Earlier this week the Wharton School of Business and the SEI Center for Advanced Studies in Management, both of which are at UPenn, hosted a two-day conference on transforming teacher education for the poor, specifically, and higher ed for the non-elite, generally, to conform to the human depersonalizing and dehumanizing model prescribed by the big money in Silicon Valley and Wall Street.
Central to the new mission of human alienation and behavior control is the goal of character improvement of the working classes. It is based on an amateur application of neuroscience and psychology, and it exploits the neural plasticity of children and their teachers to produce populations of compliant and culturally sterilized go-getters who always ask "how high?" when someone in authority says "jump."
This 21st version of eugenics comes packaged as social emotional learning (SEL), and it is being sold by people like Martin Seligman, Angela Duckworth, and Carol Dweck, all of whom have their own product lines to sell and their territories to protect.
The conference at UPenn was co-organized by UPenn's Graduate School of Education, and UPenn's (and the CIA's) Professor Seligman offered a keynote.
|UPenn Announced KIPP Support in 2014|
These prefatory remarks are offered to provide context for Chapter 15 of Work Hard, Be Hard: Journeys through "No Excuses" Teaching, which examines a little closer the emerging social-emotional learning hoax, which has successfully hijacked legitimate work of folks like James Comer to create an updated version of the new paternalism based on psychological exploitation and human capital goals devised by the drones of billionaires.
At the spear point of this neo-eugenics movement to make the poor psychologically invulnerable to poverty are the children in the "no excuses" charter schools, where practices remain behind doors that are unopened by regulation or oversight. Children and their teachers are being turned into compliant robots, and the University of Pennsylvania is one of the prominent sponsors.
Another Generation of the KIPP Model?
As we have already established, the No Excuses KIPP Model schools are concerned with measuring student test performance and student performance character, which provide the sought-after evidence of both student and teacher production values. Despite the consensus among researchers and statisticians that teachers are responsible for a small percentage of the differences in student achievement (the American Statistical Association (2014) puts the number between 1% and 14%), KIPP’s policies are predicated on the assumption that teachers are the primary influence on student test performance.
Student scores, then, become the metric for determining the worth of a teacher. Consistent, too, with reformers’ derogation of evidence for the effects of poverty and discrimination on KIPP students’ test and character performance, the leaders of KIPP have set into motion a schooling machine that processes both students and teachers through a system sustained by the conversion of human energy sources into academic and character test scores. These scores, then, function to define and predict human capital outcomes. Those students and teachers whose energy cannot be converted into higher scores are extracted before they weaken the system.
Even though academic test performance remains the primary production function at KIPP, David Levin in recent years has worked with positive psychologists, Martin Seligman and Angela Duckworth, at the University of Pennsylvania to further develop strategies to better instill performance character traits. Not surprisingly, the development of performance character assessments has preceded the elaboration of a performance character curriculum, as witnessed with the example below of a character progress card that is meant to accompany the academic report card.
Ostensibly aimed to measure performance character in a handful of KIPP schools, most of the traits evaluated on the “Character Progress Report” (see Figure 15.1) serve to undergird the academic program outputs at KIPP, which are measured by tests, either standardized or teacher made. Because students have come to understand that their results on standardized tests or the “formative” tests that are used to prepare for the summative standardized tests provide the evidence of learning that counts for their grades, they have come to understand, too, that other areas of measured performance are tertiary.
As may be expected, most KIPP students give attention to the demands of the testing regime and little else. As one former KIPP teacher noted, “They were really good performers on tests, . . . but they had figured out that they didn’t need to perform in class. And so the teachers were not satisfied with the performance in class, but they still would perform well on the standardized test.”
Supporters of the KIPP Model insist that self-regulation and self-control must prevail if disadvantaged children are not to be carried down a future road to ruin by their bad habits that focus on satisfying present needs. According to a new breed of psycho-paternalists (Steinberg, 2014), future oriented self-control behavior must overcome present oriented self-rewarding behaviors. Schools that serve poor children, then, should introduce social and emotional learning (SEL) strategies that are sequenced, active, focused, and explicit (SAFE).
Steinberg calls for less socialization and more training of “executive functions,” which remain, as they were in the 18th Century, tied to memory capacity. Improving memory works to raise test scores and grades, which are largely dependent upon the ample presence of “executive function.” Delayed gratification, grit, self-control and the rest of the performance character traits must be imposed and assessed in order to mediate the internal warring impulses between self-reward and self-regulation systems within the brains of adolescents.
