Death at an Early Age

Kozol, Jonathan. Death at an Early Age: the Destruction of the Hearts and Minds of Negro Children in the Boston Public Schools. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1967.

I think the subtitle says it all; a nonfiction account of a first-time fourth grade teacher in a less than stellar school system in Roxbury, Massachusetts. “They had desks and a teacher, but they really did not have a class” (p 29). While Kozol is talking about a physical space (he had to share a large auditorium with three, sometimes four other activities (including drama and band practices), I really think he was also referring to the lack of togetherness as a group. There wasn’t a sense of community. There wasn’t a unified eagerness to learn. Nothing bound them to the reason they were there. This is to say nothing of the lack of support Kozol received as an educator from his peers and administration. He was constantly criticized for the amount of time, resources and energy he gave to “the Negro student.” Death at an Early Age is a continuous report of the different instances of abuse and neglect the students endured, culminating with Kozol’s unjustified dismissal after the inclusion of a Langston Hughes poem, “The Landlord.”

The line I could relate to the most: “One of the most grim things about teaching in such a school and such a system is that you do not like to be an incessant barb and irritation to everyone else, so you come under a rather strong compulsion to keep quiet” (p 31).

Another great line, “It is the sense that you cannot do a great many things right but that you can do almost anything wrong” (p 49).

Author Fact: Kozol has a really cool website here.

Book Trivia: Death at an Early Age was awarded a National Book Award in 1968.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Teachers and Teaching Tales” (p 230).

I find it really bizarre that I’ve read such a title so soon after the death of my 41 year old cousin.

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