A Critical Analysis of Jonathan Kozol’s Human Cost of an Illiterate Society an excerpt from Illiterate America

Known for his advocacy on social and educational issues, Jonathan Kozol gave illiteracy a face in this section of his book. He dotted the pieces of illiteracy’s ugly visage challenging democratic America to pick up the fragments and address the matter. He wanted to warn his readers without alarming them so he made up a piece that can be summed up as an emotional and a logical cry for action thus creating his rhetorical situation.

Kozol presents his argument by looking into a wide range of effects, or costs, of illiteracy both for society and the individual (Kozol 1).

He stages the questions of literacy stressing that these must at length be judged as a matter of morality (Kozol 1). His argument’s building blocks are present-day realities stressing on the dangers and the misery of illiteracy to the society and more to the individual. The author sets the mood by citing the special danger to basic equity in the political structure (Kozol 2).

He cited the misery of living an uninsured existence without guarantees everyday (Kozol 3); the danger of being denied even the most basic of rights and opportunities (Kozol 4, 7); the misery of having an immobilized life (Kozol 6); the danger of being harassed and abused (Kozol 7); the misery of being not able to choose (Kozol 6); and the misery of social subjugation and humiliation (Kozol 9). He gave each a vivid example or two of different people from varying walks of life and in the process he creates symbols.

These true-to-life symbols or images functions like advertisements which enables Kozol to achieve his persuasive work leaving his audience with the feeling he wants them to have.

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The most haunting of his symbols being the picture of the forty-eight-year old man who got trap in a freeway when his car broke down and all he can give the police officer is that he is on a one way street. There are other signs but because he could not read those mean nothing. He recognizes the sign above his head because he saw it before and he reads – ONE WAY STREET (Kozol 9).

This litany of moving illustrations shows how the author made use of formal logic presentation. He translates his reasoning process into symbolic language that his readers can relate with and then he manipulates the symbols in various ways to show how sound the reasoning process is. And because it is a lot, it turns up to be too verbose and can bore readers. Moreover, to support his argument, Kozol employed a combination of statistical, emotional and logical evidence appealing to the general reader.

He used large figures to convey significance and enormity such the ones below. The number of illiterate adults exceed by 16 million the entire vote cast for the winner in the 1980 presidential contest (Kozol 2). It will cost $25,000 yearly to maintain this broken person in prison (Kozol 9). These numbers seemingly appear reasonable at first glance but if one dissects the information, one is likely to ask how relevant the data is or is it credible at all? One may even go back to the most basic of concepts and question how Kozol defines the word illiterate.

Another tool used by the author is evident in his play of words. He engaged his readers’ attention and emotion at the same time with words like farce, tragedy, misery, humiliate, deceit etc. , words that trigger sentiment at first reading (Kozol 2-7). The intent of the author is clear. Though this kind of language may work for some perhaps to the more sympathetic percentage of the population but for those of strong hearts it may appear as too dramatic or too strong and thus can be viewed as biased and flawed.

This would render the whole piece not effective. Obviously speaking as an insider, the author articulates his concerns by identifying himself as part of the same social group. He is not speaking as an expert; he speaks with the same knowledge state as the audience simply expressing his views. The author knows that best arguments make use of shared assumptions – beliefs that both writer and reader agree about if they don’t yet agree about the whole argument.

With this piece Kozol cleverly tailored his argument around these shared beliefs. He attacked the issue without ridiculing the ones affected but sympathizing with them. He even tried to share their feelings and put himself in their shoes. Around this point, I wake up in panic. This panic is not so different from the misery that millions of adult illiterates experience each day within the course of their routine existence in the U. S. A. (Kozol 3).

Kozol made sure that he portrays himself as someone with strong moral character and a sense of goodwill establishing credibility which could have a powerful persuasive influence. This is evident on this passage; since I first immersed myself within this work I have often had the following dream: I find that I am in a railroad station… (Kozol 3). Readers may take it as a sincere expression of concern but critical ones may see it as a deliberate manipulation of readers’ emotions.

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A Critical Analysis of Jonathan Kozol’s Human Cost of an Illiterate Society an excerpt from Illiterate America. (2020, Jun 01). Retrieved from http://studymoose.com/critical-analysis-jonathan-kozols-human-cost-illiterate-society-excerpt-illiterate-america-new-essay

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