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

Friday, September 05, 2014

KIPP: Waiting for the Marshmallow While Getting the Fist

Educators have jumped on the bandwagon, hoping to teach the skills of delaying gratification to inner-city kids. Dave Levin, co-founder of KIPP (a network of charter schools) employs teaching these cognitive tricks to all his students, who also each wear T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Don’t eat the marshmallow!” Source
When you hear white middle class corporate reformers talking about the need to have brown and black poor children learn to "delay gratification," who can help but wince!  After all, black children were being served the same message over a hundred years ago when they were taught by white educators provided by philanthropists that their moral inferiority required of them to wait until their race could catch up to the morally-superior white race, whose history as Christian people provided them with justification for peering down their long thin noses at the children of slaves stolen from the jungles of Africa.

Booker T. Washington was one of those youngsters taught this lesson of inherited moral depravity at Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, and the brainwashing lasted him a lifetime.  He was the first black man to have lunch at the White House, and he served loyally as a spokesman for white Northern philanthropists who wanted their message of unforced gradualism in civil rights to be the dominant and accepted belief among black citizens.  Work hard, be nice, and be patient.  In short, don't eat the marshmallow.

Today's white reformers and philanthropists are the founders of another system of authoritarian, paternalistic schools for the black and brown poor, and the message has not changed.  Today, however, black children are told that it is not their moral inferiority that holds them back but, rather, their character deficiency.  And if white guys like Mike Feinberg and David Levin can come up ways to improve black and brown children's character, compliance, and test scores, then all the poverty in the world cannot hold them back. Or so the message goes, while poverty is ignored for another generation.

In the meantime, the poor children who are having their character altered so that they are immunized to the effects of poverty must wait.  How long must they wait to eat that marshmallow?  What kind of threats and punishments and humiliations will be required to get them to wait until they are culturally sterilized?  Will it take another hundred years for white reformers to find another internal reason for the failure of the oppressed?

Not that Feinberg or Levin's kids ever have to worry about any of this or to be exposed to the culturally-defective children that their parents are dedicated to repairing.


  1. This is so right on it should shame us all.

  2. Anonymous3:29 PM

    Thank you. Awaiting your post re NYT magazine puff piece on Eva.