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Jonathan Kozol’s Fire in the Ashes Critical Essay

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Updated: Sep 16th, 2019

The social inequality experienced by children in the American society is one of the most controversial and problematic themes for the discussion.

In his book Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America, Jonathan Kozol discusses the theme of challenges experienced by children grown in the impoverished community of the South Bronx and the impact of poverty, racism, segregation, and inequality on their further lives.

It is possible to rely on Kozol’s vision of the problem because the author is the famous journalist and chronicler who focuses on the stories of children observed personally during twenty-five years.

The book’s title refers to the community of poor children in the American society, thus, the connection between the title and the class is based on the necessity to discuss the problems of segregation in education, special issues related to unequal educational opportunities, social injustice, racism, and a kind of discrimination in education because of the social status.

Kozol’s book is important to start the discussion from the new perspective and focus on education as the significant factor because the book develops the idea that the society affects the people’s successes in overcoming such obstacles as poverty more than the persons’ motives and efforts.

The opinion on Kozol’s book depends on the particular features of the author’s presenting the stories. The book is divided into two parts. The personal stories of those children who could not cope with the difficulties of their lives are presented in the first part.

The individual efforts of these young persons were insignificant while escaping from the drastic conditions of their childhood. Kozol tells stories about the children met in the Martinique Hotel and in the communities of the Bronx churches.

Many children cannot escape from poverty because they cannot receive the adequate education. The staff’s turnover in schools is significant, the high poverty levels prevent students from using additional educational opportunities, and many children are homeless.

As a result, children cannot bear the sufferings, and Kozol describes several early deaths of the boys who could not rely on the equal education or receive the necessary social support.

The second part of the book provides the stories of those young people who succeeded, received education, and built their life according to new social rules. These persons are ‘survivors’ (Kozol, 2012, p. 112).

For instance, Kozol refers to the story of Pineapple who received the education and became a social worker to help the other disadvantaged persons only with the help of benefactors to demonstrate the social injustice related to social development and education.

Relating to the personal impact, it is possible to state that the described stories are perceived as true because of observing many real examples to prove Kozol’s vision.

It is important to analyze and evaluate Kozol’s book in relation to such themes as the impossibility to overcome poverty and segregation in education, the role of the individual efforts, and the chance for the future regarding the failed or used educational opportunities.

Kozol provides many arguments to state that children from impoverished communities have no chances to rely on equal education and opportunities because of the social system’s imperfectness.

The discussion is based on the real-life cases observed by the author, but they are related only to the 1980s-1990s (Kozol, 2012, p. 89-92; Purdue Owl, 2013).

The personal agreement with Kozol’s argument is based on demonstrated evidence of inequality, racism, and segregation developed in the society because the discussed children suffered not only from poverty but also from discrimination and violation expressed by teachers and peers.

Moreover, the role of individual efforts is minimal to affect the situation significantly with references to the stories of those children who committed suicides of died from drug addiction because of the social impact. From this point, the stories of survivors are discussed as exceptions.

The author refers to the idea that the changes in the social system are necessary to influence the positive development. According to the personal impact, it is necessary to note that children as individuals are helpless in many cases to oppose oppression in schools and racism.

While discussing the chance for the future, Kozol does not refer to the positive changes in the system typical for the 2000s, but he concentrates on the personal qualities of those children and then young people who could or could not overcome the obstacles of racism and injustice and on persons who helped them.

Thus, Kozol focuses on the absence of hope and chances for the impoverished children instead of describing the positive changes in the sphere. The agreement with Kozol’s idea is based on the opinion that segregation should be overcome only with reference to systemic actions.

Kozol’s book is rather persuasive, and it is possible to agree with the idea that the reforms in the social system can be more effective to overcome racism and inequality along with the children’s poverty in communities.

The strengths of Kozol’s book are in providing the arguments based on the detailed real-life cases of the children in the context of their further life and in correlating the personal and social effects.

However, the book could be more effective with the focus on realized changes in the sphere of preventing segregation and improving education for impoverished children and concentration on the current examples.


Kozol, J. (2012). Fire in the ashes: Twenty-five years among the poorest children in America. USA: Crown Publishing.

. (2013). Web.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Jonathan Kozol’s Fire in the Ashes'. 16 September.

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