Anti-KIPP: All grit, no morality

KIPP’s grit-heavy character education has three major problems, writes Jeffrey Aaron Snyder, a Carleton education professor, in the New Republic.

The first is that we do not know how to teach character. The second is that character-based education is untethered from any conception of morality. And lastly, this mode of education drastically constricts the overall purpose of education.

KIPP focuses on seven character strengths—grit, zest, self-control, optimism, gratitude, social intelligence, and curiosity — which KIPP believes predict success in “college and life.” Founder David Levin  aims for “dual purpose” instruction to reach both academic and character goals, he says in his online course.

But KIPP’s list of character strengths is “devoid of value judgment,” Levin told Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed. “The inevitable problem with the values-and-ethics approach is that you get into, well, whose values? Whose ethics?”

KIPP’s values are “relentlessly focused on individual achievement rather than “good and evil or citizenship and the commonweal,” complains Snyder.

. . . the key virtues taught during the nineteenth-century were piety, industry, kindness, honesty, thrift, and patriotism. During the Progressive era, character education concentrated on the twin ideas of citizenship and the “common good.” . . . In the 1960s and 1970s, meanwhile, character education focused on justice and working through thorny moral dilemmas. Today’s grit and self-control are basically industry and temperance in the guise of psychological constructs rather than moral imperatives.

. . . This is “tiger mother” territory here — a place where the “vulgar sense” of success prevails.

KIPP’s mission is to help students —  95 percent are African American or Latino — get “into and through” college.  That’s “laudable,” Snyder concedes. But really . . . “Educators who have embraced performance character seem to live in a world where their students are more likely to win a Nobel Prize than earn a living as a beautician, electrician, or police officer.”

We may not know how to teach character, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Perhaps few students will go on to win Nobel Prizes, but that doesn’t mean the school should give up on preparing students for success in college. The future electricians, police officers, teachers and accountants will need that — not just the future nuclear physicists.

I do think that KIPP should consider adding citizenship to its list of character strengths. And stop worrying about whose values the schools are promoting. These are the values of the parents who choose KIPP as their “tiger” school. They want their kids to succeed, however “vulgar” that may seem to others. If they wanted a school that saw their kids as future beauticians, they have other options.

OK, I’ve checked my privilege

“Check your privilege”is used to silence white male college students, writes Tal Fortgang in the Princeton Tory.

“Check your privilege,” they tell me in a command that teeters between an imposition to actually explore how I got where I am, and a reminder that I ought to feel personally apologetic because white males seem to pull most of the strings in the world.

The phrase judges people based on their skin color and attributes their success “to some invisible patron saint of white maleness,” writes Fortgang, a first-year student who plans to major in history or political science.

As it happens, Fortgang’s grandfather and brother fled the Nazi invasion of Poland and spent World War II laboring in a Siberian camp.  Their mother and five younger were shot and dumped into an open grave.

His grandmother survived — barely — a death march to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

They came to America.

It was their privilege to come to a country that grants equal protection under the law to its citizens, that cares not about religion or race, but the content of your character.

His grandfather started a wicker business and prospered. They educated their children and taught them their values.

I am privileged that values like faith and education were passed along to me. My grandparents played an active role in my parents’ education, and some of my earliest memories included learning the Hebrew alphabet with my Dad. It’s been made clear to me that education begins in the home, and the importance of parents’ involvement with their kids’ education—from mathematics to morality—cannot be overstated.

The values we pass on perpetuate privilege, Fortgang writes. And it’s not something we need to apologize for.

Critics say he doesn’t understand white privilege.

In the Columbia Spectator students Dunni Oduyemi and Parul Guliani wrote that Fortgang shouldn’t take “check your privilege” personally. “Recognizing the fact that white men benefit from the kinds of racist and sexist structures on which American society is built isn’t meant to diminish his accomplishments,” they write. “It’s meant to remind us that white men don’t have an inherent predilection for success — the odds have just been stacked in their favor.”

I think those two sentences contradict each other.  If the odds were stacked in his favor that diminishes his accomplishments.

And it ignores the real privileges he enjoyed: He was born in the U.S., healthy and intelligent, and raised by loving and supportive parents. That’s a huge advantage in life, but not one reserved for white males.

Harris-Perry: Our kids aren’t just ours

Under attack for her MSNBC promo, which said “we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families and recognize that kids belong to whole communities,”  commentator Melissa Harris-Perry has issued a statement. She meant that “our children, all of our children, are part of more than our households, they are part of our communities and deserve to have the care, attention, resources, respect and opportunities of those communities.”

I get it. Children are our future.

When the promo hit the fan, she was grading papers and thought “since these children were not my responsibility, I could simply mail the students’ papers to their moms and dads to grade!”

But of course, that is a ridiculous notion. As a teacher, I have unique responsibilities to the students in my classroom at Tulane University, and I embrace those responsibilities.

It’s ridiculous because Harris-Perry, a political science professor, is paid by Tulane, an elite private university, to grade papers. Her students — surely very few are children — and their parents pay a great deal of money to have those papers graded. If she volunteered to tutor kids whose parents couldn’t help them with schoolwork, she could congratulate herself on her service to the collective.

Instead, she mentions various people in her life who’ve taught her about “our collective responsibility to children,” starting with her parents, who did volunteer to help others.

Then there’s this bizarro logic paragraph:

I’ll even admit that despite being an unwavering advocate for women’s reproductive rights, I have learned this lesson from some of my most sincere, ethically motivated, pro-life colleagues. Those people who truly believe that the potential life inherent in a fetus is equivalent to the actualized life of an infant have argued that the community has a distinct interest in children no matter what the mother’s and father’s interests or needs. So while we come down on different sides of the choice issue, we agree that kids are not the property of their parents. Their lives matter to all of us.

If Harris-Perry listened more carefully, she’d discover her pro-life colleagues believe a fetus, which they would call an unborn child, has individual rights as a human being. They don’t think the community’s interests are relevant any more than they think the parents’ interests are relevant. And few parents see their children — born or unborn — as “property.”

Harris-Perry concludes:

I believe wholeheartedly, and without apology, that we have a collective responsibility to the children of our communities even if we did not conceive and bear them. Of course, parents can and should raise their children with their own values. But they should be able to do so in a community that provides safe places to play, quality food to eat, terrific schools to attend, and economic opportunities to support them. No individual household can do that alone. We have to build that world together.

It takes a village to raise a child!

I was an op-ed columnist for many years. If I wrote a column and one or two people read it wrong, I blamed them. If lots of people read it in a way that I hadn’t intended, I figured it was my fault.

I’m sure Harris-Perry intended to say that we should spend more money on schools, parks, day care, health care and other social programs because children are our future, it takes a village to raise a child, as the twig is bent so grows the tree, etc. But she said “kids belong to whole communities” rather than to their parents or families. Nobody at MSNBC caught it. And she still doesn’t get that this one’s on her.

AllahPundit includes a tweet by Sarah Palin, which I thought was funny:  “Dear MSNBC, if our kids belong to you, do your kids belong to us too? If so, can we take them hunting after church in our big pickup truck?”

Slow learning

Jen Li, who grew up in China during the violently anti-intellectual Cultural Revolution, has spent her academic career in the U.S. “trying to understand how Asians and Westerners think about learning,” writes New York Times columnist David Brooks in The Learning Virtues.

Westerners see learning as “something people do in order to understand and master the external world,” Li believes. “Asians tend to see learning as an arduous process they undertake in order to cultivate virtues inside the self.”

In the Western understanding, students come to school with levels of innate intelligence and curiosity. Teachers try to further arouse that curiosity in specific subjects. There’s a lot of active learning — going on field trips, building things. There’s great emphasis on questioning authority, critical inquiry and sharing ideas in classroom discussion.

In the Chinese understanding, there’s less emphasis on innate curiosity or even on specific subject matter. Instead, the learning process itself is the crucial thing. The idea is to perfect the learning virtues in order to become, ultimately, a sage, which is equally a moral and intellectual state. These virtues include: sincerity (an authentic commitment to the task) as well as diligence, perseverance, concentration and respect for teachers.

Westerners stress the “aha moment of sudden insight,” while Chinese respect “the arduous accumulation of understanding.” (It reminds me of the “slow food” movement.) Of course, Chinese wouldn’t think of teasing nerds, if they had such a concept. “Western schools want students to be proud of their achievements, while the Chinese emphasize that humility enables self-examination,” Brooks writes.

Brooks wonders if the U.S. can find “moral/academic codes” to motivate our students. Could we add a dash of Confucianism (he also likes Jewish Torah study) to our culture?

It’s the students, stupid

“The main problem with our education system today is not what is taught, where it is taught, by whom it is taught or how it is taught,” writes Teresa Talbot in the Deseret News. After 24 years teaching in Utah public schools, she believes, “The main problem with education today is students who refuse to work,”

It is the students in a science class where the teacher finally stopped giving students work to complete at home because very few of them bothered to do it. Instead, she began giving students time in class to complete all assignments. Over a third of her students failed because they refused to work in class.

. . . It is the students in my math classes who, when I showed them how to work a multiple step problem, called out, “I’m not doing that; it’s too much work.” It is the students who “complete” and turn in every assignment and still score less than 30 percent on the test covering that material because they are not the ones who actually did the work they turned in.

No matter how good the teacher, the technology or the curriculum, passive, lazy students won’t learn, Talbot writes. She blames ” a society that no longer values the individual work ethic” or holds students responsible for their learning.

What’s alarming is that she teaches in Utah, the traditional values state.

On Teaching Now, Anthony Rebora asks if “schools and educators bear part of the blame for failing to reach and support disengaged students?”

Counseling student can sue university

A conservative Christian, Julea Ward was expelled from a master’s program in counseling because she referred a gay client who wanted to discuss his orientation to another counselor. Ward said she couldn’t be supportive.  When Eastern Michigan University kicked her out of the program for anti-gay bias, she sued, charging religious bias and infringement of her free-speech rights. Ward’s suit was revived by a federal appeals court, which threw out a summary judgment, reports Education Week.

“Although the university submits it dismissed Ward from the program because her request for a referral violated the ACA code of ethics, a reasonable jury could find otherwise — that the code of ethics contains no such bar and that the university deployed it as a pretext for punishing Ward’s religious views and speech,” Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton wrote for the panel. “What exactly did Ward do wrong in making the referral request?” Sutton added. “If one thing is clear after three years of classes, it is that Ward is acutely aware of her own values. The point of the referral request was to avoid imposing her values on gay and lesbian clients.”

If a counselor disapproved of my lifestyle or beliefs, I’d prefer a referral to a pretense of support.

Poverty isn’t just about money

If I was a poor black kid, I’d work hard in school and use technology to succeed, writes Gene Marks, a middle-class white man, in a Forbes column that’s angered and annoyed  many people.
Being poor is a lot harder than middle-class people think, responds Megan McArdle in The Atlantic. She lists the many reasons why poor black kids don’t just work, study, log in to Google Scholar and get ahead.
Number 14 is that not everyone likes school. She quotes Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier:

The time was when I used to lament over quite imaginary pictures of lads of fourteen dragged protesting from their lessons and set to work at dismal jobs. It seemed to me dreadful that the doom of a ‘job’ should descend upon anyone at fourteen. Of course I know now that there is not one working-class boy in a thousand who does not pine for the day when he will leave school. He wants to be doing real work, not wasting his time on ridiculous rubbish like history and geography. To the working class, the notion of staying at school till you are nearly grown-up seems merely contemptible and unmanly.

People for whom school us fun have made “education a virtual pre-requisite for a stable and well paying job,”  McArdle writes. People who don’t like school and aren’t good at it can choose between a career as a fry cook or dealing drugs.

