Wednesday, June 15, 2016


Jonathan Kozol & Dolores Huerta after his May 11 talk at CSUB

The academic year here at CSU Bakersfield has come to an end and I find myself thinking of the events and programs that we sponsored. Of these, Jonathan Kozol's May 11th "21st Century Inequalities in American Education" presentation at the Walter W. Stiern Library stands out.

Drawing on his long history of pointing to the separate but (still) unequal educational conditions in America, Mr. Kozol took a look at California's southern San Joaquin Valley and found that many of the same characteristics that created the education gaps that exist in America's inner cities can also be found in Kern County, California.

Rather than discussing how Black America has been left behind in America's system of "educational apartheid" - a hallmark of his earlier works - Kozol highlighted the educational challenges that first-generation Mexicans and the rural poor find in Kern County, which lies at the most southern tip of the San Joaquin Valley.

It's interesting to note that before his May 11th talk Jonathan Kozol visited the communities of Lamont and Arvin, small rural Kern County towns where over 90 percent of the the population are either Latino, poor, or dependent on agriculture - the dominant industry in the region. The next day Kozol spoke about the educational obstacles for children in the area. Here he explained how the vast majority of region's children are locked out of preschool education opportunities. This reality is compounded as the children get older by challenges like poverty, undrinkable water (in Arvin), and fewer Advanced Placement (AP) classes when they get to high school.

It was during Kozol's discussion of these conditions that we begin to see how the educational divide, that starts as a large crack before Kindergarten, becomes a chasm by the time the children of these communities are preparing to enter college.

After listening to him speak at CSU Bakersfield it's easy to understand why Jonathan Kozol received the National Book Award for Death at an Early Age, the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award for Rachel and Her Children, and countless other awards for his books, which include Savage Inequalities. Simply put, Jonathan Kozol is one of the few scholars of America's system of education who can explain its intricacies while painting with a broad brush. His Bakersfield audience was left wanting more.

We're looking forward to inviting Jonathan Kozol to California State University Bakersfield for a longer stint in the future. And, yes, we're working on how we can do this over the summer.

- Mark

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