Kopp to Kozol: Your New Book Didn’t Mention Me Once!

Teach for America foundress Wendy Kopp read Jonathan Kozol’s latest book, Fire in the Ashes, and thought it was a real dud. One complaint: Kozol doesn’t mention TFA once!

If you were thinking of ponying up $20 to buy Jonathan Kozol’s latest book, Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America, don’t bother. EduShyster has it on EXCELLENT authority that the book suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucks. While I haven’t actually read Fire in the Ashes, I know someone who has—Teach for America foundress Wendy Kopp—and she thought it was a real dud.

You see Kozol has spent the past 642 years writing about the scourge of poverty among America’s children, racial segregation in the public schools and inequities in education funding—all of which we now know DO NOT MATTER AT ALL. In fact just by mentioning these non-mattering factors Kozol is practically a one man excuse factory.

But his harping on the non-mattering is just the start of Kozol’s sins in Wendy Kopp’s eyes. The dude is also a real downer. While Kozol goes on and on and on and on and on about poverty and inequality somehow he missed the great news that Kopp and Kompany have been working well-funded wonders. The solution is as obvious as it is attractive to donors: recruit fresh-faced white college grads from privileged backgrounds and send them into the inner city to motivate Rachel’s children with their high expectations. Come on Jonathan, get with the program!

It turns out that Kopp isn’t the only reform krusader that Kozol ignores in his 368 paged screed of doom. As Kopp can’t help but observe, Kozol completely ignores Education Reform, Inc. and its many outstanding successes and innovations.

[Kozol] neglects to mention the transformation of the education landscape in New York City over the past decade since Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office and made improving schools his signature issue. Whether or not you agree with Bloomberg’s agenda, it’s a glaring omission to ignore what Harvard’s education school dean described as “the most dramatic and thoughtful set of large-scale reforms going on anywhere in the country.”

Kozol also fails to recognize the countless organizations and individuals who have been working for years to give low-income students an excellent education and alleviate the conditions they face. Groups such as KIPP, Citizens Schools, New Leaders, Harlem Children’s Zone, Jump Start and Stand for Children — not to mention committed social entrepreneurs, community leaders and educators — have generated huge momentum behind this cause. Many of them are working in Kozol’s old stomping grounds in the South Bronx.

What a disappointment that Kozol’s book, billed as the culmination of his career, should dwell on failure rather the success of Wendy Kopp and her rephormer phriends. My only complaint is that Kopp limited herself to ripping this one book to shreds. Surely now is the ideal time to revisit Kozol’s entire low expectations oeuvre. In fact I’ve got a better idea! Why doesn’t Wendy K offer Kozol a helping hand and rewrite some of his gloomy doorstops???

We could look forward to volumes like:

  •  Expelled from Kipp Academy at an Early Age (shout out to Gary Rubinstein for contributing this title.)
  • Rachel Sends Her Children to a High Performing Charter School
  • Savage Inequalities are No Excuse
  • The Shame of the Nation: How Teacher Tenure Causes Poverty, Which is Not an Excuse
  • Amazing Gracie Mansion: How Mayor Bloomberg Transformed New York’s Edu-Scape and Closed the Achievement Gap
  • Letters to a Young Teach For America Recruit

Now those would be books worth reading…



  1. Love your site, and love that picture of Wendy. The hands on hips, the ever-so-slightly canted head, and the smug smile capture so well the arrogance and sense of privilege of TFA.

    So condescending, self-important, deceptive and self-parodying, they’re almost impossible to satirize, but you’ve done it. Congratulations.

  2. Why so harsh on TFA?
    TFA teachers aren’t statistically making major gains in the classroom, but they’re not performing worse than the average first year teachers either. On the ‘about’ page you say, “Usually I’d suggest that our so-called leaders would benefit from spending some time in an actual urban school”…
    Isn’t that what TFA does? If you look at it from the angle that it’s putting attention on problems, and future leaders might actually understand the complexity of the problems, I think it’s a positive program overall: either you get an talented individual to realize that their passion is teaching and they continue in the field, or you get a bunch of future business leaders and “stupid politicians” that might have a better understanding of the deeply messed up system of education we have today.

    It’s not THE solution, but it’s one of many parts to the solution.

    On another note, I’m excited to read this book. A friend just passed it to me and I’m about to read it before going to my TFA interview. Especially if it is so anti-TFA because I like to always play devils advocate with myself before anything I do. So fire away with criticism.

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