"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Saturday, March 28, 2009

KIPP Information Minister Continues to Ignore Abuses and Ethical Meltdown

When he is not shilling for Kaplan's dominance in the child testing industry (Kaplan being that part of the Washington Post Company that pays more than half of the company's profits), Jay Mathews functions as the chief propagandist for the mind and body control camps of KIPP, the new reform school choice among the corporate oligarchs, Gates and Broad, for providing the appropriate corporate schooling model to the urban poor--at least the urban poor who are manipulated into sacrificing their children to KIPP-notism and the psychological manipulations of Dr. Martin Seligman.

Mathews's recent book, Work Hard Be Nice, celebrates the excellent education adventures of KIPP's infantilized bully founders, Davey Levin and Mikey Feinberg, whose bare-knuckled pedagogy is presented as the innocent over-exuberance of two irrepressible young uber-educators. The moral lapses, ethical breaches, and illegal acts by the terrible twosome (at least the acts that have been publicly exposed) are given the Mathews treatment, which is to say a Cliff Notes version of reality done up in etherized prose.

Since the publication of Work Hard Be Nice, a whole new set of multiple horrors from KIPP Fresno have surfaced, as well as more recent atrocities in Georgia. Mathews's recent dissembling on the subject has been deconstructed by Thomas Mertz in a choice analysis that shouldn't be missed. The clip below from WaPo offers Mathews in his customary role as the unwavering apologizer and spare dissembler for KIPP, able to wrap an entire catalog of abuse, law-breaking, and moral meltdowns into a single dismissive sentence:
Some parents, including those in Atlanta and in Fresno, Calif., who recently lodged complaints that KIPP teachers had punished their children excessively, say that the academies sometimes run roughshod over them. KIPP co-founder Mike Feinberg seemed to cross the line several years ago when he told a Houston mother that he would expel her TV-addicted fifth-grader unless she allowed him to remove the family's television set from their apartment. But the mother went along with the plan, and the TV sat in the girl's school homeroom until her steady improvement convinced Feinberg that he had broken the one-eyed monster's grip.

Mathews's convenient untruth would have the entire KIPP Fresno scandal swept under the rug as an example of disgruntled parents making overheated charges against a situation they don't understand. He ignores the fact that Fresno Unified's investigation (Fresno Report (pdf) of KIPP Fresno originated from a complaint by an official of the NAACP. He also ignores the fact that the catalog of abuses against children, as well as the other unethical and illegal actions at the school in regards to test security, copyright, teacher credentialing, and school funds, were documented by KIPP office staff, faculty, former administrators and, of course, parents who were often the victims, too, of the abuse.

It is evidence of Mathews's own moral blindness that he would use the example of an out-of-control Feinberg removing a TV from a student's home as a way to convey some ethical lesson on ends justifying any means. This is a perfect example of the kinds of ham-handed and brazen shortcuts that Feinberg and Levin repeatedly take, even though they rhetorically subscribe to the philosophy that "there are no shortcuts." If they were ethical educators, rather than a couple of hopped-up bullies, they would have acted like educators rather than stormtroopers. This is just another example of their "no excuses" excuse to wallow beyond the boundaries of decency, morality, and respect in order to manufacture, by force, a cheap and oppressive solution to the symptoms of a problem that the Boys and their oligarch supporters continue to ignore--which is poverty. Not only does KIPP offer an example of state-sanctioned child abuse for the benefit of the corporations that support it, but it brings front and center the moral nihilism of the oligarchs when their moral blindness is applied to the schooling of the most long-suffering victims of "free-market casino capitalism." A clip from the recent article by Chris Hedges is most appropriate here:

This moral nihilism would have terrified Adorno. He knew that radical evil was possible only with the collaboration of a timid, cowed and confused population, a system of propaganda and a press that offered little more than spectacle and entertainment and an educational system that did not transmit transcendent values or nurture the capacity for individual conscience. He feared a culture that banished the anxieties and complexities of moral choice and embraced a childish hyper-masculinity, one championed by ruthless capitalists (think of the brutal backstabbing and deception cheered by TV shows like “Survivor”) and Hollywood action heroes like the governor of California.

“This educational ideal of hardness, in which many may believe without reflecting about it, is utterly wrong,” Adorno wrote. “The idea that virility consists in the maximum degree of endurance long ago became a screen-image for masochism that, as psychology has demonstrated, aligns itself all too easily with sadism.”

Sadism is as much a part of popular culture as it is of corporate culture. It dominates pornography, runs like an electric current through reality television and trash-talk programs and is at the core of the compliant, corporate collective. Corporatism is about crushing the capacity for moral choice. And it has its logical fruition in Abu Ghraib, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and our lack of compassion for the homeless, our poor, the mentally ill, the unemployed and the sick.

In the end, it is this kind of case-hardened callousness toward the poor and the children of the poor that allows the misanthropic elites, from the Fishers to the Dells to the Gatess, Broads, and Waltons, to embrace the "no excuses" model that is exemplified by KIPP and that now inspires the cheap knock-offs that will be funded by Dunc's $5 billion for such dehumanizing experiments on children. It is a moral travesty that history will regard in the same way that we look back at the "progressive" eugenicists of a hundred years ago, when Harvard, Yale, and Princeton all offered courses in the new science that would engineer a new and improved social order.


  1. For what it's worth, I left my comments to Jay Mathews' latest Kipp PR gushing at the Washington Post site and you can also find them here on my blog: http://aplacetorespond.blogspot.com/2009/03/jay-matthews-latest-on-kipp-and-my.html


  2. Hi Jim -- A point from my blog post on KIPP:

    It’s creepy that reports from both KIPP South Fulton in Georgia and KIPP Fresno in California include charges that students were denied requests to use the rest room, and as a result, urinated and/or vomited on themselves. That’s a rather questionable disciplinary tactic in terms of pure humanity.


    That post also has links to other posts giving background on the Fresno KIPP brouhaha -- your link on that isn't working.

  3. Anonymous9:10 AM

    Ah... "character education" run amok. It fails to teach character, and fails to educate as well ... since, just how much can you really learn, when critical thinking skills are crushed to such degree?

    There's another "character education" player who is trying to muscle in on this territory: Hyde Schools. Think: EST for kids, drawn out for the course of a whole school year. Plus, Hyde Schools founder Joe Gauld is now incorporating elements of the Hoffman Quadrinity Process (another known LGAT) as an extra bonus. See link for more details: