need basis. Our class was assigned to read this book in preparation of Roosevelt University's One book One University event. Our first class back after spring break, we attend this event in which Kozol spoke to a large group that filled the 2nd floor lounge. Kozol used many stories and statistics from his book in his lecture. However, I found he predominantly used the stories to highlight points in this lecture and tended to add on many comic asides to entice a laugh from his audience. I think I would have liked to hear him speak more to the current state of affairs since his book was published in 2005 and what changes if any he saw happening under the new President. This "what now" "next step" element was not a large enough component of his argument. Which I think would be O.K. if he only wanted to create awareness but I do not think that is his primary goal. He did speak of some solutions that worked in the past, such as busing, and what leader in education thought needed to happen in order for change to occur. Another movement is thought to be the answer to ignite the momentum behind the original verdict of the Brown vs Board of Education case. If that is true, the awareness Kozol does succeed in raising plays an important role in educating those may be interested in devoting their time to such a movement. His best piece of advice was in answer to a woman's question of how everyday people can help dissolve the apartheid education in America. Kozol says to hold Obama accountable. Something I think we as a nation may be doing already too prematurely on his overall performance a year after his Presidential victory.

Now the fun part of the story. After the lecture Kozol stayed and refused to leave, though threat of missing his plane by the event coordinator was ever present, until he signed every last student or attendees book that waited in line. I was toward the back of the line and when I reached him I happen to mention I was a writer. His first question - Who is your favorite poet? This is where I cursed myself for not reading the poetry anthology my good friend gave me for Christmas and so graciously highlighted all the major poets and poems any good writer should know. I dodged the question by saying I am actually a fiction writer and unfortunately do not read enough poetry because of it. He then told me to hang out a bit we should compare notes when he was done. I was very excited at his very unexpected request. Because contrary to the belief that I do not like to network, because I do and want to, I am just very bad at networking. So to have a very accomplished writer and scholar ask to compare notes with me I was besides myself. Because he was in a great rush the meeting was brief and it was me mainly walking him to his airport car out front. However, in that short amount of time we exchanged contact information, shared our favorite writers, (he like Faulkner and Graham Greene), and he told me it was a shame I did not live in the Cambridge area because he had a house a bunch of writer types liked to hang out at. Damn! I was hoping he may have had a similar house in Chicago since he made so many friends and contacts all over the nation but he did not. So with a small hug, travel safe wishes, and promises to be in touch I ended my night on cloud nine.

That was one of the few nights I was able to say I say I successfully networked with a fellow writer and scholar of the arts. Though he may write about different things than I, we both shared a love of literature and the power of words.

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