Page 22


in Chile.” In the story, Jeronimo Rugera, imprisoned in Santiago, attempts to hang himself as he hears the bells marking the hour for the execution of his lover, Josepha Asteron. Their crime: making love on the grounds of the convent to which Josepha had been banished by her father. “Just as he was standing next to a wall pillar, as we have said,” writes Kleist, “tying the rope that was to snatch him from this wretched world to an iron bracket in the cornice, the greater part of the city suddenly collapsed with a roar, as if the firmament had given way, burying every living thing in its ruins.” Jeronimo walks away unscathed. In a valley, he finds Josepha, who has been saved from execution by the earthquake and has managed to rescue their child before the convent collapsed. In the aftermath of the earthquake, it seems that old enmities have been destroyed with old buildings. Jeronimo and Josepha are accepted into the community of refugees. When the aftershocks subside, the survivors, including Jeronimo and Josepha, return to the city and to the Church of the Dominicans to pray for the dead. But the sermon pronounces the earthquake divine retribution for the city’s “moral corruption,” particularly for the sins of Jeronimo and Josepha. The congregation proceeds to beat Jeronimo and Josepha to death, revealing by their action the true moral corruption of the city. And so it seems with the security forces of Mexico. Miguel Guzman is miraculously saved by the earthquake that killed so many, only to be found dead the next day, with little question as to the complicity of security forces in his death. Without the earthquake, Guzman would probably have simply disappeared, his death unrecorded. But with the earthquake, not only the cellars of buildings but the dark cellars of the Mexican state stand revealed. G.R. DIALOGUE Literacy Volunteer Shame on you,. Michael King. You were given two full pages in this week’s [8/30/85] Observer to rail about Kozol’s book and to bitch at lefties for a limp support of public schools, yet you were unable to mention a single literacy program anywhere in the entire state. I’ll accept your challenge to help my local school district, but I want you and my fellow readers to reconsider Kozol’s request. For the most part, we have benefited from university educations and now we should return some of the skills we’ve obtained, and do so universally. Volunteering to tutor a working person in reading skills is just as important and reasonable as providing longand shortterm support for the public schools. Look up from the damn typewriter man, call for the literacy volunteer coordinating offices, and then go back and produce some names to contact! Larry Anderson Chicago Michael King replies: While I was not “unable to mention” a single literacy program, in an article on how to address a nationwide literacy problem I did refrain from mentioning the embarrassing information that at the time I wrote the piece, the Travis County Literacy Council was reported as having enlisted more tutors than they had students to teach. This circumstance could of course have many origins Kozol would argue that it’s because illiterates can’t read his book. I have no quarrel with literacy volunteers, and Mr. Anderson’s presumption that I have done no literacy work myself is a false one. But 1 do reject the widespread notion that the solution to massive American social problems is private charity and that is the residual thrust of Kozol’s book. Michael King Fund Raiser We would like to protest that Michael King’s review of Jonathan Kozol’s Illiterate America is based on an uncharitable reading. Essentially King faults Kozol for not analyzing the politics of illiteracy and for an alleged lack of realism in depending on neighborhood action. We don’t want to quarrel with any of King’s specific points; rather, we would like to suggest, on the basis of a more charitable reading, a substantial agreement between Kozol’s position and King’s We want to supplement King’s reading, not only in the interest of doing justice to Kozol, but for a larger reason: because we think the issue of literacy, in its broad appeal to both the disenfranchised poor and the disarrayed left, offers a kernel issue for an effective popular front. We believe, moreover, that Kozol’s goal in Illiterate America was a laudable effort, in the conservative political reality of contemporary America, to encourage such a front, and it is this motive which as much as anything accounts for what King sees as the book’s shortcomings. When King faults Kozol for not analyzing the politics of literacy, he is asking Illiterate America to be a different book from the one it was intended to be and one, moreover, that Kozol has already written twice. Both The Night Is Dark and I Am Far from Home On Being a Teacher analyze the way illiteracy serves the system by disenfranchising those whom it does not wish to serve and continually replenishing the pool of cheap, unskilled labor. On Being a Teacher takes the further step of making the idea of neighborhood action concrete, showing how parents and teachers can organize for collective strength and cooperate with communityaction groups. In this way, the public school system is not “written off,” as King complains, but rather a new society forms within the shell of the old, and schools become centers of political consciousness which serve neighborhoods and are in turn supported by them. Given Kozol’s sharp awareness of the political meaning of illiteracy, we suggest that the reason for the absence of any discussion of it is precisely because the book is meant to be a fund raiser. Everyone involved in literacy action knows that the only argument the establishment heeds is economic: the dollar cost of crime and non-productivity. At whatever level city, state, or federal the wise know they can’t raise funds by criticizing the system. Despite King’s criticism, there is substantial reason for seeing a convergence of his and Kozol’s views on the whole economic question. King twice criticizes Kozol for assuming that poverty is caused by illiteracy when the “ineluctable fact” is the other way around: “the poor are illiterate because they have no jobs.” But where the economics of illiteracy is concerned, the basis for agreement is the existence, admitted by all, of a strong positive correlation between poverty and illiteracy less a simple causal relationship than cause and effect in the mode of mutual interdependency. Kozol is well aware of this complexity indeed, the vicious cycle of poverty and illiteracy is the subject of his first book, Death at an Early Age, \(winner of a National opening of his review. King accomplishes nothing by revers THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5