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Jonathan Kozol The Human Cost Of An Illiterate Society

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Knowledge is an effective factor in which human society relies on. Throughout history, those who were knowledgeable were well-respected, honored and revered. Author Jonathan Kozol writes his essay, “The Human Cost of an Illiterate Society,” to project the importance of knowledge and to explain that without it, one can suffer disastrous repercussions. He highlights real-life examples of how people suffer as a result of chronic illiteracy, and his entire essay is an advocacy for knowledge and literacy. Other authors such as Frederick Douglass and Richard Wright would use their personal experiences in completely different settings to highlight the power of knowledge.

Douglass, a man born into slavery, and Wright, a man living through racial injustice, would present arguments in support of knowledge because it brings freedom and independence. However, they also believe that knowledge is just as much as a curse as it is a blessing. Kozol does not have much in common with the other authors, and has not gone through the same experiences that would lead him to believe that knowledge can also be seen as a curse.

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Douglass and Wright begin to educate Kozol because they have additional information about the power of knowledge that Kozol does not. This additional information will portray how the power of knowledge can also be seen as a curse through their own personal experiences.

The importance of obtaining knowledge is that it grants a sense of realization for freedom. Those who are not knowledgeable are socially enslaved; limiting their human rights. This form of freedom is evident in two different time periods. Frederick Douglass, a former slave in 1800’s, read “The Columbian Orator” which later sparks a flame within him. In the essay the author states: “The slave was made to say some very smart as well as impressive things in reply to his master…resulted in the voluntary emancipation of the slave” (145). The slave has a significant effect upon Douglass as he realizes the power of knowledge. This inspires Douglass to understand that obtaining knowledge is equivalent to obtaining power. Knowledge has the ability to free Douglass from his social injustice. This realization foreshadows Douglass’ career in the future; as he is no longer enslaved. As history continues and times have changed, the power of knowledge still remains the same. Jonathan Kozol is a man that expresses the same belief as Douglass; that knowledge is rewarding. Although the times have changed; Kozol acknowledges the debilitating effect that comes when one is not knowledgeable. Kozol makes this evident in his novel as he states that “Not knowing the right word for the right thing at the right time is a form of subjugation” (165). According to Kozol, knowledge determines the way society views an individual. An illiterate person will struggle in a coerced society. Therefore, the author informs the audience the blessing it is to have knowledge because they will be set free from being socially enslaved. As a result, the significance of knowledge and its blessings grants freedom against social injustice.

Douglass and Wright both experience similar reactions to their newly gained knowledge. After finding access to a library, Wright begins to read and learn more about different perspectives and the way others think. He eventually realizes, through his readings, that he is hurt by what he learns as is evident in quotation “But to feel that there were feelings denied me, that the very breath of life itself was beyond my reach, that more than anything hurt, wounded me,” (351). In essence, while reading had raised his hopes and spirits, it also casts him down to a new low. Wright learns of all the opportunities not made available to him and has a clear understanding that these opportunities were not accidentally denied to him, but rather he was in a position that made him a target for these hostilities. Wright, who had hoped for answers regarding others’ treatment of him and what it means for his freedom, realizes that though he had all evidence of his unjust condition, there was still little he could do about it. Similarly, Douglass reaches a point in his learning in which he realizes that freedom did not immediately come with knowledge.

This is clearly stated in the quotation “Knowledge had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy. It opened my eyes to the horrible pit, but to no ladder upon which to get out” (146). All the knowledge he gained proved to be fruitless in his endeavor to escape life as a slave. That is, he had knowledge of the words and terminology related to emancipation and abolition, but had not learned of a way to actually achieve his desired outcome. He reaches a point at which he decides that “learning to read and write has been a curse rather than a blessing” (146). Though Wright and Douglass would both agree that literacy had brought them both down by offering them hope without providing any reasonable course of action, Kozol would argue that illiterates “live, in more than literal ways, an uninsured existence” (161). Having both experienced hopelessness and a moment of uninsured exsistence themselves, Wright and Douglass would instead suggest that such feelings are not limited to illiterates, but also experienced by those who can read and write, who suddenly find themselves with more knowledge than they know what to do with. The uncertainty they both feel in the moment they realize they are still powerless, is no different from feelings of uncertainty cause by lack of knowledge.

Cite this Jonathan Kozol The Human Cost Of An Illiterate Society

Jonathan Kozol The Human Cost Of An Illiterate Society. (2016, Oct 01). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/jonathan-kozol-the-human-cost-of-an-illiterate-society/

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