Double Book Review: Savage Inequalities & Lies My Teacher Told Me

“The same people who control the school system control the prison system and the whole social system, ever since slavery.” – dead prez

Although both of these books are more than a decade old, the subject matter is certainly still relevant today. Savagae Inequalities was written by Jonathan Kozol in 1991 and Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen in 1995. They both cover an aspect of the country’s educational system that is deeply flawed and dangerous.

In Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong the aspect is the information passed off as history contained in the text books of the country’s high schools. The author, Loewen, examines the 12 most popular high school textbooks in the country and basically explains what they get wrong, what they skimp-over, and what they spend too much time on, and why. The subject matter spans from Columbus’ landing to the extent of Abraham Lincoln’s racism to playing down the carnage of the Vietnam War. For Kozol, in Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools, the aspect is the quality of the infrastructure and the overall learning environment of some of the country’s poorest and most neglected schools. The author visits several of these facilities personally and observes the underfunded and overcrowded buildings that pass for schools in America’s forgotten communities. While describing the insulting conditions of the schools, Kozol also looks at the system that has allowed it, and even encouraged it, to happen. By basing school funding on the local taxes and redrawing district lines to ensure the poor have their schools and the rich has theirs.

Both books use specific examples to relay their messages, in Savage Inequalities it is the communities and schools of East St. Louis, South Chicago, NYC’s the Bronx, Camden New Jersey, Washington DC, and San Antonio. In Lies My Teacher Told Me it is 12 textbooks that are most popular among American schools, which are, as the author states, promote blind nationalism and patriotism and that “we need not even look inside. The titles themselves tell the story: The Great Republic, Land of Promise, Triumph of the American Nation, and Rise of the American Nation” he goes on to joke that chemistry books aren’t called “Rise of the Molecule.” The schools that Kozol describes are places that have turned bathrooms into classrooms because of overcrowding, where there are no playgrounds, and where the dropout rates are well above 50%. The textbooks that Loewen dissects are places where black and brown history is ignored, facts are omitted, and stories that promote a patriotic agenda are exaggerated and overemphasized.

Of course it is nice to learn some new facts about American history or the margins inequality that exists between American schools, but more importantly these books analyze the systematic conditions that have created and maintained these injustices to education for centuries. For example, in Savage Inequalities, the author discusses the way our economic and social systems are set up to ensure that the poorest children get the worst education and the least amount of opportunities. After a while you begin to understand that the country depends on producing a certain amount of uneducated masses to be slaves to minimum wage jobs, soldiers for wars, and free labor in the growing prison industry. Lies My Teacher Told Me expresses a similar sentiment in describing how money is used by special interests in business and government spend a lot of time and money on making sure that their institutions look respectable throughout history or else our youth might get the idea to go out and change the injustices that occur in their communities every day. The institutions and ideals of government and capitalism can never be called into question or seem to have a tarnished record. As a consequence children are processed through a cycle that seems predestined for them depending on the quality of education and the amount of true knowledge brought into the classroom.

If you liked Savage Inequalities read Kozol’s Children of the Revolution and if you liked Lies My Teacher Told Me read A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn.


Categories: Book Review, Education/Youth, Racism

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