Paul Tough, KIPP, and the "Science" of Cultural Sterilizatiion

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Schools Matter

Paul Tough, KIPP, and the "Science" of Cultural Sterilizatiion

Paul Tough is touring the country promoting his new book, which is is to say he is on a nationwide tour promoting KIPP.  For the book, How Children Succeed:Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character reads as an unabashed paean to the kind of segregated, bare-knuckled corporate education reform for the poor that has made KIPP the darling of the oligarchs and hedge funders. With the help of CIA consultant, Dr. Martin Seligman and his disciples at UPenn, the KIPP gang is developing a designer mind intervention intended to create a culturally-sterilized corps of black order takers and low level corporate drones who never complain and always ask How High? when the boss man says, Jump.

If the KIPP neo-eugenic treatment can be perfected by Seligman and David Levin (co-founder of KIPP), America may finally be on the road to ridding itself of the inferior and depraved cultures that are responsible for poverty and its effects, and we may herald a new day when the unfit accept their own responsibility for their unfitness and, then, work double time to make up for their own shortcomings that keep them from entering the the gritty corporate bubble where down always looks up, where everyone keeps on the sunny side of an increasingly shady Wall Street.

Yesterday the Memphis Commercial-Appeal had a story on the eminent visit of Tough to the Memphis KIPP store to pump his book and KIPP.  Now from Tough's past writings in the New York Times, we know that David Levin of KIPP did not conceive his "character building" KIPP program until 2005, when he first met Prof. Seligman.  And according to Tough, the character curriculum with its report card broken down to tenths of points did not go into effect until 2011.  So it was amazing to me that Commercial Appeal story had this:

Two years after it began emphasizing character in New York KIPP schools, college graduation rates there jumped to 46 percent. (Nationally, according to census data, 10 percent of students in poverty graduate from college.)

Does anyone with half a brain intact see a problem here?  How could a program started two years ago in a middle school affect college graduation rates for students from years ago?  How do I know the 46 percent rate is from years ago?  Because I found it in an excerpt of Tough's misleading and obfuscating book:

In addition to targeting character development through message saturation, Levin has also introduced a CPA (Character Point Average) for his students at KIPP, to go alongside their GPA. Teachers give every student a score on each of the 7 character strengths during reporting periods, which scores are then crunched into a CPA that shows up on a student’s report card. On parent-teacher interview night, the teachers go over the student’s CPA with the student and their parents, and together they explore which character strengths should be targeted for improvement, and how to go about doing this (loc. 1768-93).

The importance of having the CPA is that it implies that character is not only important, but that it can be improved. And once again, psychologists agree that this is a very important message—and one that is very effective in increasing achievement in many different areas (loc. 1729-44, 1747).

It is still too early to draw any definitive conclusions regarding whether or not the measures being taken at KIPP will bring success. However, recent numbers regarding the college graduation rate of KIPP alumni look promising. As tough reports, “the six-year graduation rate had gone up from 21 percent, for the Class of 2003… to 46 percent, for the Class of 2005” (loc. 1803). Still, many of the students at KIPP continue to struggle with issues of character strength (loc. 1809), so the new measures cannot be considered a silver bullet—though they are at least promising.

This is exactly how embedded lies by well-paid propagandists end up as monstrous quotable lies in newspapers that reporters like Jane Roberts record without ever checking or even thinking about the ridiculousness of the claim.

Meanwhile, the wholesale indoctrination of KIPPsters continues unabated and celebrated by those wealthy donors who believe that manipulating the psychology of children offers a more efficient solution to the ravages of poverty than actually doing something about poverty.

Jim Horn

Jim Horn is Professor of Educational Leadership at Cambridge College, Cambridge, MA. He is also an education blogger at Schools Matter @ the Chalkface and has published widely on issues related to education reform and social justice in education. With co-author, Denise Wilburn, his new book, The Mismeasure of Education, was published in July 2013.

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