In another post, McArdle takes on the idea that more and better jobs would create “education parents” in low-income communities.

Poverty isn’t just about not having “the same stuff” as the middle class (education, a marriage license, a home), McArdle writes. It’s about the choices people make. And those choices are affected by generational poverty and by bad decisions made at a young age, such as unprotected sex with an unreliable male or dropping out of school. But they’re choices.

 A middle class parent after a long and crappy day at work struggles to deal with the kid’s school because other parents expect it, because they were raised to treasure education, and because people will work harder to avoid loss (a kid who drops out of the middle class) than to achieve gains (a kid who makes it into the middle class).  Also, that middle class job probably isn’t as miserable as changing diapers on Alzheimer’s patients, or cleaning houses, so you have more psychic energy to spare.

Or you can blame a “sick culture” or personal laziness, as some conservatives do–at some level, it doesn’t matter.  Poor people are actually choosing not to hassle with their kid’s school.  It’s a real choice that they have made.  There is no reason to assume that you will be able to override it if you just get the policy levers in the right position.

Higher-wage jobs enable people to earn more money, which solves some problems, she writes. But it’s not so easy to change people. And it would be “pretty creepy” if we could tweak a policy here and there to “remake people into something more to the liking of bourgeois taxpayers.”

 

Teaching students to argue about politics

Students should learn how to discuss controversial political ideas in class, says Diana Hess, a teacher turned University of Wisconsin education professor, in Discussions That Drive Democracy.

“A lot of parents want schools to reflect their own ideological views,” Hess tells The Cap Times.

“I argue that parents shouldn’t want that. If they do, they need to rethink why they have their kids in school.”

. . . “It’s not to suggest schools should be working against parents’ values,” she continues, “but we want schools to be ideologically diverse places. That’s how we educate citizens.”

“Many teachers I have watched are good at getting kids to listen to viewpoints that are different from theirs, and that’s a good thing,” she says. Young people tend to be open to new ideas.

Will teachers develop students’ minds? Or indoctrinate students in liberal ideology? asks Ann Althouse, a UW law professor.

. . .  it was specifically teachers who were at the core of the Wisconsin protests, vilifying conservatives.

And as for parents needing “to rethink why they have their kids in school.” Let’s be clear: Schooling is compulsory. . . . Teachers should never forget that they have their students trapped in their classroom by the force of law.

We want students to learn how to discuss “controversial issues, support their arguments, and listen to divergent opinions respectfully and critically,” Althouse concedes.

But it takes a certain level of trust — which is in short supply.

‘Kindness pledge’ divides Harvard

Harvard is asking first-year students to sign a pledge to uphold the college’s values:

. . . In the classroom, in extracurricular endeavors, and in the Yard and Houses, students are expected to act with integrity, respect, and industry, and to sustain a community characterized by inclusiveness and civility.

As we begin at Harvard, we commit to upholding the values of the College and to making the entryway and Yard a place where all can thrive and where the exercise of kindness holds a place on a par with intellectual attainment.

Originally, signatures — and blank spaces by the names of non-signers — were to be displayed in entryways, but that idea was dropped.

Pressuring all students to sign the pledge sets a terrible precedent, writes Harry Lewis a computer science professor and former dean of Harvard College.

It is not a pledge to act in a certain way. It is a pledge to think about the world a certain way, to hold precious the exercise of kindness. It is a promise to control one’s thoughts. . . . A student would be breaking the pledge if she woke up one morning and decided it was more important to achieve intellectually than to be kind.

. . .  the right to be annoying is precious, as is the right to think unkind thoughts. Harvard should not condone the sacrifice of rights to speech and thought simply because they can be inconvenient in a residential college.

The kindness pledge — as it’s now known — is “hilariously inappropriate and offensively coercive” adds Charles Fried, who teaches First Amendment law at Harvard.

“Harvard needs bold, courageous, iconoclastic thinkers, but this pledge indicates that the dean would really prefer good little boys and girls who don’t make trouble,” writes Greg Lukianoff of FIRE, which defends free-speech rights.

