Total schooling

The edusphere is buzzing about David Whitman’s new book, Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism, which profiles high-achieving schools that teach values — “kindness, decency, integrity, and hard work” — along with academics. Four are charters, one is Catholic and one is a neighborhood school.

Whitman writes:

By paternalistic I mean that each of the six schools is a highly prescriptive institution that teaches students not just how to think, but also how to act according to what are commonly termed traditional, middle-class values. These paternalistic schools go beyond just teaching values as abstractions: the schools tell students exactly how they are expected to behave, and their behavior is closely monitored, with real rewards for compliance and penalties for noncompliance. Unlike the often forbidding paternalistic institutions of the past, these schools are prescriptive yet warm; teachers and principals, who sometimes serve in loco parentis, are both authoritative and caring figures.

Whitman is telling it like it, argue Robert Pondiscio and Mathew Tabor.

“Paternalism” is condescending, writes Jay Mathews. He prefers “maternalism,” though he’s not really satisified with that either.

Eduwonk surrogate Richard Whitmire also is looking for alternatives: So far, he’s come up with “elite” schools, but that doesn’t cover the values angle. Nelson Smith suggests “relentless” schools. I’ve been toying with “total schooling.”

Flypaper quotes Michael Goldstein, founder of the “relentless” and highly effective MATCH school in Boston, who says MATCH parents buy into the values that the school teaches. They value hard work. But they may not know how to get their teens to focus on schoolwork on their own.

I think it’s vital to create a school culture that values persistence, resilience, honesty and respect. Kindness and decency are good too, especially for kids exposed to an aggressive street culture. Without that, students who start out behind have no chance of catching up. My book, Our School, is about a charter high school that adopted ganas (desire) as its motto; latter communidad (community) and orgullo (pride) were added. You’ve got to want to learn, you’ve got to work together to create a good school, you’ve got to take pride in yourself and your school.

I don’t think anyone’s actually read the book yet. I’m writing a review of it and my copy hasn’t arrived yet.

Update: George Will visits the American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland, which is profiled in the book.

AIPCS — Oakland’s highest-performing middle school — stresses obligation, not self-expression. (Ben) Chavis, now “administrator emeritus,” is adamant: “Everyone says we should ‘preserve our culture.’ There is a lot of our culture we should wipe out.”

Chavis came in as principal and turned the school around. Will says he looks like Lenin but is less democratic.

More on the book in Gadfly.

About Joanne


  1. “Socialization” works for me. The key, as you point out, is the values held by the society you are socialized into. Is it a Catholic school or the Crips?

    If you want a list of middle-class American values, I think the Scout Law is a pretty accurate list. Even the US additions to the UK version (Brave and Reverent) are revealing.

  2. Interesting that Jay Mathews objects to “paternalism”, but would accept “maternalism”.

    What a travesty!

  3. Walter Wallis says:

    How about “Real school”?

  4. How about “Old School”?

  5. Joanne — This post really got me thinking — I put up a response over at Gothamschools.