by Janessa Jordan
For the past three days, I (and my other 26 classmates) have been an active fly on the wall at the KIPP DIAMOND Academy new student orientation. All of the KIPP students attend school for two weeks in the summer, and the new KIPPsters, ranging from grade 5-8, have two extra days of orientation before the returners start summer school. On our first day of KIPP orientation, the air conditioning was broken, so 200 students, roughly 50 adults, and all of the admin staff was sitting in a hot, sticky, auditorium for four hours. KIPP focuses heavily on structure, community, and consistency. For the first two days, all of the new students were directed to sit on the floor, in rows, SLANTing (Sit up, Listen, Ask and Answer questions, Nod, and Track the speaker), while practicing math, reading, social studies, and science problems with the teachers. All of the KIPP students are expected to come to school with their homework completed, with the heading written perfectly. If students come to school with incomplete homework or with incorrect heading, the students’ parents are contacted by the teachers and the students sit separately at lunch to finish their work–a “working lunch.” Students are even expected to line up silently and uniformly to the bathroom, waiting for the rest of their classmates to use the restroom, all while standing quiet and still, hands at their sides, looking ahead until the other 100 or so students finish their restroom break.
One of my personal teaching goals is to deconstruct the classroom, so as to let students become the beacons of their own learning, rather than solely regurgitating information from the authority figure (the teacher). I believe that students need to be taught to be self-disciplined, creative, and assertive, which I believe isn’t being taught in urban classrooms today. Furthermore, I believe that knowledge is a fluid entity that isn’t a mere nugget given from the teacher to the student, but rather an ongoing process of construction and transformation that combines experience with information–tension is the real root of learning. Thus, all of the structure and uniformity made me uncomfortable throughout the first two days. Why was it so important that the students sit on the floor without talking? Why were the students subject to long hours of sitting and engaging, SLANTing and working, all while being still? What were the students really learning from this experience other than to do something simply because an authority figure told them to? . . .Because KIPP's total compliance organizational structure requires it in order to psychologically sterilize the children and behaviorally neuter the children--that's why.