The New York Times Magazine just featured a fantastic article on KIPP Charter Schools. (Read the full article here.) We recently published Jay Mathew’s book Work Hard, Be Nice on the KIPP founders, Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin–two twenty-somethings who created the extremely successful fifth-grade experience which grew into KIPP (the Knowledge is Power Program). Today there are 66 KIPP schools in 19 states and the District of Columbia. KIPP schools incorporate what Feinberg and Levin learned from America’s best, most charismatic teachers: lessons need to be lively; school days need to be longer (the KIPP day is nine and a half hours); and the completion of homework has to be sacrosanct. Chants, songs, and slogans such as “Work hard, be nice” give the program a unique energy.
Excerpt from the New York Times article:
I came to Witter’s class to observe something that Levin was calling “dual-purpose instruction,” the practice of deliberately working explicit talk about character strengths into every lesson. Levin wanted math teachers to use the strengths in word problems; he explained that history teachers could use them to orient a class discussion about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. And when I arrived in Witter’s class at 7:45 on a Thursday morning in March, he was leading a discussion about Chinua Achebe’s novel “Things Fall Apart.” Above Witter’s head, at the front of the class, the seven character strengths were stenciled in four-inch-high letters, white on blue, from optimism to social intelligence. He asked his students to rank Okonkwo, the protagonist, on his various character strengths. There was a lot of back and forth, but in the end, most students agreed that Okonkwo rated highest on grit and lowest on self-control. Then a student named Yantzee raised his hand. “Can’t a trait backfire at you?” he asked.
“Sure, a trait can backfire,” Witter said. “Too much grit, like Okonkwo, you start to lose your ability to have empathy for other people. If you’re so gritty that you don’t understand why everyone’s complaining about how hard things are, because nothing’s hard for you, because you’re Mr. Grit, then you’re going to have a hard time being kind. Even love — being too loving might make you the kind of person who can get played.” There was a ripple of knowing laughter from the students. “So, yes, character is something you have to be careful about. Character strengths can become character weaknesses.”