Thursday, January 09, 2014

Former KIPP Students Respond to KIPP Teacher Interview Excerpt

The KIPP damage control machine has not sprung into full action mode yet, but my recent sharing of a small clip from one interview with a former KIPP teacher has generated a number of comments here and here and here.  (Note that anyone other than those forced into anonymity for security or safety reasons should include real names when posting comments at SM).

I include two responses below from two former KIPP students with very different perspectives on KIPP. The first one offers an unreserved endorsement of KIPP and all its practices, while the second one offers something quite different.  Since the second one stated that she feared for her safety , any details that could be used to identify her have been deleted.  

My comments follow each.

Response by Juanita Davis, "proud KIPP alumnus"
James Horn:
I was severely disappointed as I read your piece “KIPP Forces 5th Graders to “Earn” Desks by Sitting on the Floor for a Week”. As a professor of educational leadership at Cambridge University, I expected so much more than what you failed to deliver.
This interview was partial. KIPP is an amazing organization that places countless children who come from impoverished communities into a mind frame that fosters success and accountability. Instead of properly researching KIPP, this article fell prey to lazy journalism and shock value.
Given your position as an educator and someone who undoubtedly has influence through journalism, I can’t help but to feel let down. Where were the news reporters when over sixty kids had to share one partitioned room because the board of education wouldn’t fund us? Where was the outrage when the board of education refused to provide us with books? In fact, they even refused to provide us with desks. It was our KIPP teachers who went into their own pockets to make sure we had the necessary tools for our education. It was Dave Levin and Frank Corcoran who miraculously put together two classrooms with the necessary resources we needed to learn. Where was the outcry then?
KIPP came from humble beginnings, much like the students it serves. Even as an adult, I often look back to my KIPP years some 18 years ago and continue to extract the life lessons instilled in me then. How many schools put character first? If you want to tell a story, tell impassioned narratives from people who truly understand what KIPP means. Your article captured the opinion of one person who no longer works for our organization. How could this educator possibly give a balanced assessment of KIPP when they struggled to make it through the summer themselves, failing to understand the life lessons that were instilled in these kids starting from these children’s first day of school?
Why not interview KIPPsters such as myself? You don’t want to hear the truth? You don’t want to hear that KIPP works? Will no one read a four page article praising a charter school that helped to send Black and Latino kids like me to boarding school on full academic scholarships? Is it boring to hear that KIPP has an amazing post graduate network that sticks with their alumni and offers SAT, SSAT, ACT, and LSAT prep for its alumni? Guess who was front and center at my prep school graduation? KIPP. College books are expensive. Want to know who paid for my college books? KIPP. Want to know who has called me every month for the last ten years, at least, to make sure I am okay and to ask if I need resume help or any type of tutoring if I want to further my education? Mr. Martinez. Guess where he is from. You guessed it, KIPP. I remember struggling with college math 2 AM frustrated as can be. I picked up the phone, called my 8th grade math teacher, Mr. Corcoran, and he spent 45 minutes on the phone helping me through my math problems. How many students can do that? How many teachers are that dedicated? As a college professor, do your students have this access to you?
No one tells the tale of countless minority children who are murdered in the streets of the South Bronx and Chicago. We don’t see enough articles detailing the failed public schools who have children reading and performing mathematics below grade level. The inmates are getting younger and their jail sentences are getting longer. What is the solution?
For many of us, the solution is KIPP. I am the first person in my family to graduate college. I am the product of a teen mom and immigrant father, neither who raised me. I grew up in foster care, battling my surroundings. I battled poverty, abuse, neglect, and danger as I proudly walked to school with my KIPP uniform with the big red words Knowledge is Power written on back of my shirt. I didn’t know then what KIPP would mean to be now.
I can jot down facts like 95% of KIPP alums have graduated high school, compared to the low income average of 70%. 89% of students who completed a KIPP middle school five or more years ago have matriculated into college, compared to the low income average of 41% and the national average of 62%. A third of KIPPsters earned their bachelor’s degree, compared to 8% of the low income average. I can give all types of statistics, but, as a journalist, that is your job.
KIPP isn’t the problem. KIPP is the solution. Without a doubt, KIPP isn’t for everyone. Not every teacher is cut out to be a KIPP educator and not every family can handle the pressure of nurturing a KIPPster. There is an outrage that students are made to sit on the floor to earn their desks but there is no outrage when these same students, who walk through life learning nothing of character, perseverance, and accountability are put behind bars serving sentences to a society designed for them to fail. The cycle never ends.
I remember not having books. I had photocopies from books because no one would fund us. I remember not having enough desks and chairs in the classroom. We shared. So what?! I remember wanting to learn and having dedicated faculty nurture my desire to learn and helped me build on my academics as well as my character. I am not upset about these children with no desks. I am proud of them. Nothing is this world is given to you, it is earned. It is amazing that these children extracted such a big lesson as such a young age. They are already following the footsteps of so many KIPPsters before them who have paved their way. Good for them. They are headed in the right direction. From one KIPPster to another, I am proud of you. Always put your character first, even when other people question it. Keep choosing the road less travelled. It makes a difference.

