Kozol receives St. Thomas of Villanova Peace Award

Meredith Davisson

Heightened interest in Jonathan Kozol, the recipient of this year’s Adela Dwyer St. Thomas of Villanova Peace Award, forced the award ceremony to be moved to the Pavilion from the Connelly Center on Oct. 3.

Several hundred people filled the Pavilion’s floor seating and overflowed into the surrounding bleachers.

Kozol, a writer, political activist and champion of funding for education, received the award recognizing “an individual or group for outstanding contributions to the understanding of the meaning and conditions of justice and peace in human communities,” according to the Center for Peace and Justice Education which gives the annual award.

Recipients are nominated by the Villanova community and chosen by the staff at the Peace and Justice Center.

Past awardees include Habitat for Humanity and the Catholic Worker movement.

Kozol graduated Summa Cum Laude from Harvard University in 1958, was awarded a Rhodes scholarship and has published over ten books.

He is also a New York Times best-selling author and is a widely known political activist and social critic of inequality in the American public education system.

Kozol grew up in a suburb of Boston.

After attending Oxford to do graduate work, he returned to America in the midst of the 1960s civil rights movement.

When Brown vs. Board was decided, Kozol was a teacher at an impoverished black elementary school outside Boston.

Since then, he has traveled the country visiting cities including New York, Detroit, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., witnessing hyper-segregated, under-funded inner-city schools.

“If you want to see the crappiest schools, go to ones with names like Dr. King or Rosa Parks Elementary or Thurgood Marshall or Caesar Chavez High,” he said.

One of Kozol’s main issues is school funding.

He has spent years visiting and writing about schools in the Bronx, where the average amount spent on a student per year is estimated to be $11,000.

If you take a 20-minute ride outside the city to Long Island, where taxpayers and property owners are considerably wealthier, the per-year rate doubles to about $22,000 a year.

Should a child’s education be compromised based on the socioeconomic status they are born into, Kozol asks.

“If you want to see a Lord and Taylor baby, go to Doylestown or New Hope. The K-Mart babies are in the Bronx,” he said.

A child’s education should not be wasted on preparing for “bubble tests,” Kozol said of the tests required by the No Child Left Behind Act.

The tests aim to estimate a child’s educational progress, but half of the first grade year is spent preparing for the test, so no real progress can be made, Kozol claimed.

Lower scores mean less funding for schools. A lack of funds for this year means even lower scores next year and the cycle continues on and on, he said.

Kozol is listed No. 9 in Bernard Goldberg’s controversial book, “100 People Who are Screwing Up America (And Al Franken is #37).”

Kozol argued that he is not motivated by politics.

However, he did deliver a few Bush-bashing jokes that did not go unnoticed by the Pavilion audience.

“The little black and Latino kids I teach in Harlem – to them it doesn’t matter what bridge some politician stood on in protest for civil rights 40 years ago. They want to know what bridge you stand on now,” he said.

Kozol’s most recent book, “The Shame of a Nation: the Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America,” is included in some curricula of some Villanova sociology classes.

“I love to come to universities like this, ones with solid people – kids with their heads on straight,” Kozol said.

He urged the students to consider teaching as a profession.

“Come into the urban schools where we need you the most,” he said.