Based on what we have learned of KIPP’s compliance demands, the KIPP Model would seem to offer the optimal environment for dredging the new neural channels required by the paternalist psychology. However, the available research does not show any kind of character transformation happening at KIPP. In the widely-disseminated Mathematica study (2008-2013) for which KIPP patrons paid almost $4 million, we find significant test score gains at KIPP when compared to local public school, but the same cannot be said for improvements in performance character strengths. Steinberg (2014) offers this sobering summary of the Mathematica findings that “were not so widely broadcast”:
They [students] weren’t more effortful or persistent. They didn’t have more favorable academic self-conceptions or stronger school engagement. They didn’t score higher than the comparison group in self-control. In fact, they were more likely to engage in ‘undesirable behavior,’ including losing their temper, lying to and arguing with their parents, and giving teachers a hard time. They were more likely to get into trouble at school. Despite the program’s emphasis on character development, the KIPP students were no less likely to smoke, drink, get high, or break the law. Nor were their hopes for their educational futures any higher or their plans any more ambitious (p. 153).
According to that same Mathematica study, KIPP students were significantly less well adjusted, did much more homework, and reported much less involvement in extracurricular activities than non-KIPPsters (Steinberg, 2014, pp. 144-145). With two hours of homework per night on average, and with the extended day, week, and year, little time remains for extracurricular activities that are, after all, in shorter supply at KIPP than at public or private schools.
KIPP’s No Excuses methods emphasizing silence and minimal peer interactions offer clues as to the growth of problem behaviors reported by the Mathematica researchers. KIPP rules appear to assume that performance character can be improved without the need for interactions with others. With the exception of just one criterion on KIPP’s performance character rubric (KIPP Foundation, 2015c), “Asked questions to help s/he [sic] learn better,” we find that there is no need for a KIPPster to ever verbalize at all.
Even so, former teachers that I interviewed saw enforced silence as a big organizational mistake, a pedagogical shortcoming, and an oppressive fixation that was not in the best interests of students or teachers. One teacher offered important insights into the effects of the limited opportunities for isolated and disadvantaged children to learn how dialogue works:
Well, some of these students come from broken homes and they’ve experienced trauma, which is essentially untreated in many cases. And there’s not a whole lot of socialization at KIPP, and so it’s a lot of silence and frustration, I imagine, for some of the students who are further behind academically, as was the case here for this class. Because they were expected to basically be these all-star students and there’s the No Excuses mentality that’s driven in throughout the entire school year, there’s just all this frustration throughout the day.
And they’re not allowed to really bond with each other throughout the day, so there’s a lot of conflict amongst each other. And so some of the disrespect that I see between my students there at KIPP—I think had to deal with the fact that they didn’t have a real good opportunity to bond. But it was due to the fact that many of them have had traumatic lives or continue to experience trauma and are punished instead of really being cared for and listened to, even. The big thing at KIPP was no talking back no matter what—I don’t want to hear it. You could receive a harsher punishment if you even utter a word of talking back in response [to a] punishment.
Among the teachers interviewed for this book, there was a shared anxiety with regards to what KIPP’s lockdown environment will eventually produce. As student success entails a sense of empowerment, or the ability to not only control but to affect or transform one’s world, these former teachers understood the danger that the KIPP Model poses to that purpose or aim. The resulting anxiety is represented by the statement below, which expresses concern that the KIPP influence would continue to reach beyond the 183 KIPP franchises:
I am worried that if the KIPP motto starts to spread that it will end up going into public schools as well and then because KIPP is so test-focused, other schools are going to be that way. I feel like we are just going to be creating robots, like people who aren’t really able to think for themselves and be creative and expressive and be able to have their own personalities. I am just worried that it is just going to create a society of people who are going to be complacent and just kind of do whatever people tell them to do because that is what they have learned their whole life.
Growing interest among corporate foundations and their think tanks (Center on Children and Families at Brookings, 2014) for “character” building through social-emotional learning (SEL) interventions suggests the KIPP Model is likely to be repackaged for another generation of No Excuses schools. Once again, psychologists of the developmental variety are coming to dominate this social and emotional learning (SEL) niche (Steinberg, 2014; Farrington et al, 2012), and they are joined by new paternalists who are fixated, as they always have been, on self-regulation and self-control.
