The World According to Kozol

Take from the rich and give to the poor.

Robin Hood's credo has never been guiding force in American public policy, but Jonathan Kozol, a writer who might be called the Robin Hood of education, has used the concept in his bestselling book Savage Inequalities and an emerging voice in political debates over education.

When Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey, in one of the New Hampshire Democratic presidential debates invoked the name of educator and writer Jonathan Kozol, Kozol was a little bit dumbfounded.

"Senator Kerrey showed a lot of courage," Kozol said in a recent interview. "If I were advising him, I wouldn't have told him to mention the book."

Jonathan Kozol is still trying to explain the success of his latest book. He didn't expect Savage Inequalities to become a bestseller. After all, it's a book about the vast differences between rich and poor schools and about how the country's system of school finance has created this gap.

It's no Love Story or even The Hunt For Red October. Rather it's an indictment of the nation's present educational system which benefits only the children of the upper-middle class and the wealthy.

Kozol calls his own ideas "radical." He wants to adjust school funding so that poor and lower middle-class children can get the same educational opportunities that wealthy kids enjoy.

"If indeed we are a just society, then we at least have to spend as much for poor children [as we do for wealthy children]," Kozol says.

Although critics argue that giving more money to schools won't help, Kozol believes that smaller class sizes and "AP" classes instead of "auto body and cosmetology" would mean better performances from poor children.

Kozol thinks that "the nation is ready to look into its conscience after a decade in which the governing dialogue featured slogans like "Go for it" and "You can have it all."

Politically, Kozol realizes the debate over school funding has, and will, divide Americans along class lines. Among the middle-class, for instance, he believes his arguments have strong political support.

"This is an issue that affect working-class white people," Kozol says.

But Kozol knows that his ideas are not political favorites among the upper middle-class and wealthy.

If poor kids were really given equal educational opportunities, says Kozol, "a lot of these kids would qualify to go to schools like Harvard."

"There would be more competition for people like us," Kozol explains.