The following is Jonathan Kozol’s response to a question about social promotion in a September 2000 interview for Curriculum Administrator Magazine. I believe there is much relevance for those who endeavor in higher education in the words that follow:
“The real point [about social promotion] is this: We wouldn’t even have to raise this issue so often and it wouldn’t be such a frequent dilemma in a neighborhood like the South Bronx if we gave these kids what they deserved to start with.
“You give these little babies the kind of terrific Montessori schools or any other kind of good developmental Eriksonian pre-school when they’re two years old. You make sure they have eye exams so they have glasses, that they have counseling for any learning inhibitions they have, that you have a legal aid person at these pre-school centers to make sure they have their own bedroom at home, that the place is heated, that their mother is not about to be evicted. You do all this when they hit two-and-a-half. Then you put them in a terrific kindergarten with no more than 16 children and you continue that pattern right through elementary school. You give these kids in the South Bronx the toughest high stakes you can think up and they will do well on them. But … to impose the tests before you give them the rest is simply pre-planned punitive hypocrisy. It guarantees their humiliation. We’ll keep them back then, the boy will get taller, he’ll feel awkward, he’ll feel embarrassed, he’ll look like a grownup when he’s in sixth or seventh grade, and, you know, he’s a prime candidate to drop out of school a few years later.”
At the end of a semester, I see lots of examples of the awkward or embarrassed young adult who could be a candidate for any place but college—including the mean streets. But I also see how educators endeavor to work with these young people to make sure they do not drop out and that they persevere to progress through college.
I want to ask all my colleagues in higher education to increase the attention you will provide to and the ongoing hard work you will undertake for our nation’s students. That care and labor will, one day, help these young people to earn their degrees and to contribute substantially to our democratic society.