As a solution to their character deficiencies among the disenfranchised, SEL will likely have a dominant role in the next phase of the crusade to fix the poor. In a recent research review (Dweck, Walton, & Cohen, 2014) sponsored by the Gates Foundation, the authors examine studies that support the Duckworth thesis that non-cognitive, or motivational, factors like “academic tenacity” can have more effect than “cognitive factors” on “core academic outcomes such as GPA and test scores” (p. 2):
At its most basic level, academic tenacity is about working hard, and working smart, for a long time. More specifically, academic tenacity is about the mindsets and skills that allow students to . . . look beyond short-term concerns to longer-term or higher-order goals, and withstand challenges and setbacks to persevere toward these goals (p. 4).
The philanthrocapitalists and their think tank scholars quote liberally from the work of Walter Mischel (1989, 2014), whose experiments with delayed gratification among preschoolers provide the dominant metaphor for another generation of paternalist endeavors. In Mischel’s experiments, children were offered a single marshmallow immediately or two marshmallows later if they could delay their reward. The test, which came to be labeled “The Marshmallow Test,” represents the potential to delay gratification in order to gain a larger reward later on.
At many of the KIPP, Aspire, Achievement First, and Yes Prep schools, children wear t-shirts emblazoned with “Don’t Eat the Marshmallow.” Mischel’s (2014) latest work, The marshmallow test: Mastering self-control acknowledges KIPP’s prominent role and places it within the context of recent research on improving self-control. David Levin has made Mischel’s book a central component in his Coursera massive open online course (MOOC), Teaching character and creating positive classrooms, which was first offered with co-instructor, Angela Duckworth, in 2014.
Levin and Duckworth are two of the co-founders of Character Lab, which uses Duckworth’s experimental work at the Upper Darby School District near the University of Pennsylvania to fine tune the character performance interventions that Levin initiated at KIPP schools in the early 2000s. Interestingly, much of the research that is used to justify the use of the Seligman-Duckworth resiliency improvement methodology is the same data offered to justify the Seligman deal that cost the U. S. Army $145 million (see Chapter 1) for interventions that brought no benefit to GIs suffering from the stresses of war. We may wonder how much these alleged remedies for children might cost federal and state education departments, whose bankrolls are much smaller than those at the Pentagon.
A related character approach that operates under the trade name, Brainology, claims that 1,000 schools are now using its “growth mindset” based on Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset (2006). Dweck’s work is included on the suggested reading list used by Levin and Duckworth for their online course mentioned above. Brainology cites unpublished research that shows teaching the growth mindset “boosts motivation and achievement” and narrows both the gender and racial achievement gaps (Mindset Works, Inc., 2008-2012) A license for 300 students is available for $5,250, or the program may be purchased for $79 per student. A separate site license for professional development is sold for $1,500.
The Brainology website has links to a handout that summarizes finding for a short list of preliminary studies showing Brainology’s effectiveness in increasing motivation, although none of the findings has appeared in refereed journals. Even so, the enthusiasm among reformers is strong and growing stronger as the debilitating stresses from poverty rise, and the spread of educational austerity measures calls for the ramping up of strategies that might mollify those affected children whose promised rewards become even less certain.
The Next Generation of No Excuses Paternalism
Just as the appearance of the Thermstroms’ (2004) No Excuses. . . announced the delivery of a new paternalistic script for schools that serve poor, black, and brown children, the publication of another book (Tough, 2012), How children succeed: Grit, curiosity, and the hidden power of character, brought news of the next act in the school-based morality tale plotted to save the poor from themselves. Tough provides a popularized survey of the psychological theory that underpins the KIPP Model’s character education program, and as such it moves the focus away from the Thermstroms’ conclusions regarding cultural deficits among the poor to a fixation of character shortcomings.
Tough’s book examines the justifications and methods for neurologically-altering children in order to improve their “performance character” and to enhance their human capital potential, as measured by grades and test scores. Instead of directly assaulting the cultural shortcomings of the poor, as the Thernstroms had done, Tough’s book centers on the possibilities for fixing flawed character.
