Play school

Is your blood pressure too low? Read Bernard Chapin’s description of an alternative school that doesn’t even try to teach academics. The principal, known to the staff as Princess Sparkle, believes school should be fun, fun, fun.

We often refer to her as “Play Therapist in Chief” as it seems that she has no stomach for the three R’s or even the seldom stated fourth R, which is known in traditional circles as “responsibility.”  Indeed, if our students followed her priorities in life, the only job they’d be qualified to work would be as the principal of a highly wayward alternative school.

When a student abandoned a math evaluation to go to the all-school tug-of-war on “Wacky Wednesday,” Chapin asked the principal’s supervisor to attend a meeting with several teachers to talk about the lack of instructional time at the school. All play and no work was denying students any chance for an education. Chapin, the school psychologist, argued the students had lots of play time at home.

The majority of our pupils are the offspring of permissive single parents who dress them in the finest gangsta wear and rarely monitor their neighborhood activities.  Most college sophomores would be envious of the level of partying even our 14-year-olds engage in.   

(The supervisor) informed me that Sparkle was doing an excellent job following his “community model” and that our children needed positive interactions more than they needed books or lectures.   

Then, he shared something that I wish was broadcast on every talk radio program in America.  The gist of it was that our students never tested well and that assessing their education was useless because they never improved.  It was his belief that, through her de-emphasis of instruction which of course could have been gauged statistically, Sparkle had accomplished great things during her tenure.  He claimed that we were building characters as opposed to knowledge bases — even though few believed that our students’ characters markedly improved under our care.

The school was designed to fail, Chapin concluded.

About Joanne


  1. Wacky Hermit says:

    OK, I know things are bad in some of the schools, but is this guy for real? This is just a little bit more than I can swallow.

  2. 1. Please say this is a joke.

    2. If it is not a joke, isn’t there a saying something like “the soft racism of low expectations”? I think that applies in this case (whatever the race of the students…or you could substitute classism, eltiism, whatever ism you want)

  3. OK – just to “stir the pot” some, and because I am a pot stirrer from way back – may I direct your collective attentions to the following sites: and

    My personal experience is that these schools DO work for many if not most kids if they are allowed to truely integrate into the school’s philosophy and student community. (Donning my NOMEX coveralls now and ducking into my slit trench).

  4. How many future convicts do you think will be from this school?
    Can’t read, can’t add, can’t write. What is Johnny going to do?

  5. Harvey, I’ve followed the links you provided, and it seems to me that those two schools cater to a radically different clientele. From the information provided online, the families are expected to be closely involved with the school, and they may very well, if those two schools were not available, have chosen to home school themselves.

    If you read a few of Chapin’s other essays about his work at school, his school setting seems to be very different.

  6. Steve LaBonne says:

    Indeed. I gather Chapin’s district uses “alternative school” to mean the school where troublemakers are sent who have been expelled from the regular schools.

  7. Sean Kinsell says:

    “It reminded me of that scene in ‘My Own Private Idaho’ where a house plummets from the sky and crashes into the earth.”

    And at least there was an orgasm at the end of that–in the movie, I mean. I don’t know how one would go about verifying this particular piece, but it doesn’t strike me as outside the realm of possibility. Even well-run organizations often have little sub-departments of low productivity where people know how to avoid work in a way that doesn’t draw attention. If the school supervisor is in on the game, it’s not hard to imagine that things are as bad as described.

  8. “our children needed positive interactions” and are finding such interactions where?

    There is nothing more soul-destroying than efforts to organize play.

    Anyone wants me to join in Wacky Wednesday, I will just shoot myself in the damn head.

    I suspect a school like this would, in time, turn all the students into ulcer-bearing accountants and tax lawyers.

  9. Following this thread should I infer that the students who successfully completed education in these schools will, at best, have a rudimentary reading and math ability, no study skills and the belief that a hard day of education is doing whatever they feel like? It would seem to me that they lack the skills and work ethic for flipping burgers, not to mention the tougher jobs such as washing cars. The young lady who recently insisted that I use a credit card for a $16.20 purchase because she couldn’t operate the cash register and didn’t have a clue what the change from a $20 was must have been an honor graduate of a school of this type. And we wonder why jobs are being exported.


  1. The Ultimate Child-Centered School

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