Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Poverty in America; Catholicism's Ins and Outs

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Poverty in America; Catholicism's Ins and Outs

Article excerpt

FIRE IN THE ASHES: TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AMONG THE POOREST CHILDREN IN AMERICA

By Jonathan Kozol

Published by Crown Publishers, $27

What happens to the children of poor, uneducated parents who grow up in crime-ridden ghettos and attend segregated, underperforming schools? National Book Award winner Jonathan Kozol spent 50 years seeking answers to that question. He has presented his findings in 13 books from his earliest, Death at an Early Age (1967), to his latest, Fire in the Ashes, which offers a searing indictment of programs supposedly designed to help the poor.

Kozol began his career as an activist for children's education after being fired from his job in the Boston public schools for teaching fourth-graders poems by Langston Hughes ("a curriculum deviation"). As one might expect, he has little good to say about educational bureaucracy and most schools--especially those in poor districts.

Fire in the Ashes focuses on children Kozol profiled in his earlier works, primarily Rachel and Her Children (1988) and Amazing Grace (1995). These are Latino and black children who grew up in the Hotel Martinique, a homeless shelter and drug haven in the South Bronx in New York. Mostly, they come from families with a single mom who bears sole responsibility for her children's welfare.

Kozol paints a grim picture of these children's growing-up years: from their ill-health brought on by contact with pollutants; to their homes, which in some cases lacked basic necessities like water and heat; to their subpar schools with few textbooks and overcrowded classes taught by inexperienced and underpaid teachers. The statistics are dismal. For example, out of 1,000 ninth-graders, only 65 went on to graduate from high school.

Now, the children are in their mid-30s. Some sold drugs and became addicts. Several went to jail. Some have died, including some who were so depressed that they committed suicide.

Only a few succeeded. Graduating from college, they entered careers in which they hoped to help those who like themselves had been left behind. These are, as noted in the title of this disturbing book, the small fires still burning in the ashes.

A GIFT OF HOPE: HELPING THE HOMELESS

By Danielle Steel

Published by Delacorte Press, $20

After her son committed suicide and her marriage disintegrated, Danielle Steel prayed for strength to carry on, if only for the sake of her eight other children. One day, as if in answer to her prayers, Steel (a best-selling romance novelist) heard an inner voice directing her to help the homeless. Taking as her inspiration her son's concern for the poor, her own religious aspirations and her sense of mission, she brought clothing, shoes and bedding to those who lived on the streets of San Francisco.

A Gift of Hope is a record of her efforts. Both memoir and reflection on homelessness, the book offers sketches of a few homeless people, like the young woman who suffered from cancer but was afraid to go to a shelter because of the prevalence of rape and robbery in such places. …

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