Within the new paternalist plot outline, performance character is viewed as a collected demonstration of non-cognitive and significantly alterable traits that greatly influence cognitive outcomes. Supporters contend that if cognitive outcomes (grades and test scores) among poor children are going to equal those of privileged children, then deficient performance character, has to be zeroed in. Even if the target’s label has changed from “culture” to “character,” the destination of the arrow has not; it remains the psychology (attitude, motivation, and behavior) of the child that must be altered, rather than any socio-cultural or socioeconomic contexts.
Tough (2012) provides a compendium of enthused speculation and scanty research findings on the capacity to alter the malleable brain chemistry and functions of children traumatized by poverty. Tough explores the grand, or grandiose, hope for a scientific way to take advantage of the neurological plasticity of children in order to program good discipline and character. With an enthusiasm reminiscent of the heady days of eugenics when Stanford’s president, David Jordan, talked of the potential for “Burbanking the human race” (The American Practitioner, 1912), Tough (2012) quotes pediatrician, Nadine Burke Harris, who excitedly discusses the possibility changing children’s behaviors in order to alter brain chemistry and, thus, permanently modify performance character:
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).
In a New York Times article that preceded the publication of How Children Succeed. . ., Tough (2011) conceded that the earlier reform strategy of ignoring the effects of poverty on children had been a mistake. But rather than advocating for interventions that would alter the structural conditions that enable the continuation of poverty, a new generation of KIPP Model supporters influenced by writers like Paul Tough now appears focused on behavioral-cognitive interventions to alter the body’s reactions to the stress that poverty creates.
These alterations are to make it possible for “executive functioning,” or conscious memory, to proceed uninterrupted, despite poverty-induced distractions like noise, danger, hunger, or any of the other life-altering annoyances with which the poor must contend. To change the body’s reactions to stress, of course, gets us back to the need to change the brain, which must be done, it is argued, by strengthening behaviors, specifically those behaviors that signal healthy “academic mindsets.”
The flawed mindsets brought on by the body’s capitulation to stress are to be successfully altered, then, with activities and habits that increase grit, self-control, zest, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism, and curiosity. To carry out this child improvement agenda, teachers will be trained in a new pedagogy that places as much emphasis on performance character calisthenics as it does on exercising the executive functions, where memory occupies the position of the brain’s CEO.
Where’s the Beef, or the Marshmallow?
When white middle class corporate education reformers talk about the need to have brown and black poor children learn to "delay gratification," who can help but wince, at least just a little? After all, black children were being trained to accept the same message over a hundred years ago, when white teachers funded by Northern philanthropists taught the children of former slaves that moral inferiority required them to wait until their race could catch up to the morally-superior white race, whose history as Christian people provided a two thousand year divine advantage that clearly justified their superior status.
Booker T. Washington was one of those youngsters taught this lesson of inherited moral depravity at Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, and the brainwashing he received lasted him a lifetime. He was the first black man to have lunch at the White House, and he served loyally throughout his life as a spokesman for white Northern philanthropists who wanted their message of unforced gradualism in civil rights and economic servitude to dominate discourse among black citizens whose parents and grandparents were America’s only involuntary immigrants.
When Washington admonished African-Americans to “dignify and glorify labor,” for “it is at the bottom of life that we must begin, not at the top” (Bacon, 1896, p. 14), he was anticipating a later version of the same message to work hard, be nice, and be patient. Or as some may say, Work hard, be hard, and don't eat the marshmallow.
Today's white reformer philanthropists are the planners of another century of authoritarian, paternalistic schooling models for the children of the black and brown poor, and though some of the tools and techniques have changed from the late 19th Century, the aim and the purpose clearly echoes down to us from the heydays of the Hampton Model (see Introduction). Today, black children are told that it is not their moral inferiority that holds them back but, rather, their character defects.
And if white reformer icons like Mike Feinberg and David Levin can come up with ways to improve black and brown children's character, compliance, grades, and test scores, then all the poverty in the world cannot hold them back as long as they remain patient. Or so they are told. In the meantime, the poor children who are having their characters altered and their cultures cleansed so that they are immunized against the effects of poverty must wait. How long must they wait to eat that marshmallow? What kind of threats, punishments, and humiliations will be required for them in the meantime? Will unending patience be required until policy reformers and pedagogical technicians can discover another more compelling explanation for the failure of the oppressed?
