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Letters to a Young Teacher Paperback – August 5, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Acclaimed author Kozol began a correspondence with Francesca, a young first-year teacher at an inner-city school in Boston. His letters offer a revealing, heartfelt look at the state of education and his own joy and agony in reporting on it. The letters provoke recollections of his early days as a teacher and, as a reporter, the humbling experience of visiting classes and maintaining relationships with the people on the frontlines of teaching, while he observes and writes. Kozol offers encouragement, advice, reflection, and admiration for all the teachers like Francesca, who pour their souls into their jobs. The letters explore the challenges of teaching in the inner cities: bureaucracies and standardized tests that take the creativity out of teaching; distrustful, defiant children who take away time and attention from those who want to learn; the heartbreaking irony of teaching diversity in schools that are clearly racially segregated. A beautiful book that offers an intimate look at the challenges and joys of teaching and one that will inspire and inform teachers and all those interested in public education. Bush, Vanessa --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Three Rivers Press; Reprint edition (2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307393720
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307393722
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #82,496 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jonathan Kozol has been awarded the National Book Award and the Robert F. Kennedy Award. His book Savage Inequalities was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and became a national bestseller.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Canadian Reader on April 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a worthwhile read. There are ideas, which, while not exactly new, are refreshing--for example: the assertion that teaching is an art, not a science and that the creativity and personality of the teacher matter (allowing a sort of alchemy to take place). Kozol's comments on teachers' enslavement to standardized tests and to teaching standards in general certainly resonated for me. Having said that, I found the tone of the book occasionally pretentious and the format--only Kozol's letters to the teacher and not the teacher's missives to him---rather forced and artificial. This is not Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet, on which, I suspect, Kozol's text is modeled. I think collection of personal essays would have been a more natural fit.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By S. Kay Murphy VINE VOICE on September 7, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
At this writing, this book is averaging four stars in terms of reviews, and I think that's about right. As a high school English teacher, I found some sections--especially those regarding standardized testing and how public education does not address the needs of poor children--quite compelling and validating. However, as another reviewer mentioned, I had difficulty with Kozol's tone at times, which seems just a bit condescending and does not match the acceptance and warmth he alleges to share with children. Well, I suppose there are those of us who get on much better with young people than we do adults. I do appreciate Kozol's wisdom and especially his willingness to toss aside what administrators dictate and teach in a manner that is in the best interest of the children. That is perhaps the most abiding lesson in this book.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By L. Jones on June 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover
As one who works with teachers and visits inner city school classrooms on a regular basis, I can say that Jonathan Kozol accurately describes the problems in our schools today. He convincingly demonstrates that "No Child Left Behind" not only fails to promote real, sustainable school reform, but actually supports the forces driving schools (and society) back to segregation and inequality not so different from the time before Brown vs. the Board of Education. At the same time, his letters celebrate the many ways that innovative teachers instill hope and a love of learning in their young charges, despite these conditions. Every teacher would find some value in this book, because practices like the ones Kozol describes are not taught in many schools of education today.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By B. Gstalder on February 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book is an inspiration for teachers, young and seasoned, people thinking of going into teaching and even retired teachers like myself!It is never too late to realize that the problems of inner city schools are huge but not insurmountable. Kozol makes an eloquent case.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By wiredweird HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on February 26, 2010
Format: Paperback
I'm a teacher, among other things, and always looking to do better in that part of my career. And, although I've been teaching for a number of years, I consider myself inexperienced and eager to learn from others' experience. Reading this book brought at least three surprises: the first, something of a disappointment; the second, an overwhelming sense of admiration; the third, a furious outrage.

I teach at the college level - mostly grad students, so far, but an undergrad class this term. My disappointment lay in finding that this describes the experiences of an early-primary teacher. Her 'leaky little people,' the six year olds in her classes, have little in common with my students. I already know I lack the patience to work well with a room full of small children, so I almost put the book down when I found out how it was oriented. It just doesn't say a lot to my experience or aspirations. Still, I persevered.

That led to the second and most rewarding of the surprises I found in this book. I genuinely admire anyone with talents I lack, the knack for effectiveness with children being just one. Still, reading this gave me a new a more profound respect for those thousands of women and men who, outside of family, are the most important people in our children's lives. I know that people find themselves drawn to teaching young children. I didn't understand just how deep within a person lies the source of that urge. Kozol's letters to a real but pseudonymous Francesca show that in two ways. First, the passion to teach, to be part of children's lives, is as omnipresent in their worlds as air and gravity are in mine - and as essential to their lives.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By RCM VINE VOICE on August 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover
"Letters To A Young Teacher" by Jonathan Kozol, its title a reference to a work by Rilke, is a collection of letters that Kozol wrote to a first-year teacher in an inner-city Boston school. It is familiar stomping ground for Kozol, having begun his teaching career in the same setting, and having devoted his life afterwards to spending time with children of poverty in inner-city slums, documenting their lives and the ways in which public education has failed them. Kozol's books are always an enlightening (and sometimes righteously infuriating) read, but "Letters To A Young Teacher" has almost too much repetition from previous works for those who have read other Kozol books.

Kozol's letters are written to a teacher named Francesca during her first year of teaching. In his letters he highlights conversations that they have had and shares his thoughts on visits to her classroom. He includes his own experiences in his responses (often drawing on material that has previously been published) and his thoughts about education reform. Kozol, whose experience ranges over 40 years, is an adept and intelligent advocate for public education reform, and I am grateful that he continues to push for policies that may never be enacted since all too often the people who make decisions regarding education do not have the slightest idea of what would best help the situation. Too many times the choices they do make and the policies they do put in place are much more damaging to young children than they are helpful.

"Letters To A Young Teacher", while a fast read filled with an intelligent and lucid cry for educational advocacy, seems to be missing something. Perhaps it is because we only see Kozol's letters and therefore really do not share in his experiences in Francesca's classroom.
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