My comments on Juanita Davis's remarks:
There is a documented phenomenon in the psychological literature known as Stockholm Syndrome. From Wikipedia:
"Stockholm syndrome can be seen as a form of traumatic bonding, which does not necessarily require a hostage scenario, but which describes 'strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.' 
One commonly used hypothesis to explain the effect of Stockholm syndrome is based on Freudian theory. It suggests that the bonding is the individual’s response to trauma in becoming a victim. Identifying with the aggressor is one way that the ego defends itself. When a victim believes the same values as the aggressor, they cease to be a threat."
I would suggest Ms. Davis may be suffering from this corrosive malady, for just as she seems to begin to tell us what KIPP means to her as an adult, she launches into the standard public relations spin that KIPP promotes on its website. Surely there is something more than this seemingly autonomic response to faithfully spout KIPP propaganda.
The fact that Ms. Davis is not upset that 100 new 5th graders were packed into a classroom to sit the floor for a week until they could demonstrate total compliance says a great deal about how much she truly identifies now with the KIPP organization, whose preference for gritty callousness over empathic understanding provides the rationalization for institutionalized child abuse masquerading as education.

Ms. Davis also notes that she and her fellow KIPPsters did not have enough desks or books when she was a student, and she obviously believes it was "because no one would fund us." She was never told, no doubt, that KIPP, Inc. has hundreds of millions in assets in its bank accounts on top of the per-pupil funding that KIPP receives from public sources.


Response from Anonymous former KIPP student:

I would like to say that unlike other alums who I feel suffer from Stockholm syndrome, I thank you for this article. . . just know that the ill treatment of students is at the core
of the KIPP motto. These kinds of actions against students were common and worse in the beginning with Mr. [David] Levin himself. The alums who feel that this is not an accurate depiction are delusional.

Yes KIPP had great qualities, but it's far from perfect.  Kids can learn without being abused psychologically. KIPP broke you down as a person and made you think you needed them and [that] you were damaged goods.

As I write this I struggle with myself. I feel grateful to KIPP as they afforded me many opportunities.  But I also feel broken by them.

Don't believe the hype, those who condemn your article just aren't ready to face the facts of what actually went on in those schools.

I would like to remain anonymous as I currently ________ at a KIPP school (my way of trying to . . . break the cycle of abuse).  And am still in close contact with alumni so, I fear for my safety. . .


I just wanted the writer to know I thank him.


My comments to Anonymous

I have received many anonymous comments from former teachers, and some from former students.  Perhaps soon the cycle of fear and intimidation will be broken, and we will learn the full story of what happens at KIPP schools on a regular basis, rather than what happens when outside visitors are paraded through during well-orchestrated visits to take pictures of children and teachers trained to smile when called upon to do so.

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