Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Missing The Forest For The Trees

From Andrew Hartmann:

TFA exists for nothing if not for adjusting poor children to the regime otherwise known as the American meritocracy. Kopp’s model for how teachers should help poor students acclimate to the American meritocracy is the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), a nationwide network of charter schools. Founded by TFA alums Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, and currently lead by CEO Richard Barth, a former TFA staff member who also happens to be Kopp’s husband, KIPP now runs over 100 schools, typically in cities that staff a multitude of TFA corps members, such as Houston, New Orleans, and New York City. Many KIPP teachers began their careers in education as TFA corps members, and an even higher percentage of KIPP administrators are TFA alums. KIPP schools are in such high demand that students must win lotteries for the opportunity to attend. The pièce de résistance of Waiting for Superman chronicles one such dramatic lottery drawing.

Slots in KIPP schools are in short supply because, unlike most charter schools, they have a track record of actually improving student performance and of helping poor children gain acceptance into college. Their methodology consists of nothing novel: teachers and students work very hard. But more than that, KIPP students and their families must sign contracts committing to a rigorous program of surveillance—the only way to ensure that underprivileged students overcome lives that otherwise drag them down. As one KIPP administrator described the philosophy: “At every moment, we asked ourselves, what about this moment of the day is or is not fostering college readiness in our students?” While visiting a KIPP school in New York City early one morning, where fifth graders were busy with drills at 7:00 a.m., Kopp quietly lamented, without a touch of irony, that her own child of the same age was still in bed. Thus, in the KIPP model, we are presented with the solution to the nation’s educational inequalities: for poor children to succeed, they must willingly submit to Taylorist institutionalization. This is made starkly evident in the concluding scene of Waiting for Superman, when young “Anthony,” one of the lucky few, arrives at his charter school with suitcase in hand, since his particular school boards its students. Anthony is rightly ambivalent about giving up his life with his grandparents and friends in order to attend a SEED Foundation school—the prototype in education reform—where 24-hour supervision is the only way to ensure that poor children have a chance at success.

In working to perfect their approach to education, TFA insurgents miss the forest for the trees. They fail to ask big-picture questions. Will their pedagogy of surveillance make for a more humane society? Having spent their formative years in a classroom learning test-taking skills, will their students become good people? Will they know more history? Will they be more empathetic? Will they be better citizens? Will they be more inclined to challenge the meritocracy? Or, as its newest converts, will they be its most fervent disciples? What does it mean that for children born in the Bronx to go to college they must give up their childhoods, however bleak?

What kind of psycho looks at test prep drilling kids at 7 AM and says "Gee, I wish my kid was doing this..."?



  1. I taught in a KIPP school a while back. It was horrible. School was in session from 7-5pm every day and one Saturday per month. The kids were treated like they were in prison. The staff had a massive turnover rate. KIPP schools have a cult like mentality where it "consumes" you. Your whole life is based around the school. They have endless meetings that last for hours after school, school trips that last over a week. None of the teachers or admins had families as it is impossible to have a life outside of the school. I am so glad to now be teaching in a regular district school.

    1. The word "cult-like" to describe KIPP/TFA is no exaggeration.

      It is a well-known characteristic of all cults, from Scientology to the Moonies, Goldman Sachs to TFA/KIPP, to use social isolation, sleep deprivation, group re-inforcement and constant busy- ness to maintain their rigid orthodoxy, and keep uncomfortable questions at bay.

      On another point, Kopp's dishonesty and hypocrisy are off the charts: who exactly is preventing her from sending her own child to a charter boot camp?

      The reality is that these neoliberal Skinner Boxes are not for the children of so-called education reformers, but are workhouses for the Worthy Poor, staffed by young teachers who are not aware of their underpinnings, and are misled by their false rhetoric.

      Congratulations to you for getting out of that sweat shop and teaching in the public schools.

  2. But think of all the formerly homeless cats these Kippers have taken in to fill up the few hours of their lives where they aren't on call to parents or correcting papers or being excellent.

  3. Many crimes are happening around us so we must pay attention to our children. Missing children experiencing mental or physical abuse so we should watch and care for our children.

    missing children