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About Jonathan Kozol

May 1996 Commencement Speaker

Educator, writer and activist Jonathan Kozol was born in Boston in 1936. His passionate, widely read books have influenced educational reform in America. 

He earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Harvard University in 1958 and studied at Magdalen College, Oxford University, as a Rhodes Scholar in 1958-1959. Kozol’s deep concern for the plight of inner city children developed while he was teaching in the Boston public school system in the early 1960s. His experience there inspired his first major work, Death at an Early Age, which won the National Book Award in 1968. Believing that too much attention was being paid to the author and too little to the children the book describes, Kozol donated the cash award that accompanied the honor to inner city community leaders in Boston.

In 1966, after he was dismissed from the Boston school system for teaching the work of poet Langston Hughes, Kozol initiated a tutorial program at an inner city church. The project eventually became known as the New School for Children, a community-run alternative school for children of low income families. He was educational director of the Storefront Learning Center, a similar project, from 1968 to 1971.

Kozol was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1970 to study the “free school” movement, which he chronicled in Free Schools (1972), a practical guide for setting up alternative education systems. Among his many books are: The Night is Dark and I am Far From Home (1975); Children of the Revolution (1978); Prisoners of Silence: Breaking the Bonds of Adult Literacy in the United States (1979); On Being a Teacher (1981); Illiterate America (1988), winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award; Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools (1991); Blueprint for a Democratic Education (1992); and the bestseller Amazing Grace (1995), which examines the lives of children in the South Bronx; the book received the Ansfield-Wolf Book Award, an honor previously granted to the works of Langston Hughes and Martin Luther King Jr. His most recent book, Fire in the Ashes, was released in 2012. 

His many honors and awards include a Field Foundation Fellowship in 1972, a Ford Foundation Fellowship in 1974, Rockefeller Fellowship in both 1978 and 1983, the Conscience in Media Award from the American Society of Journalists and Authors in 1988, the Christopher Award in 1988, and the New England Book Award in 1992. 

Kozol has been a visiting instructor at Yale University and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and a visiting lecturer at hundreds of colleges and universities including Boston University, Columbia University, Harvard University, Princeton University, and Vassar College.

He is a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Association of American Rhodes Scholars. 

Kozol was awarded the honorary degree Doctor of Public Service from Coastal Carolina University during the commencement ceremony.