Paul Tough, KIPP, and the Character Con: A Review of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character
Two days before the 2012 presidential election, Rachel Maddow ran a clip from an interview with uber-conservative, Paul Ryan, who not so long ago had plans, you might recall, to be Vice-President of the U. S. The interview was conducted by a local reporter in Flint, MI, one of the poorest and most violent urban areas of America. Ryan offered this suggestion for solving the crime and violence problems of Flint:When we look at these kids and their behavior, it can all seem so mysterious….But at some point, what you’re seeing is just a complex series of chemical reactions. It’s the folding of a protein or the activation of a neuron. And what’s exciting about that is that those things are treatable. When you get down to the molecules, you realize, that’s where the healing is. That’s where you’re discovering a solution” (p. 26). Paul Tough quoting Nadine Burke Harris
Tough’s book is out to promote an abusively-deployed variety of moral colonialism disguised as character building, even if he takes the most roundabout way to reach the conclusion from which he started, which may be stated thusly for those disinclined to read the book: KIPP and the education reform schools like it are doing the necessary work to save non-privileged, defective cultures from their own defective character, by making their children salable commodities in the future job market through a psychological regimen we would call brainwashing if it were used by a drug-crazed preacher in a faraway jungle like Guyana. Tough’s defense of the new eugenics is built upon a shaky collection of scientific tidbits and inappropriate analogies to other more humane interventions that Tough apparently believes are not unalike the pedagogical brutality and mind alteration practices that occur in the corporate reform schools such as KIPP. For instance, Tough analogizes from his experiences reporting on New York City’s chess champion school, IS 318, and through a number of examples of single-minded obsession paying off in the world of chess, suggests there is some lesson that may be transferred to understand KIPP’s 10,000 hours of total compliance test preparation and psychological throttling. As in other examples that Tough employs in his book, there are more differences between KIPP’s academic rigor mortis and becoming a chess champ than there are similarities.