For nearly fifty years Jonathan has pricked the conscience of his readers by laying bare the savage inequalities inflicted upon children for no reason but the accident of being born to poverty within a wealthy nation. His own life has been radically transformed by the children who have trusted and befriended him. Some of them never do recover from the battering they undergo in their early years, but many more battle back with fierce and, often, jubilant determination to overcome the formidable obstacles they face. As we watch these glorious children grow into the fullness of a healthy and contributive maturity, they ignite a flame of hope, not only for themselves, but for our society. The urgent issues that confront our urban schools—a devastating race gap, a pathological regime of obsessive testing and drilling students for exams instead of giving them the rich curriculum that excites a love of learning—are interwoven through these stories.

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Nearly three decades later, Jonathan Kozol revisits the families of deep poverty who have populated his books. September 17, Kozol met many of the children at the Martinique Hotel, a shelter for homeless families. Christopher was 10, staying with his parents and two younger siblings at the Martinique , when Kozol first met him. After being in and out of prison, Christopher eventually died from a drug overdose.

Alice Washington was in her forties when Kozol met her at the Martinique. On a steamy day, she showed him a New York Times story about how the heat had been uncomfortable for the carriage horses. Her reaction She became a nurturing friend to Kozol and has since passed away due to illness. The children who rose above have incredible reservoirs of perseverance. But they also have incredible supporters —- a whole church congregation in Montana that invites a family to relocate to their town; a benefactor who agrees to pay for private school; and Martha, a woman whose advocacy for the children in her midst goes way beyond her role as minister in a Bronx church.

The daughter of Spanish-speaking immigrants, she had to work hard to overcome deficits in reading, writing, and basic study skills, but her older sister and she both finished high school firsts in their family and went on to college.

Pineapple studied to be a social worker, to equip herself to help the next generation of children who have to swim against the current. As a young woman, she talked with Kozol for the first time about shootings in her public-housing neighborhood when she was a child. But for that to happen You would have to start again from scratch. The bluntness that was very much a part of her delightful personality when she was a little girl, as in her criticism of the clothes I wore, had by no means disappeared, but it was directed more and more to matters that went far beyond her own amusements and concerns.

Maybe when Kozol is ready to retire, Pineapple can pick up where he leaves off — chronicling the ashes of injustice -- and the flames that give rise to the phoenix in children like herself. Already a subscriber? Your subscription to The Christian Science Monitor has expired.

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

Kozol, J. Fire in the ashes: twenty-five years among the poorest children in America. New York: Crown Publishers. Kozol, Jonathan. New York: Crown Publishers,


‘Fire in the Ashes’ by Jonathan Kozol

Nearly three decades later, Jonathan Kozol revisits the families of deep poverty who have populated his books. September 17, Kozol met many of the children at the Martinique Hotel, a shelter for homeless families. Christopher was 10, staying with his parents and two younger siblings at the Martinique , when Kozol first met him.


Fire in the Ashes

There are few triumphs in the bleak landscapes Kozol visits. Kozol has an obvious gift for friendship, and a willingness to help in practical ways when he believes a child will leverage an opportunity into a better future. On numerous occasions, Kozol steps in and helps a promising student from the South Bronx get a scholarship to a good high school or college, calling headmasters, wealthy donors, or philanthropic organizations. Most of all, Kozol stays in touch with these families, making innumerable phone calls, visits, and simply acting as a positive influence in the lives of these children. Instead, Kozol shows us the very real costs of putting children in bad schools where they receive low-quality educations and then return to communities, like the South Bronx, where economic opportunity is woefully lacking and where criminality becomes the path for more than a few of the young people Kozol encounters. While Vicky initially loves the change, her son Eric soon gets into trouble.

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