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"Two Surprises,"

by Jonathan Kozol November/December 1998 issue of Poverty & Race

There were two surprises for me in the report. The first was the explicit reference to our nation's separate AND unequal public schools. I frankly did not think that the Advisory Board would refer explicitly to the unfashionable matter of on-going racial segregation, because Mr. Clinton never speaks of this. "Segregation remains a problem both in and among our schools," says the report (p.60), "and the situation appears to be getting worse. Obviously, in the wake of the important work of Gary Orfield, Nancy Denton, and Douglas Massey, the report could have (and should have) spoken of this matter in more detail and with greater energy and passion; but the fact that this was even mentioned did surprise me.

The other surprise was the explicit writing about residential (housing) segregation. This too seems to be excluded from most of the dialogue on race, which tends to gravitate to questions about "attitudes" and "mutual respect" and fuzzy areas about "consensus" and "shared values" but avoids the starkness of our physical division as a nation.

Apart from these two points, I felt frustrated by the dullness, vagueness and equivocation of the prose. I thought that Frank Rich of The New York Times was right to call it "toothless."

As a lifelong fan of John Hope Franklin, who has written with so much eloquence and passion on these subjects over more than 40 years, I had this thought when I completed the report: What if a group of activists -like PRRAC, for instance - were to ask him it he'd like to write his own critique? What if he could be freed from all the subtle or unsubtle limits place on an appointed Advisory Board by the White House, or by the mere process of "commission-writing," and could speak out of his heart in his own powerful and stirring voice? That's a piece of writing I would love to read. Franklin's voice, when it's unchained, is reminiscent of the voice of Frederick Douglass. It would be good if we could hear it one last time.

Jonathan Kozol is author of Amazing Grace, Death at an Early Age and many other works of social analysis and criticism.

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