The Book “Amazing Grace” by Jonathan Kozol


The inequality and harsh economic conditions experienced by millions of Americans living in economically depressed society have been described by many authors in their writings. Jonathan Kozol is among the widely celebrated writers known for exposing cruelty in American society in his books.

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His first book named Death at an Early Age described pain and affliction by many American children living in the ghetto. His second book and 1991 best seller, Savage Inequalities, revealed disparities in funding academic institutions in rich and economically depressed communities across the nation.

The main focus of our study will be on Kozol’s third book, Amazing Grace, which is another spirited and delicate expedition into the inner depths of the lives of children of the Mott Haven division in the South Bronx. Mott Haven is one of the most economically depressed neighborhoods in Manhattan (Kozol 10). The author found the neighborhood more fascinating due to its proximity to the wealthy Upper Eastside neighborhood (Kozol 286).

The author describes him boarding a train next to Blooming-Dale and twenty minutes anon he was on Brook Avenue at the heart of what seems to be an area jammed with dilapidated buildings and poor sanitation. According to the author’s v,iew, the distance is not only between the two neighborhoods of New York City but also between the two distinct worlds.

One neighborhood is white and one is black; one overriding and wealthy, the other is inferior and deprived (Kozol 286). Kozol stresses that the disparity between the two neighborhoods is not a geographical accident but a well planned artificial disaster which surpasses the county borders (Kozol 287).

Report Purpose

The main aim of this report is to explore the democratic role and responsibility of the society in relation to the general welfare of children living in the Mott Haven division of the South Bronx.

In order to achieve the above objective, the study will attempt to answer the following questions: Who bears the responsibility for the situation of children in the South Bronx as described by the author and the consequences of inaction and who might fight them? The study will also explore the role of the citizens in a free society, as well as professionals in a democracy and their relation to the young people who live in poor conditions.

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Who is Responsible for the Situation?

Kozol blames the established systems for the pitiable welfare and general condition of the Mott Haven division of the South Bronx and the plight of children. As it has already been mentioned, he argues that the gap between Mott Haven and Manhattan’s Upper East Side is not a geographical accident but a well-articulated artificial disaster on a nationwide scale.

He stresses that the condition these residents live in is not their fault. According to Kozol, as long as the majority of the helpless population is confined in neighborhoods shunned by the rest of the population, there is a possibility that deprivation of basic amenities, economic desolation, and dreadful conditions will be unavoidable.

He backs his case by interviewing a number of Mott Haven residents, including expressive and charismatic children who explain what their everyday lives is like with an absolute sense of hopelessness.

Mott Haven’s dreadful conditions are evident in the disheartening statistics available on earnings, health, number of school dropouts and crime rate. The individuals he quotes articulately confirm that their community has myriads of challenges, for instance, persistent violence, an uncontrollable spate of drug addiction, HIV/AIDS, and low literacy level because public schools veto children.

Kozol explains that local communities can only be enhanced through far-reaching changes in society as a whole. In an attempt to paint the true picture of Mott Haven Kozol uses hyperbole to a certain extent. For instance, he states that Mott Haven is the most unsafe neighborhood in New York City. On the contrary, residents of this neighborhood are still able to walk their streets safely. Kozol supports his bizarre claim by citing a figure of nearly 200 homicides per annum.

As regards Mott Haven’s educational institutions, Kozol tried to be as realistic as possible. He explained that some of the schools, for instance, Morris Local High School, is in a dilapidated state. He is quoted saying that “Morris is the only institution in the entire U.S. where children are surviving on rain water, green-fungus molds are present in several building and girls are not able to use the lavatory” (127).

He claims that it would only cost 50 dollars to refurbish Morris, insinuating that the system was not prepared to spend even fewer amounts to restore schools in poor neighborhoods. In addition, Kozol attributes the poor performance in public elementary schools to segregation, abject squalor and general neglect by local governments. With respect to housing, Kozol describes the dreadful condition of Mott Haven’s projects. He refers to the Mott Haven’s projects as the worst case scenario.

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Through the book the theme of being “locked down” persists (Kozol 32.) He describes how children took on a day trip around the municipality explode into tears when they returned home. The aspirations of young children are restricted to a boring state that children uptown areas would ridicule (Kozol 125).

Children are denied fundamental rights enjoyed in archetypal democracy, for instance, freedom of movement due to security interests. In addition, a huge number of the population living in this neighborhood is locked up in prisons for various reasons, including criminal activities (Kozol 136). This paints a picture of a society that is oppressed, unruly and confined in prisons.

The social system described by the author is very complex and interlinks in such a way that has a long-term negative impact. The system that oppresses, as witnessed in Mott Haven, can cause conflict among residents, as well as between the local residents and outsiders (Meadows, 163).

Kozol describes structural sub-systems that encompass housing, health care, and education and how they blend together to add to the growth of despondency, poor health, low literacy levels and poverty. If this is not addressed, it can spread to other parts of the country. Kozol fears that if necessary policies are not enacted, America will continue to generate more Mott Havens.

Role of Citizens and Professionals

The transformation of the dysfunctional complex system such as witnessed in Mott Haven can only be realized through a comprehensive and integrated course of actions that reconcile the structural sub-systems.

This is the only way to unite the subjective paradigm of race, development, and egalitarianism within the American context and create harmony. The most significant role that can be played by common citizens in transforming dysfunctional systems that have led to Mott Haven-like neighborhoods is electing the right leadership at the national or regional levels.

Citizens in a democratic society have the liberty to elect leaders who can enact the right policies and programs to improve the living conditions of the population. This is based on the assertion by Kozol that local neighborhoods can only be improved through far-reaching changes within the society as a whole.

The enactment of right policies that reconciles the structural subsystems and harmonizes the subjective paradigm of race development and democracy play a major role in alleviating conditions experienced by children in poor neighborhoods. Citizens can also come up with independent programs to help needy children/households in the poorest neighborhoods.

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The professionals should advise the government/local authorities on the appropriate policy frameworks for tackling challenges highlighted by Kozol. Also, they can carry out research studies on the impact of various structural subsystems on subjective paradigms.


According to the author, the development of poor and depressed neighborhoods, for instance, Mott Haven, is a result of the interaction of complex structural sub-systems that have long-term negative effects. This creates a hostile environment and unfavorable conditions for children living in such neighborhoods.

As a result, the social and emotional wellbeing of these children can be negatively affected. The transformation of the dysfunctional complex system such as witnessed in Mott Haven requires a comprehensive and integrated course of action the greatest responsibility lies with the government or the local authorities.

Works Cited

Kozol, Jonathan. Amazing Grace: The lives of children and the conscience of a nation. New York: Crown, 1995. Print.

Meadows, Donella. Thinking in systems: A primer. White River Junction, NH: Sustainability Institute, 2008. Print.

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