More follow-up on my review of David Whitman's new book, Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism:
Sorry if I'm beating a dead horse, but I think the issues that Whitman raises are quite important. Whitman describes a number of ways in which the six schools he observes essentially acculturate students to middle/upper-class social and behavioral norms. They refuse to assume that students know how to do anything and teach the most basic behaviors from walking in line to listening to speakers. Having taught in a school where teenagers didn't seem to know how to do these things, I can certainly see the value in teaching these things.
But here's my question: why are we teaching these behaviors to middle and high-schoolers? Obviously if middle and high-school age students haven't learned these things yet then they need to know them, but why aren't we making an effort to teach these to younger students?
In other words, if we want to replicate the success of these "paternalistic" schools are we sure that we should aim these strategies at these particular age groups? Wouldn't it be more beneficial to teach these skills to elementary school students so that they can move on to higher-order thinking in middle and high school?
Imagine, for a second, if students coming into a KIPP school, for instance, had attended a similar school K-4 and had learned all these behavioral norms. The kids were used to sitting up straight and tracking speakers with their eyes, knew that the slightest bit of disrespect toward a teacher was unacceptable, walked quietly through hallways, etc. Wouldn't it be a heck of a lot easier for the KIPP school to then focus on academic endeavors instead of spending so much time teaching students how to behave?
Consider the alternative: replicating these schools at only the middle and high-school levels. While wealthy/suburban schools start to loosen the reins and teach students to think creatively and independently, poor/urban schools are teaching kids to sit up straight, make sure that their shirt is the correct color and is tucked in, and using chants to reinforce behaviors. In order to eliminate our current two-tiered system of education we'd be creating a different type of two-tiered system of education. The inner-city kids might be proficient at basic reading and math skills and more likely to graduate, but there would still be an education gap.