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William Leisek

Savage Inequalities Writing Assignment


The five-page excerpt from Jonathan Kozols Savage Inequalities was a
harrowing read. The dire poverty in East St. Louis was horrifying, the
articulate apathy of the Rye students was disturbing, and the chasm
between the two was grotesque. It is the type of reading I hope is a part of
many course, as well as many high schools.
Irl Solomons history class, while a part of the Dickensian squalor of
East St. Louis, struck me as quite self-aware. The students understood their
situation, and they were resigned (four pregnant girls in Solomons senior
home room), felt cheated (I wanted to study Latinbut we dont have Latin
at this school.), or angry (We have a school in East St. Louis named for Dr.
Kingits like a terrible joke on history.). Perhaps Solomon himself has much
to do with the lucidity of his students, for he understands that giving up on
academia because theres not much for me in public school is a
...pretty honest answer. Either way, the students are aware that they are
far and away on the short end of the equality stick. As stated above, some of
the students are resigned or feel cheated. Of the students who were
righteously angry, how many would benefit from that anger? Probably less
than the ten percent who would go on to a four-year university. Ones heart
breaks when reading such misery.
Jennifer, the student at the high school in Rye, NY, had an
unfortunately stunted view of inequality. Her view that individuals must want
a better life for themselves disregards the reality that those individuals

raised in utter poverty may not be able to read, let alone be cognizant of a
better life. If one followed her theory, suffering individuals would leave their
land of suffering and gowhere, exactly? Jennifer doesnt want them at her
school, and she also doesnt want to ameliorate their destitution from a
distance with some extra taxesbecause it doesnt benefit her. Jennifers
views remind me a phenomenon common among social groups who are not
too far away from the other groups at which they target their scorn. It is no
secret that, in 19th c. Europe, the most virulent critics of the poor and
working classes (the proletariat) were not the upper crust of the aristocracy,
but rather the nouveaux riche and the nascent bourgeoisie, which was
attempting to distance itself from its origins. The same was true among
ethnic groups in the United States, and followed the patterns of immigration
waves into the countrythe English colonists disdained the Irish and Italian
immigrants, who in turn disdained Slavic and Chinese immigrants, who in
turn disdained Latin immigrants, and so on. In their effort to assimilate, each
group forgot their previous troubles and meted out the same prejudices that
they had received. It seems that Jennifer was no exception to this
unfortunate pattern. [Teacherif you know the sociological term for this,
please add it in the assignment comments! Thanks ]
I think I have already outlined the major contrast between the East St.
Louis and Rye, NY schools. One could use any number of adjective to
compare themfirst world and third world, modern and primeval, luxury and
squalor, affluence and misery. The students of Rye were articulate and

(allegedly) well read, even able to lie down comfortably in the act of doing
so; the students of East St. Louis were rather less so, and theyd have been
lying in human waste in some places in their school. However, the students
of East St. Louis were socially conscious, if inarticulate, because they had an
idea of their condition. They spoke from the heart. In contrast, the students
of Rye were polished but socially disconnected, unable to see that their
affluence and comfort was in some way connected to the squalor in East St.
Louis. They were unaware that no person or community enriches itself, but is
enriched by the whole of society; just as every community in poverty isnt
impoverished by its own accord, but as a result of the totality of society.
My opinion on this matter is clear. I think things are changing, but at
the usual, painfully slow place that social change occurs. In my hometown,
for example, there are three predominantly affluent and Caucasian
elementary schools, along with two low-income schools and one middleincome. The low income schools are populated by Hispanic children. The
middle income school, my elementary school alma mater, was somewhat
mixed when I attended it. It remains mixed, if not more populated by
Hispanic children. I returned there a year ago, to speak with my old sixth
grade teacher. He notified me that things were relatively the same there,
with some small improvements for English language courses for the Hispanic
students. He pointed to a telling example: each Friday, a carnival on the
playground was held for students who had finished their homework that
week. They played with water balloons, softball games, ate snow cones, and

so on. The students who hadnt finished their homework went to an assisted
study hall instead. The division of the students at the carnival and in study
hall was almost exclusively socioeconomic (and racial). We have a long way
to go.