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Kozol: Amazing Grace Essay

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Updated: Nov 9th, 2019


A non-fiction literature writer by the name Jonathan Kozol who is best known for his publications concerning public education wrote about the struggles, problems and challenges that the children of the poor people face in USA. He started writing about public education after he was fired from Boston Public Schools after teaching a Langston Hughes poem but later he was offered a job in the district that he grew up in, Newton Public Schools.

Kozol is considered a great educator and activist who did some great work in advocating for social justice mainly through his writings and interpreting scientific works e.g. in the field of social psychology (Schultz, 2001). Let us look at one of his writing, ‘Amazing Grace’.

Kozol’s Work

In this essay discusses the work of Kozol, Amazing Grace, in identifying the challenges and problems that America’s poor population faces in their day-to-day life. A larger percentage of the affected people are either black Americans or of Hispanic origins living in Bronx, St. Ann’s Avenue, Beckman Avenue, Cypress, Hunts point, Mott Haven, East Tremont among others. He introduces to us the disheartening experiences that these poor people face including discrimination and racial segregation.

The most affected are the younger population especially children who are still dependent on their parents. He quotes when children are exposed to extreme hardships they are not hardened as people may think. The only thing that makes them survive is that they are usually full of hope and are more than willing to welcome better life.

For instance the people who attend and live near St. Ann’s church are said to be the poorest in America, the pastor to this church was interviewed by Kozol and he mentioned that he had visited different parts of America and according to him this was the “poorest of the poorest by any standard he can think of” (Schultz, p 372).

Statistical reports released showed that 95% of the residents of this area live below the poverty line. At a local elementary school at St. Ann’s Avenue, only less than ten children out of eight hundred children can comfortably afford their own lunch daily i.e. they are not dependent of the free lunches that are offered at the school. Five of the ten believe that they are just poor but not destitute and by this, the in most cases do not rely/ accept the free lunch offered (Schultz, p 372).

As we know if poverty levels are extremely high then crime is most likely to be as high in the same areas and this reduces security in the areas. This is known to the government but nothing much is being done to manage the situation. The New York Times refers to this area, St. Ann’s Avenue, as “the deadliest blocks in the deadliest precinct of the city. They claim that, if there is a deadlier place in the United States of America, they don’t know where it is” (Schultz, p 373).

This is the precinct that in the early 90’s, when Kozol wrote his work, was leading in cases of homicide. Kozol says that a total of 84 people were murdered just a few months before he visited the area. Most of them were below 21 years of age. During his stay in the area another ten people were shot dead on Beckman Avenue and in this Avenue majority of the population are schoolchildren and this means that they were most likely exposed to this incidences.

The following year which was 1993 on Valentine’s Day a whole family of six were shot in cold blood in their house and no one survived. Their house was only few blocks from them police but nothing was done to prevent the inhumane action from happening (Schultz, p 373).

The high crime rates as we have seen are promoted by the high poverty levels, but this is not the only outcome of the poverty. There is also a lot of drug use and poor health care. Talking of the drugs they also contribute to crime as we know and Mont Haven is the most affected area.

Some analysis that Kozol quoted on his writing indicated that during the time of his research, there were over four thousands intravenous drug users most of which were addicts of heroin and cocaine. Intravenous drug users tend to promote the spread of HIV/ AIDS, a pandemic that has claimed a lot of lives all over the world. This is after sharing needles for injecting the drugs.

Kozol says that after he interviewed several children from the areas I mentioned above, he concluded that at least every child in these areas knows of someone who died from AIDS, this may either be a neighbor or a relative. The most saddening news is that over 25 percent of all pregnant women that attend prenatal clinic are tested positive of the HIV.

From 1993 to the year 2000 over thirty eight thousand children were infected with HIV mostly through mother to child transition during or after birth. Most of these children only lived for one and a half years. Only 5% of them survived to 12 years and over 10,000 children were orphaned during this period. 20% of the 10,000 were residents of Mott Haven and they were mainly Hispanic or Black American. Kozol tells a saddening story of which was narrated to him as quoted below,

“In one family, the father died two years ago and the mother is about to die. The four soon-to-be-orphaned children are being cared for by their 75-year-old grandmother. One of the children, a nine-year-old, is sick with full-blown AIDS. Another child, seven years old, is less sick but he’s been getting IV blood infusions.

The six-year-old may be okay. But it’s the 13-year-old girl, who isn’t sick, who’s causing the most worries. She’s staying out all night, defying her grandmother. She stared to do this at 11, when her father died. Recently, this girl had an abortion” (Schultz, p 377).

Asthma, fear and anxiety are some of the most common diseases and problems respectively that children from this areas face in their lives. Winter season is considered the worst weather since they are never well protected from the dangerous cold weather. Rarely the government is forced to distribute free electric blankets and sometimes space heaters to protect them from the cold. This leads to over loading on the electricity supply in these areas and they are forced to turn to sleeping bags as an alternative (Schultz, p 372).


The residents of these areas especially children have their comfort on one song which to them is like a prayer, “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost and now am found, was blind but now I see…” This is according to Jonathan Kozol who sympathizes with them.


Schultz, F. “SOURCES: Notable selections in education.” New York: McGraw-Hill Dushkin, 2001, p 370-380.

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