cover image Letters to a Young Teacher

Letters to a Young Teacher

Jonathan Kozol, . . Crown, $19.95 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-307-39371-5

Forty years ago, Death at an Early Age catapulted Kozol into national prominence as a compassionate yet clearheaded observer of the rotten state of American education. His latest book reviews many of the basic issues he has spent his life exploring through teaching and writing. Here, he cleverly weaves his observations—as well as a thinly disguised biographical memoir—into a series of 16 letters written to “Francesca,” a first-grade teacher at an inner-city public school in Boston. Overall, the book will delight and encourage first-year (or for that matter, 40th-year) teachers who need Kozol's reminders of the ways that their “beautiful profession” can “bring joy and beauty, mystery and mischievous delight into the hearts of little people in their years of greatest curiosity.” But his encouraging words rarely lapse into treacle. In fact, he offers tough observations on American education addressed to a larger audience. His forceful opinions are convincingly argued—most notably, that educational vouchers will deepen divisions between diverse groups in racially decided cities; that middle schools demoralize students and should be abolished entirely; and that the Gates Foundation made a “damaging mistake” in aggressively funding a “small school craze” that will reinforce “the racial isolation of the students they enroll.” (Sept.)