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This year’s IN FOCUS theme, Poverty and Inequality, was launched with Jonathan Kozol’s keynote speech at Convocation during September. Most of us have never had to survive the dire reality of living on less than $2 per day, as has nearly 40 percent of the world’s population; however, that does not mean their plight is not ours as well.
Kozol, a social justice advocate, educator and author has made our IN FOCUS theme his life’s work, devoting nearly 50 years to the issues facing public education and to the challenge of providing equal opportunities within public schools for all children.
During his nearly hour-long speech, Kozol mixed personal anecdotes with facts and figures, all while exhorting the students in the audience to be courageous and change the world.
“Find joy and exultation in the struggle to change things that are wrong in the world,” he began. “Remember, history is something you can enter and transform, not something that happened to others.”
Caught up in the fervor of the Civil Rights campaign in 1964 and ’65, shortly after graduating from Harvard, Kozol said he got in his VW bug one day (with happy faces painted on it) and drove to a poor, black neighborhood in his hometown of Boston. In short order, he was teaching elementary school there and doing his best to educate children whose poverty underlay every aspect of their lives.
“Children [in poor school districts] are isolated intellectually, socially and physically,” he said. “And the inequalities created [by lack of funding] are as great today as they were in the ’60s.”
A good education should be as accessible for children of the poorest in the country as it is for those who come from wealthy families. Large class sizes, where children don’t get individual attention; outdated, too few or missing textbooks; and a culture that sends a message that education is for the rich and middle-class, but not for the poor, all contribute to the growing gap between the haves and have-nots in America. The “stripped-down” education many poor children receive leaves them starving intellectually and leads to only the lowest paying jobs, perpetuating the cycle.
“Fortunately, many college students today feel the call of service to the poor,” he said. “Whatever you choose to do, and in whatever direction you choose to go, you can realize the fulfillment that comes from bringing joy and justice to the poor.
“Promote service and develop a sense of service, that is crucial. Exposure to the poor has a stronger effect than reading books about poverty. But that’s just the beginning. Service (charity) is the starting point, but not a replacement for systematic justice. Start with service, but remember that the best kind of charity makes itself expendable in ten years.”
Putting topics IN FOCUS
IN FOCUS was established to enable members of the Moravian College Community to take an in-depth look at complex issues from multidisciplinary perspectives. Four topics were chosen around important challenges facing mankind in the 21st century. The topics will rotate, so that students will be involved with each topic over the course of their time at the college.
The three upcoming themes will be sustainability, health care and war and peace. Each year, academic and co-curricular activities will center on the appropriate theme. Thematic programming is planned through the IN FOCUS committee, coordinated by Deb Evans. Faculty, event planners and students are encouraged to plan their own events around the theme as well.
The goal of IN FOCUS is for Moravian College, Moravian Theological Seminary and the Comenius Center to engage students in the study of important issues that challenge humanity’s present and future existence. By grappling with complex problems, and examining them from different perspectives, Moravian’s graduates will be better prepared to contribute to a just global society.
Upcoming IN FOCUS event:
4 to 6 p.m.
Afterwords Cafe, Reeves Library
Selections will be read from books banned because of their connection to poverty and inequality, with discussions following. Sponsored by the Zinzendorf Society and Friends of Reeves Library.