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

Friday, March 13, 2015

KIPP's Character Guru, Uncensored

When Angela Duckworth was shopping around for a graduate program in 2002, she read about Martin Seligman's positive psychology program at UPenn. Knowing no boundaries, she emailed him late one night, and Marty happened to be up, playing bridge online.  

One thing led to another, and the next day they had a face to face.  Marty was so impressed that he got the UPenn to suspend their rules for admissions deadlines, and soon Angela was ensconced as Marty's protege in the doctoral psych program.  Four years later, she had her PhD, and a year after that in 2007 she was appointed to a tenure track job teaching psychology.

I recently came across this Duckworth feature article in the Pennsylvania Gazette from 2012.  Whoa!  An excerpt (my bolds):
. . .Following graduation [from Harvard] Duckworth spent two years founding a summer program for disadvantaged kids and then went to Oxford on a Marshall Scholarship. After returning from Oxford she consulted with McKinsey for a year and spent another year as the chief operating officer of a web startup called Great Schools that allows parents to compare public schools. But the bulk of her time over the next seven years was spent teaching math and science at public schools in New York, San Francisco, and Philadelphia.

“It seemed to me that if I was going to work on issues of equity I should start earlier in the life course rather than later,” she says, explaining why she was drawn to the classroom. “The earlier you start the bigger bang for your buck you get in terms of closing the gap between the privileged and the non-privileged. I also just enjoyed working with young people, so that kind of led naturally to teaching.”

Duckworth jokes that the job-hopping she did in her twenties was a case study in “how not to be gritty,” but it seems more a function of the intensity and dynamism of her personality. In the course of reporting this article I heard colleagues call Duckworth the most extroverted person, the quickest learner, and the fastest thinker (and talker) they’d ever met.

On the day I visited she had a half-dozen bubble gum containers on her desk, suggesting an atmosphere of restless activity and a need to replenish the saliva that’s lost through such rapid-fire speech. She also uses expletives in a way that might impress even high-powered cursers like Rahm Emanuel.
In the course of a 90-minute conversation she called a principal she knew “an asshole,” described the opinion of a leading education foundation as “fucking idiotic,” and did a spot-on impression of a teenager with attitude when explaining the challenge of conducting experiments with adolescents: “When you pay adults they always work harder but sometimes in schools when I’ve done experiments with monetary incentives there’s this like adolescent ‘fuck you’ response. They’ll be like ‘Oh, you really want me to do well on this test? Fuck you, I’m going to do exactly the opposite.’”
I am glad the new corporate mantra at KIPP is "work hard, be nice," rather than "work hard, be nice--to other people."

No comments:

Post a Comment