In his bestseller, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell (2008) offers KIPP as an example to support his premise that most people achieve success with hard work and the help of others. Gladwell views KIPP and KIPP supporters as providers of the “helping-hand” solution that is aimed to close the gaps between the haves and have-nots. It would seem, then, that if success in life is achieved with the help of others and some good luck, rather than from personal advantage or special gift (as Gladwell argues), then it makes sense that failure should abide by the same law. That is, if we are to no longer believe in self-made successes, as Gladwell clearly does not, then can we really continue to believe in the self-made failure?
Apparently, Gladwell can, as he attributes the educational disadvantages of the poor to the failure of the poor. Gladwell offers us the example of 12 year-old Marita, whose “[poor] community does not give her what she needs,” and, as a result, she is placed into the KIPP school so that she can be helped:
Marita's life is not the life of a typical twelve-year-old. Nor is it what we would necessarily wish for a twelve-year old. Children, we like to believe, should have time to play and dream and sleep. Marita has responsibilities.
. . . . Marita has had to [“shed some part” of . . . [her] own identity] because the cultural legacy she had been given does not match her circumstances . . . not when middle and upper middle class families are using weekends and summer vacation to push their children ahead. Her community does not give her what she needs. So what does she have to do? Give up her evenings and weekends and friends -- all the elements of her old world -- and replace them with KIPP (p. 266).
Are we to believe, as Gladwell obviously does, that poverty and its debilitating effects are the faults of the poor, which must be remedied, then, by KIPP-like character and cultural interventions that require children to sacrifice “all the elements” of their worlds—except for that most striking element of being poor? Must Marita and the rest of the KIPPsters give up everything for KIPP except their poverty?
It doesn’t seem to occur to Gladwell or to any of the other No Excuses culture-and character-fixers that providing the needed resources for Marita’s community to “give her what she needs” may be a more responsible and sustainable kind of intervention than resorting to psychological and neurological manipulations by clueless amateurs, who demand Marita’s childhood in exchange for some far-distant and questionable path to economic salvation.
This modern-day day example of blaming the poor for their poverty follows a long lineage of patronizing ideology that goes all the way back to our Puritan forefathers, who viewed poverty as clear evidence of the poor’s own moral depravity and wickedness. For the 21st Century KIPP Model’s paternalist patrons and apologists, the poor’s depraved culture and weak character must be addressed with precision psychological fixes, so as to overcome the conditions that corporate and governmental enablers of in absentia poverty continue to silently support with a colossal passivity. Today’s public punishments of the children of the poor come in doses of brain-altering classroom interventions that are meted out by unwitting non-professionals, yet they remain inspired by the rigid catechism of working hard and becoming hardened, for even the slimmest chance one day to be among the Economic Elect.
In an influential report (Farrington, Roderick, Nagaoka, Keyes, Johnson, & Beechum, 2012) from the University of Chicago’s CCSR, which provides a schematic for moving forward with the kind of character education that will produce greater human capital formation, there is Figure 15.2 from page 13 of the Report. I offer it here near the close of this book, for I think it encapsulates the uniquely insular framing that has remained so remarkably persistent over the decades of reformulated education reforms of the new paternalist era.
In Figure 15.2 we see all sorts of connections from the “School and Classroom Context” on down to the bottom line of “Academic Performance,” which then feeds back into the “Academic Mindsets.” On the side and disconnected from the flow of influences is “Student Background Characteristics.” And even though all of this active interplay of influences occurs within a “Socio-Cultural Context,” that context would appear to have no influence on, or to not be influenced by, anything that goes on at the school and classroom level.
Now it is not as if the authors (Farrington, Roderick, Nagaoka, Keyes, Johnson, & Beechum, 2012) did not know of the interplay of structural factors and student background outside of school with the pedagogical factors inside. In fact, they admit that the “interrelationships between cognitive, psychological, and structural variables and school performance are exceedingly complex:”
. . . we situate the model within a larger “Socio-Cultural Context” that shapes the structural mechanisms of schools and classrooms, as well as the interactions and subjective experiences of the human beings within schools. Opportunity structures in the larger society; economic conditions that shape employment opportunities as well as schooling costs; the presence of racism, sexism, and other types of discrimination that give rise to stereotypes and prejudice; and stark inequalities in resources across neighborhoods and schools all contribute to the larger context in which American students learn (p. 13).
