An Interview with Jonathan Kozol | Hooray For Monday

Hooray for Monday is a weekly blog filled with questions, ideas, reflections, and actions we can all take to remodel the school experience for students. Prefer audio? Listen to the Hooray For Monday podcast! Available on your favorite platforms here.

February 26, 2024

By Aleta Margolis, President and Founder

I had already been a teacher in Washington, DC and in Illinois when author and activist Jonathan Kozol’s book Savage Inequalities came out. What he described in vivid detail in those pages was a reality that was troubling me as I was making my way through those early years of the profession.

He shone a light on both the problems and the promise of education in a nation that aspires to provide schooling for all its children but does so with great inequity. So when I had the opportunity to redesign the Schools and Society course I was teaching at American University in 1995, I built the curriculum around that book.

Throughout the nearly 30 years I’ve run Center for Inspired Teaching, Mr. Kozol has been the steady voice in my ear reminding me that this quest to make engaging, creative, inspiring teaching the norm rather than the exception for all children and to support all teachers in this aim — is a worthy, and indeed necessary, lifelong quest. It has been his lifelong quest.

So I was honored to be given a draft of his new book, An End to Inequality, to read, and even more so, to be able to interview him about this extraordinary work — one he says will be his last. It is a culmination of a lifetime of research into what does and doesn’t make our schools work and a commitment to doing better by our young people.

I encourage you to listen to the full interview in the Hooray For Monday podcast here (and find the transcript, edited for clarity, here) and have included below a few excerpts that speak to the power of his message.

On the Goal of Public Education: “I wish that a healthy spirit of irreverence were an acceptable goal of public education. Especially in a nation where we’re faced with all kinds of dogmatic tyrannies right now. We don’t just need well skilled productive workers from our schools, we also need morally irreverent citizens in the United States. Not violent, not destructive, not cruel but capable of challenging any evil that’s right in front of their eyes.”

On “School Reform:”“I think we need a massive wave of skepticism [in response to the messaging coming from so-called school reformers that] people were too dumb for the past 2000 years to figure it out, but we just figured it out! And we turned it into 10 units of teaching. And we’re sending it to your school. And you better teach it!”

“I think what matters is that the teacher has a reasonably small class size in a safe and cheerful setting, that he or she is given a maximum chance to have a sense of joy about getting up on Monday morning and going there. It’s going to be an adventure. She and the children are going to explore the world. They’re going to explore their own possibilities. They’re going to not just study history but prepare to shape it themselves when they are 20 years older. Teaching and learning ought to be an adventure and that’s what I’d fight for.”

On Teacher Education: “I think the faculties in our schools of education need to elicit more from the would-be teachers by asking about: What do they love? Why do they want to be with children? Do they have a sense of humor? Are they able to laugh and smile at something that’s annoying and kind of screwy, which there’s a lot in the public system?”

“The goal of teacher education should be to encourage teachers to be as exciting and adaptable and always curious and not tyrannical. They should not feel bound to follow tyrannical instructions. And I think that means ultimately trying to fill our public schools with wonderful human beings and not just well-trained dutiful technicians of mechanical proficiencies, but people who can inflame excitement about learning in children.”

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Hooray For Monday is an award-winning weekly publication by Center for Inspired Teaching, an independent nonprofit organization that invests in and supports teachers. Inspired Teaching provides transformative, improvisation-based professional learning for teachers that is 100% engaging – intellectually, emotionally, and physically. Our mission is to create radical change in the school experience – away from compliance and toward authentic engagement.

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