Education Advocate Jonathan Kozol Talks Preschool, Standardized Testing

Colleen Locke | April 30, 2014
Teacher-turned-author Jonathan Kozol's free talk was part of a celebration of the College of Education and Human Development.

Teacher-turned-author Jonathan Kozol's free talk was part of a celebration of the College of Education and Human Development.
Image by: Harry Brett

Jonathan Kozol Lecture Caps Off Anniversary Celebration of College of Education and Human Development

If National Book Award-winning author Jonathan Kozol had his way, he’d use money now paid to testing companies to create new classrooms (with smaller class sizes) and ensure access to preschool education for America’s poorest residents.

Kozol, a fourth-grade teacher-turned-author who has been working with children in inner-city schools for nearly 50 years,  spoke to a capacity crowd April 24 in the Campus Center ballroom. His free talk was part of a half-day celebration of the College of Education and Human Development’s first 35 years as part of the University of Massachusetts Boston. The school, which traces its roots back to the 19th century and the Boston Normal School, goes back much farther than that.

Kozol said he takes issue with the excessive amount of standardized testing in schools today.

“It’s sucking out every bit of joy and every bit of child-centered learning from the childhood of children. Many good principals with good values who went to places like this campus are telling me they’ve developed chest pains because they’re forced to sacrifice everything they believe to meet the mandates—the metrics, the numbers—demanded by the state,” Kozol told an audience of current and future educators.

Kozol clarified that he’s not opposed to testing—as long as it’s useful testing which helps teachers assess the needs of their students.

“The poet in a child’s soul will never be tested on a standardized exam,” Kozol said. “Curiosity will not be tested. Spontaneity will not be tested. Originality isn’t going to be tested. Delight in learning will not be rewarded on the standardized exam. Delight, in fact, would be a dangerous distraction. It can get you way off track. It won’t save your job, or mine. Are you getting this message, students?”

“Today I know is a day of celebration here on this Boston campus. And it’s a celebration from my point of view also,” Kozol said. “UMass Boston and its College of Education and Human Development, because of your unusual inclusiveness and dedication to the children of our inner-city schools, is at the very cutting-edge of equal opportunity in the United States, so I’m doubly glad to be with you. I can’t say that at many of the colleges I visit. It’s quite unusual.”

Assessment tools, instructional support for teachers working with English language learners, and the evaluation of an art program for students on the autism spectrum were among the topics featured at the poster session that preceded Kozol’s talk. (Watch the video here.) In her opening remarks, Interim Dean Felicia Wilczenski said the posters demonstrated how the college’s commitment to community engagement is bridging the gap between theory and practice, a sentiment echoed by Chancellor J. Keith Motley.

“Our teacher education extends far beyond traditional programs to address the unique needs of urban schools and students, to acknowledge and attempt to rectify disparities in education, and to empower students and teachers to change the world. The CEHD’s graduates are strong, skilled teachers with a keen awareness of social justice issues, and a passion for service,” Motley said.

During his keynote address, Kozol also talked about how he believes more students should have access to the same types of preschool programs that are available to affluent populations. After his hourlong talk, which received a standing ovation, Kozol signed copies of his most recent book, Fire in the Ashes. His other books include Savage Inequalities and The Shame of the Nation. His first book, Death at an Early Age, won the National Book Award.

Kozol, who is 77, closed by telling the crowd that there was still more work to do.

“I intend to keep fighting in this struggle till my dying day.”

About UMass Boston
Recognized for its innovative research addressing complex issues, the University of Massachusetts Boston, metropolitan Boston’s only public university, offers its diverse student population both an intimate learning environment and the rich experience of a great American city. UMass Boston’s 11 colleges and graduate schools serve 16,000 students while engaging local, national, and international constituents through academic programs, research centers, and public service activities. To learn more about UMass Boston, visit

Tags: 50th , 50th anniversary , community , education , partnerships , research , service , teaching

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Comments (1)

Posted by Monica Calzolari | May 02, 2014 - 5:12 p.m.

Well written. Important coverage to document. His talk was so heartfelt and Colleen captured its essence beautifully.