The authors’ expansiveness in the consideration of the problem is, in the next sentence, neutralized, for reasons that those preferring psychological solutions to psychosocial problems readily explain: “We offer this model as a simplified framework for conceptualizing the primary relationships among these factors, for the purpose of framing our discussion” (p. 13). With that cleaving caveat, then, the discussion is severed from the complexity of “primary relationships” that have to be understood and acted upon for social and economic wounds to be effectively remedied.
In doing so, the attempt at healing begins even before the cutting stops, which will, in turn, require increasingly-advanced Band-Aids to staunch the bleeding, even as the social and economic wounds deepen and the infection advances. The result is a corporate education reform discussion framed once again for the benefit of a failed solution with a new pseudo-scientific twist. Those who engage in it actively fortify the boundary between the psychological and the sociological sides of the human enterprise, even though history is replete with grim examples that “neither can be subordinated to the other or neglected without evil results following” (Dewey, 1897, p. 4).
If Not the KIPP Model, Then What?
In defending schooling practices for disadvantaged, urban children that middle class parents would never allow for their own children, corporate education reformers like to talk about achievement inequities that cannot wait for utopian social plans to be enacted or for perfectly fair solutions to be found. Whatever-it-takes kinds of action, they argue, are needed now. Secretary Duncan (U. S. Department of Education, 2012) expressed this sentiment in 2012 when he said, “We can’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good. We can’t let the utopian become the enemy of the excellent. And we can’t let rhetorical purity become the enemy of rigorous practice” (para 22).
Ironically, it is the kind of consistent inaction with regards to child poverty and social injustice that has created the presumed emergency status that reformers argue now justifies the jettisoning of fair, effective, professional, and democratic schooling practices that were once the ideal of American public education. One has to wonder, too, what price this new rigor and grit agenda will demand.
Will it require of Marita and other children at total compliance schools more than their childhoods, which have already been claimed as a necessary cost to helping them to become the behavioral equivalents of middle class children with the stamina to sit quietly and wait for the marshmallow? If more social-emotional learning treatments are required, what else will be paved over as new neurologic roadmaps are excavated and built in the brains of children who, otherwise, would be traumatized by the effects of poverty?
We have to wonder, here, which is more utopian in nature and concept:
a) To expand into schools the “learned optimism” and “resiliency training” practices from the Seligman/Duckworth self-control and grit movement that have been demonstrated to have little empirical basis and no practical value in the prevention of suicide, violence, and other antisocial behaviors associated with post-traumatic stress, or
b) To strategically set about the business that justice and honesty require of a democratic society by,
· incentivizing (at the federal level) and investing (at the corporate level) in research based efforts to create and sustain economically-and-culturally integrated classroom, schools, and communities,
· instituting an ongoing Race to End Childhood Poverty, which will provide adequate funding and human resource assistance to states for developing and piloting initiatives that, if successful, can be scaled up in communities with similar cultural and social characteristics,
· developing a national plan to recruit and professionally prepare the most diverse and competent teacher and administrator force in the world, which will be thoroughly schooled in the history and implementation of best practices, effective policy planning, multicultural community relations, and the social science and art of teaching,
· incentivizing and investing in institutional capacity to develop, implement, and study curriculum and assessment practices that address the entire learning spectrum within a variety of cultural contexts, from the simplest repetitive learning tasks to the most complex and contextually demanding tasks,
· mandating by regulation and statute fair and adequate systems for funding public education that are subject to public oversight and accountability at all levels,
· building a sense of shared mission, trust, and mutually-shared accountability among policymakers, educators, political leaders, the business community, and the general public,
· instituting a system of research and public sharing that will provide needed guidance for education policy decisions,
· creating cross-disciplinary teams of researchers and practitioners from the sciences, technologies, arts, and humanities to focus on novel ways of addressing social, economic, cultural, and health issues to benefit all citizens,
· constructing democratic governance structures at the local, state, and federal levels that are proactive as well as responsive in making sure that equal educational, economic, and cultural opportunities are provided to all citizens,
· protecting children, parents, and teachers from miseducative, abusive, misguided, and/or developmentally inappropriate schooling practices.
As some readers will dismiss this list as more advocacy for “utopian social change” (Tough, 2011), closer consideration will hopefully show that much of the infrastructure in already in place to move forward with some of these initiatives. The U. S. Department of Education (USDOE), for instance, has the capacity to direct and connect researchers from around the nation and the world toward projects that could be initiated from current levels of discretionary funding.
