Thursday, December 12, 2013

KIPP's child abuse for other people's children

KIPP padded cell for kindergartners
Since their start in Houston in 1994, KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) charter schools have been the most celebrated of the No Excuses schools.

But reports that a KIPP charter school in N.Y. is locking children in a padded cell in order to "calm them down" are just the latest example of the charter chain's long record of child abuse and mis-education targeted primarily at African-American and Latino children.

The Daily News reports that a kindergartner and first grader at KIPP Star Washington Heights Elementary School were emotionally damaged after being put away in a padded walk-in cell used for 'time out.'
“He was crying hysterically,” said Teneka Hall, 28, a full-time Washington Heights mom whose son, Xavier, was rushed to the hospital after he panicked and wet himself while he was holed up in the padded room. “It’s no way to treat a child.”
I didn't have to look at the picture of the terrified youngster and his mother to know that they were African-American. It's hard to imagine this happening in white, middle class, public schools.

Teneka Hall and son Xavier
But these brutal forms of discipline have become routine for KIPP where strict obedience and sit-still-and-nod (I call it bobble-head) instruction lies at the heart of the curriculum. Much of it is based on KIPP's system for classroom behavior created by founders Levin and Feinberg. It's called Slant, which, according to the N.Y. Times,  instructs students to sit up, listen, ask questions, nod and track the speaker with their eyes. To me, it's all about breaking down their will and behavior modification.

Slant is based on the writings of a pop psychologist from the University of Pennsylvania named Martin Seligman, who studied the conditioning of dogs and then authored of a series of self-help books about positive psychology.

No divergence is permitted and deviants are quickly labeled, punished or expelled. KIPP has the highest student attrition rate in the nation. I recall one KIPP school where African-American children were made to sit on a bench with a sign around their neck that said, "CRETIN." KIPP leaders say they would rather  push out 60% of their kids than “coddle” them.

My friend and early childhood ed expert Deb Meier calls it "military style" discipline aimed at "humiliating them into compliance." But I must say that even as a military recruit, I was never debased in the fashion of KIPP's Washington Heights Elementary School.

While it's true that not all KIPP schools (I have visited several and have worked with some former KIPP teachers) faithfully follow this routine or its most abusive aspects, there is still enough of a history here to warrant an investigation and a revocation of KIPP's charter and public funding.

A twist on "separate but equal"

The [KIPP affiliated] schools that Toll, Atkins, Levin and Feinberg run are not racially integrated. Most of the 70 or so schools that make up their three networks have only one or two white children enrolled, or none at all. Although as charter schools, their admission is open through a lottery to any student in the cities they serve, their clear purpose is to educate poor black and Hispanic children. The guiding principle for the four school leaders, all of whom are white, is an unexpected twist on the “separate but equal” standard: they assert that for these students, an “equal” education is not good enough. 


  1. Don't forget Seligman's other contribution to the world: reverse SERE techniques at GITMO.


  2. It is a good thing that the architects of KIPP have not read Roald Dahl's childhood classic, MATILDA. Children who rebel are routinely placed in the dreaded "Chokey," "a very tall but narrow cupboard that is 10" square so no one can sit or squat in it. The Chokey is filled with broken glass sticking out in the walls with nails on the door and whoever wobbles will either be spiked by the glass or the nails. Miss Trunchbull uses this whenever the children break the rules...Sometimes kids are kept in there all day."


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