Advice From Jonathan Kozol

Jonathan Kozol is an American writer, educator and activist.  He has written books on public education, literacy, and social justice.  His books span 1967 well into the 21st century.

I have rarely seen anyone with a more impressive list of awards and achievement.

  • Harvard – summa cum laude
  • Rhodes Scholar
  • National Book Award
  • Puffin/Nation Prize for creative citizenship
  • Googenheim Fellow – twice
  • Rockefeller Fellow – twice
  • Field Foundation fellow
  • Ford Foundation Fellow

He has founded non-profits to improve public education in America – Education Action and The Cambridge Institute For Public Education.  The principle idea being that education unfairly diminishes the opportunities of minority children and prevents teachers from providing a sound education.

He is a leader in making education relevant and available to all.

Activism is a difficult field.  It is very easy to become attached to a single aspect of the problem and it is very easy to be distracted by a bureaucracy that knows more about how to defend itself than you can know about how to defeat it.  Bureaucracies have momentum on their side.

As you may have already noticed Kozol is a very bright guy.  I think he also a very practical guy and that is not always a characteristic of the bright and insightful crowd.  Consider his advice about activism.

Pick battles big enough to matter, small enough to win.

That is brilliant and it is good advice for all of life.  The key is selecting your targets.

There is small advantage to fighting the good fight over a large and important issue but ultimately failing.  It is like a football team that fumbles on the goal line.  No score.

In life we often pick our battles on advice from others who do not really know us, by fashion and media hype, and by tradition.  It is easy to become distracted in life.  The  defence is to decide what battles are worth your time and other resources.  That is a strategic decision.  It is not one to turn over to others.

Examine your family standards.  Apply them to your objectives.  Define priorities.  Agree on tactics and implement.  Then review and revise.  Be sure you understand what the decision means.  Meaning is the key to developing goals.

Be careful of choosing subjects that are too big given your skills and resources.  Success in small matters motivates and the experience can be applied to bigger matters.

Get in the habit of having goals and reaching them. That is what success is about.

Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international public accounting firm and is now with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.


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