The Education Resources Information Center (ERIC) could expand its online reach to serve scholars, educators, and the general public, alike. Rather than incentivizing more resegregation and ill-prepared teachers with generous federal allocations for more No Excuses charter schools and Teach for America and TFA emulators, the Department could shift funding to research and development of magnet schools, controlled choice plans, and development of teacher preparation and credentialing systems that have worked in countries like Finland and Shanghai.
Ironically, some of the foreign countries who do well on international tests lean heavily on the decades of research and shared thinking by American educational icons (Sahlberg, 2011; Asma, 2014) like Jerome Bruner, Ralph Tyler, John Dewey, Maxine Green, and John Goodlad—rather than a Harvard MBA (Lemov, 2015) with 64 foolproof ways to “teach like a champion.”
Rather than making excuses for more school segregation by continuing to point to failed desegregation efforts of the past, unions, businesses, and governments could commit to uphold the 9-0 Supreme Court ruling over 60 years ago that declared separate schools are inherently unequal. And rather than cheerleading for myopic and unaccountable corporate solutions to educational issues that have deep roots in economic and social inequality, political leaders can and must be forced to confront the problems that they would rather contract out to the well-connected for temporal corporate non-remedies.
I offer a final example of the kind of program that, if studied, fine-tuned, and expanded, could begin to operationalize some of the ten options presented above as preferable alternatives to paternalists’ neo-eugenic schemes to correct the “non-cognitive” defects of poor children. In Baltimore, a program called Promise Heights provides a number of wraparound services to a handful of inner city Baltimore schools and part of Baltimore’s first African-American community.
Initially funded by a modest $500,000 grant from USDOE in 2012, program services are coordinated by the School of Social Work at the University of Maryland, which partnered with churches, schools, community groups, and Baltimore’s social workers to “test out ways” to help the children in neighborhoods plagued by poverty and violence (McDaniels, 2014): “The goal of the multiyear initiative is to combat the cycle of poverty by wrapping children and families in supportive services from cradle to college. Dealing with trauma is a major focus of that work” (para 13).
Trauma comes in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which affects as many as a third of Promise Height elementary and middle school children who have been exposed to violence inside or outside the home:
Some students bit classmates, leaving teeth marks on hands and cheeks; a few threatened to hurt staff members. Other children, dubbed “runners,” darted out of the building and down barren city blocks, with frantic teachers on their heels. The encounters exhausted Johnson and other teachers, who began to see the children as troublemakers.
. . . .Studies have piled up showing that in the tangle of tough, intractable issues like poverty and drug addiction, exposure to violence is a major factor damaging children's health. The stress that fills their little bodies breeds anxiety and depression, making it hard for them to concentrate in school. In fact, research has found that such experiences hurt the development of crucial areas of their brains — those involving attention, memory and behavior control. In the worst cases, children walk around with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder no different from those plaguing soldiers who have fought on the front lines (para 3, 7).
Strategies used in the Promise Heights program, however, do not focus on behavioral lockdown or experiments to build self-control and grit among children with little capacity for either. Instead, social workers are in the schools and in homes to work with teachers and parents to understand what is going on and to provide interventions that preserve the dignity of children, parents, and teachers, alike. No one is asked to sacrifice her childhood: The University of Maryland team has embedded social workers in neighborhood schools. They make home visits and coach adults on parenting. Teachers learn that instead of asking a misbehaving child, “What's wrong with you?” they need to ask, “What happened last night?”
Other services include psychological services, parenting courses, wellness programs, prenatal childcare, asthma treatment, GED classes, job counseling, and a “parent scholar program,” which puts parents in classrooms to assist teachers. In the first year of the parent scholar program that had five parent scholars embedded in one school, school suspensions fell by 43 percent.
Results for Promise Heights are encouraging, and it provides but a single example—a beginning point to address the many inequalities that consistently produce achievement gaps, which are the obvious symptoms of the growing child poverty that paternalist reformers and supporters of the KIPP Model ignore. There may have been at one time an excuse for such disregard, but with what we know and can no longer deny there can be no excuse for imposing tried-and-failed remedies from previous centuries that exacerbate the problems, now grown epidemic. Surely the very notion of education reform deserves something better if it is escape the long shadow cast by patronizing and racist education policy.
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