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Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among…

Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America

by Jonathan Kozol

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This book will be most appreciated by readers familiar with Kozol's other works, particularly titles relating to the children and families he has come to know at St. Ann's. Twenty-five years after beginning to follow the lives of these impoverished children, the author offers updated findings. He concludes that the children who have done well as adults have had something special: someone who intervened in their lives. Powerful and moving.
( )
  Sullywriter | Apr 3, 2013 |
Kozol's book takes us on a compelling journey into the residential hotels of New York City,
where homeless families find disturbing refuge -- and occasionally hope for a better life.
As a teacher, I am constantly reminded of my students hardships when they tell me their
own stories of homelessness, of cleaning houses to help their families make ends meet,
of abuse and neglect. I couldn't put t his book down. In the richest country in the world, it is
shameful to disown our children this way, to assign them such lives of struggle. Thank you, Jonathan
Kozol, for your heart and your words.
  MarcyWinograd | Sep 12, 2012 |
Having taught in the inner city public schools of Cleveland in the early 70s, I have been a long time admirer of Jonathan Kozol and his passion for improving the nation's public education system. He spoke at a Politics and Prose event in Washington, D.C. recently and his words brought tears to many in the audience. In this election year, it is imperative that voters take a hard look at how elected officials approach public education and how the nation can best meet the educational needs of ALL children. While funding is certainly a factor, it is also essential to recognize that standardized testing cannot and should not be the yardstick by which students and teachers are measured. Teachers should be encouraged and empowered to consider the individual needs of students and provided with the resources to meet those needs, both in terms of class size and materials. I encourage everyone to read this book and Kozol's earlier works -- it is heartbreaking to realize how this wealthy nation has neglected public education, especially for those at lowest rung of the economy. ( )
  Jcambridge | Sep 6, 2012 |
Jonathan Kozol breaks my heart every time I open one of his books. Who knew the suffering children are experiencing in homes in the poorest areas of our country? Who knew how schools, the last hope of many, are giving up on these children? Who knew?
Kozol revisits children he has run across in his work in the schools in the past twenty-five years. For many of these children, life has only gotten more difficult and many of these stories end tragically, with prison time and even in death.
But there are happy stories, too. As I was reading along, with one devastating story after the other, I was at the point, mid-book, where it was too painful to go on. It was almost as if Kozol realized that, too, and the stories suddenly began to shift and Kozol began to tell the stories of lives redeemed and saved along with the bleak.
A book that is a reminder to all of us of the power we hold in our hands to help or hinder those too weak or too tired to make it on their own. ( )
  debnance | Sep 2, 2012 |
True equality means equal opportunities and safety for all, and a book like this is a bit unique in that it doesn’t just look at inequalities but also examines the long-term effects of attempts at intervening and helping people who basically got the short end of the stick. Kozol succeeds quite well in analyzing what has worked and what hasn’t in the Bronx where a large part of his social justice career has been.

The chapters each focus on a different child, although a couple of children get their own chapters. Kozol met the children either in one of the infamous 1980s NYC homeless shelters or at an after-school tutoring program offered at a church (St Ann’s) in the Bronx. There are a few things that are immediately apparent from observing the long-term trajectory of these kids, which is why a book like this is so valuable for social justice work.

First, all of the kids who were homeless or who spent a long time in homeless shelters had many more problems and difficulties later in life. It is clear that homelessness has a long-lasting negative impact on children, no matter how many good opportunities come to them later in life. Similarly, girls seem to stand a better chance than boys of climbing out of the poverty they grew up in. Kozol never makes any clear speculative statements as to why he thinks this is, but the multiple lives we observe clearly demonstrate that boys are more targeted than girls both by the crime lords and by the police.

The other big theme of the book is of course how educational inequality entrenches classism and racism. Kozol has spent most of his career working in improving education so it’s not surprising this is a theme of the book. One thing that stood out to me was how quickly kids are lost if they never get a firmly established literacy and sense of confidence in their ability to learn. Once kids start getting held back a grade or fall below grade level, it is incredibly easy to become discouraged and turn to what appears to be an easier life of crime.

Kozol ends the book by talking about what he sees as progress and how the now grown-up kids he worked with see possible solutions. He’s adamant that even small gains are gains. He views any child whose life ultimately is one of peace and self-worth as an accomplishment, whether they even completed high school or not. To a certain extent I agree with him, but to a certain extent I agree much more with one of the grown-up kids (who just so happens to be about my age) who argues that small changes aren’t good enough. That the inequality is so deeply entrenched that we must truly rock the system and not just save one child at a time. She does ultimately agree that the small changes are still worthy of praise and is working on a degree in sociology so she may go back to the Bronx and focus in on small changes. That then is the question at the heart of this book and one for which there are no easy answers. How do we fix this problem?

It’s difficult to say who this book will appeal to. It’s not a clear treatise on the educational system or social justice. It is one man’s observations of the lives and life stories of inner city youth he worked with. It is not academic per se but it’s also not exactly a memoir either. I think perhaps that it will appeal most to anyone whose day to day job involves having small influences on the education of individuals. It clearly shows how much impact one person can have on another person’s life, particularly when it comes to education and literacy.

Overall then I recommend this to those who work in education whether formally or informally. It is encouraging to see the perspective of an older person who has clearly seen how his life work has impacted the kids he worked with.

Check out my full review: http://wp.me/pp7vL-Tl ( )
  gaialover | Aug 30, 2012 |
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Kozol returns to the scene of his prize-winning books Rachel and her children and Amazing Grace, and to the children he's portrayed there, to share their journeys and unexpected victories as they grow into adulthood.

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