Inner City charter schools have a very clear philosophy about what they’re trying to do, how they’re trying to do it, what they think is necessary, who they read, who their leaders are. And they’re explicit in describing it. The combination of the uniformity across all inner city schools and their explicitness about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it makes it easier to get hold of this movement than it is with say, public schools in a city or a school district where there’s so much variety and there isn’t a single philosophy.
Here is what goes on inside inner city charter schools. This is what KIPP does when it takes over the six Wilmington schools. From their own handbooks, here is what to expect…..
These schools start with one belief: that there’s no reason for the large academic gaps that exist between poor minority students and more privileged children. They argue that if we just used better methods, demanded more, had higher expectations, enforced these higher expectations through very rigorous and uniform teaching methods and a very uniform and scripted curriculum geared to being successful on high-stakes tests, we can minimize or even eradicate these large gaps, high rates of drop outs and the academic failures of these children.
To reach these objectives, these schools have developed very elaborate behavioral regimes that they insist all children follow, starting in kindergarten. Submission, obedience, and self-control are very large values. They want kids to submit. You can’t really do this kind of instruction if you don’t have very submissive children who are capable of high levels of inhibition and do whatever they’re told…..
The day is jammed with academics, especially math and reading because that’s what gets tested. The view of time and strict discipline are related, by the way; in order to get these kids to attend over very long hours—they have extended days and extended weeks—you have to be tough with the kids, really severe. They want these kids to understand that when authority speaks you have to follow because that’s basic to learning…
So they don’t have the notion of learning that more progressive educators have, that learning is a very active enterprise and that children have to be very participatory and thinking and speaking and discussing and sharing and having initiative. That’s not their view of learning. It’s too variable across teachers, the objectives are too non-specific, and time is wasted.
Getting up from your chair to go to the bathroom without explicit permission, for example, or not having your hands folded on your desk, or not looking at the teacher every minute, or not having your feet firmly planted on each side of the center of the desk are problematic behaviors. Because if you don’t conform to these rules then you are going to precipitate the next domino and the next domino. It’s going to have a cascading effect on your behavior and pretty soon you’re going to be very disruptive. If you get up to sharpen your pencil, maybe you’re going to throw your pencil at someone. Or if you get up and get something out of your backpack that you forgot, maybe you’re going to elbow another student on your way back to your seat, or make eye contact with them and divert them from looking at the teacher. Any one of these little behaviors they see as leading to the next behavior. Before you know it there will be bedlam.
What rights do children have that are similar to the rights of adults? Can you search them? Can you control what they say and don’t say at all times? Do they have any freedom of speech rights? Do they have any freedom to bring something to school if they want to? More than that, do they have any rights at all against oppressive punishment? Students in these schools have to go to a certain chair and sit there for a certain length of time, all at the teacher’s discretion, and sometimes they have to go repeatedly to this isolated chair with their back to the class. They may be deprived of recess if that’s granted. They have to go to detention and stay after school. They have to write things 100 times. In some of the schools, there’s a good bit of shaming: they have to wear different colored shirts, they can’t talk, they have to sit on a lower bench than other children. And it’s deliberate shaming of the kids. No one is allowed to talk to them. And what offense have they done to merit this kind of punishment? They haven’t done their homework or they’ve come in late, perhaps repeatedly. They haven’t done anything violent. There has been no adjudication. The teachers or the school norms say that this is appropriate. So what are the limits of what a teacher can do to a child?
And to a great part, this lack of limits on control, stems solely because it is only minorities and poor who are being controlled. No child of white affluent parents would ever be treated as are these children. Once a subclass of people has been codified as beneath regular society, it then becomes acceptable to treat that subclass of people with a harshness one would never pervade upon the ruling class. Inside inner city Charter Schools one glimpses a return to the harshness dealt upon slaves, upon segregated blacks, upon prisoners which completely erases any pretense that they are people, equal to the same rights as you or me….
One thing about these atmospheres is that they’re very uniform. Everybody is on board—you don’t have variability from teacher to teacher or class to class. The atmosphere is totalizing. And the children tend to model themselves after this authority. It has that effect on kids, that they identify with the rules of the regime and their identity becomes “a kid in this school who conforms to these rules.” Now some of the students, of course, don’t conform to the rules, and I think that if you get the kids later in life it’s much harder. But if you get them early, you develop their sense of self that accords with those of the authority. The adults know everything, they know nothing. Here’s what’s good, here’s what’s right. You’ll be successful and happy if you take on these characteristics. Without these rules you’ll be bad or impulsive and you’ll destroy your future. You may not be having fun but you’re doing what’s important. We know best. And the kids come to believe that. As the social psychologists have shown, in totalizing environments, that’s often the result. They call it “identification with the oppressor.” Here oppressor should be changed to authority. There is very, very strong authority in these schools. The teachers are novice teachers, so they get molded too. I don’t think you could take highly experienced teachers—20 years of running a classroom—and put them into these schools and have the same kind of experience. It’s a really interesting study to see how both the teachers and the kids get acculturated.
The problem is that the approach is unbalanced. A certain amount of routine, habit forming, strictness, limiting certain behavior is good—but we should always be working towards reducing that. Once you’ve established a safe environment, for example, why not loosen up on the behavior regulations? If I were running one of these schools I would feel that, “OK, I have to do this,” but I would always be working towards turning over more authority to the kids. That would be my goal all of the time. Let the kids be responsible for their behavior. Have more group work, more student councils, more kids in charge of their own lives.
As was taught to blacks during the slavery years, this type of behavior is so segregationist, one has to see it as no less than evil.
- Accept your masters.
- Do whatever they say
- You don’t matter as people.
- Scatter! You pieces of garbage….
Public schools created Michael Jordan. KIPP produces cannon fodder.