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

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

KIPP's Gritsters Get Hammered for Amoral Character Goals

Capitalism is neither moral nor immoral; it is amoral.  There is no room at the bottom line for pious judgments of right or wrong that might affect the balance sheet.  Capitalism is about the accumulation of capital to make more capital and nothing else.  

There was a time in our not-so-distant past when capitalists chose to make money in ways that supported some of the humane individual and group values of an aspiring democratic republic, rather than being focused principally on developing and selling us crap we don't need or really want and that, in the end, makes us less healthy.  

But then an unhealthy populous opens new doors of opportunity for new revenue streams, too.  And I am not just talking the next Blobify or Blabberfy drug that we should ask our doctor about.  I suggest to you that next technological equivalent of a moon landing will be to create a humanoid form that can withstand the rigors of a global ecosystem destroyed by greedy death merchants without moral compunction but with lots of, hmm, grit.  No doubt there will be a handsome profit derived in doing so if it can be done.  Go STEM.

And so capitalism has come to school, too, to extend its opportunities now and into the future.  The best examples are the 21st Century corporate education reform schools that are based on 19th Century methods, minus any pedagogical commitment or lip service, even, to inculcating the humane values to which 19th Century ed reformers aspired.  Gone from KIPP and its emulators are honesty, empathy, industry, patriotism, and thrift.  

Instead, billionaires like the Fishers and the Gates and the Waltons and the Dells are pushing a new character creed based on traits that could never, ever get in the way of the amorality demanded by capitalism: zest, grit, self-control, optimism, gratitude, social intelligence, and curiosity. 

These new traits are to be embedded into the neurons of children through an ongoing and abusive psychological intervention known to most as the "no excuses" school model.  Working on how to get it done in the most efficient manner are the scary followers of UPenn's and the CIA's Dr. Martin Seligman, the discoverer of learned helplessness and chief promoter of the new corporate creed, positive psychology.

To promote this new eugenics intervention within the segregated corporate chain gang schools for the poor, David Levin of KIPP has taken to the web with a new online course to spread the grit gospel according to Seligman and his disciple, Angela Duckworth.  

A prof at Carleton, Dr. Jeff Snyder, took the course, and he has his own report card in The New Republic. Here is a bit of his priceless assessment:
. . . .Never before has character education been so completely untethered from morals, values, and ethics. From the inception of our public school system in the 1840s and 1850s, character education has revolved around religious and civic virtues. Steeped in Protestantism and republicanism, the key virtues taught during the nineteenth-century were piety, industry, kindness, honesty, thrift, and patriotism. During the Progressive era, character education concentrated on the twin ideas of citizenship and the “common good.” As an influential 1918 report on “moral values” put it, character education “makes for a better America by helping its pupils to make themselves better persons.” In the 1960s and 1970s, meanwhile, character education focused on justice and working through thorny moral dilemmas.

Today’s grit and self-control are basically industry and temperance in the guise of psychological constructs rather than moral imperatives. Why is this distinction important? While it takes grit and self-control to be a successful heart surgeon, the same could be said about a suicide bomber. When your character education scheme fails to distinguish between doctors and terrorists, heroes and villains, it would appear to have a basic flaw. Following the KIPP growth card protocol, Bernie Madoff’s character point average, for instance, would be stellar. He was, by most accounts, an extremely hard working, charming, wildly optimistic man. . . .


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