It seems especially ironic that a fundamentally elitist institution like Harvard would claim that inclusiveness is one of its greatest values. Keep in mind, this is an institution that rejects the overwhelming majority of people who apply, then pits them against each other for grades, kicks out some for failing, heaps glory upon those who succeed with particular distinction, and takes credit for the earth-shattering accomplishments of its hyper-elite graduates.

The pledge is anti-intellectual, Virginia Postrel writes. Kindness seeks to avoid hurt.

 Criticism — even objective, impersonal, well- intended, constructive criticism — isn’t kind. Criticism hurts people’s feelings, and it hurts most when the recipient realizes it’s accurate. Treating “kindness” as the way to civil discourse doesn’t show students how to argue with accuracy and respect. It teaches them instead to neither give criticism nor tolerate it.

Lauding intellectual “attainment” rather than inquiry or excellence, is a “strange, and revealing, choice of words,” Postrel adds.

Last spring, then-freshmen were asked how they believed Harvard ranked various values and how they rated those values themselves. “Success” is Harvard’s highest value and “compassion” rates near the bottom, students said. On their personal lists, they listed compassion fourth after hard work, honesty, respect.

A Harvard Crimson editorial endorsed the kindness pledge, if voluntary, and called for the college to provide “stronger moral education.” “Students receive more reminders to turn in their study cards” for course registration “than they do to be nice,” the editorial lamented.

Something’s missing in these dichotomies — “course registration versus niceness; success versus compassion; ‘attainment’ versus kindness” — Postrel writes.

Where in the list of ranked values are curiosity, discovery, reason, inquiry, skepticism or truth? (Were these values even options?) Where is critical thinking? No wonder the pledge talks about “attainment.” Attainment equals study cards and good grades — a transcript to enable the student to move on to the next stage. Attainment isn’t learning, questioning or criticizing. It’s getting your ticket punched.

Harvard represents success, but also wants to represent “compassion,” Postrel writes. Both “depend on other people, either to validate success or serve as objects of compassion. And neither is intellectual.”

Family culture determines school success

Responsible, caring parents raise good students, writes Scott Carroll, a teacher turned IT consultant, in the Baltimore Sun. Carroll’s mother didn’t always have money to pay the utility bill or the phone bill, but she managed to pay half-tuition so he could attend a private elementary school. His father didn’t live with the family, but stayed involved in his son’s life.

. . .  you do not need a college degree to know how to insist that your children read books, or at least sit with their faces in a book through some prescribed period of time every day. You do not need a college degree to read to your children persistently. You do not need a college education to know how to require your children to sit at a certain table every school night for a certain prescribed period and at least seem to be completing their assignments. You do not need a college degree to demand of yourself and of your family that standard English, or some earnest attempt thereof, be spoken in the home.

“African-American culture — my culture — has become, progressively, a culture of the athlete, the entertainer, the hustler and the laborer,” Carroll laments.

I had the privilege of teaching for four years in an immaculate building that had just undergone a $27 million restoration, a Baltimore City vocational/technical high school complete with the kind of expensive, computer-aided manufacturing machinery I had seen on campus as an industrial engineering student at Morgan State University and in industry as an industrial engineering intern. Many students showed their appreciation for the very expensive, potentially high-quality education they were being offered for free by setting that building on fire almost weekly, and by cursing freely in the vicinity of and often directly at teachers and administrators alike. When attempts were made at discipline and parents were called in, the parents often exhibited this same behavior while searching for any and every way to blame teachers and the school for their children’s trouble.

An interested, cooperative student will learn in a shack with an old textbook, Carroll writes.

But as long as we continue to send non-studious, socially and intellectually ill-prepared children into our schools — as long as we continue to expect our teachers and our schools, as opposed to our parents and our families, to rear our children — our students and schools will continue to underperform, no matter how much we spend or how many teachers we employ.

“Money is not the problem,” he concludes. “The problem is our lack of a coherent, robust and healthy culture.”

So, what do we do with bad parents’ children?