How Joy Became the New Grit

Schools are increasingly manipulating students’ emotions in the name of achievementand that’s wrong says University of Pennsylvania education professor Joan Goodman…

By Joan Goodman
*No excuses* charter schools face a teaching predicament. Their long school day/year with few diverting extra-curricular activities and heavily rule-impactgoverned pedagogy is tough on students. Inevitably, strict behavior restrictions, aimed not just at controlling common misbehaviors but also behaviors that might lead to misbehavior, result in a gulf between student desires and teacher demands. To close the gulf and avoid constantly admonishing students, charter management organizations have layered onto their culture an expectation that learning is to be approached joyously. Indeed, joy has been elevated to a central value at many CMOs.

The j-factor
Uncommon Schools promotes *joy* as one of its five values; Democracy Prep advertises a *joyous culture* with enthusiasm as one of its DREAM values; Mastery lists *joy and humor* among its nine core values; and Achievement First includes the child’s joy in its assessments of  student progress. Success Academy says that, along with rigor, its schools stress *humor (joy)…making achieving exhilarating and fun!* Meanwhile, KIPP includes joy’s close cousin, *zest,* as one of the seven character strengths on its Character Growth Card. Chicago’s Noble Network has likewise embraced *zest.* According to Doug Lemov, a major source of CMO pedagogy, the Joy Factor, one of his 49 essential techniques, is *a key driver not just of a happy classroom but of a high-achieving classroom…. people work harder…when their work is punctuated regularly by moment of exultation and joy.*

When I first began visiting no excuses schools, I was struck by the striking juxtaposition of teachers presiding over silent class periods during which children diligently followed instructions, only to interrupt them periodically with the demand for reciprocal clapping, rhymed motivational cheers, and choral responses that seemed more appropriate to an athletic or marching event than an academic environment. The effort of schools to whoop up excitement appeared artificial and disingenuous given the often tedious tasks students were assigned, and the passive/receptive role they were, for the most part, expected to assume.

Stimulating this shallow ‘joy’ is, then, just another control technique designed to foster high achievement. Joy has become a ‘character strength,’ like grit, because of the results it produces, not for its own sake.

The intentional artifice is particularly clear in teacher training videos, when leaders like Lemov, or Doug McCurry of Achievement First, talk about how teachers must be skilled at quickly turning arousal on and quickly turning it off so that it serves its purpose – aiding their academic objectives. Stimulating this shallow *joy* is, then, just another control technique designed to foster high achievement. Joy has become a *character strength,* like grit, because of the results it produces, not for its own sake.

Just add sparkle
To elicit joy, the CMOs use emotional arousal techniques such as choral chanting, finger snapping, and gestural sequences. For instance, to lend *sparkle* to a lesson, Lemov advocates the Vegas Technique. This entails breaks from instruction, as brief as 30 seconds, for a ritualized routine loosely associated with the lesson. Students might, for example, do an action-verb shimmy, clap a routine to accompany a pronoun, or perform a vocabulary word charade. Achievement First’s McCurry advises teachers to plan *joyous interludes* by using four chants accompanied with gestures and 10 cheers per class. One chant, for example, is: *hey hey hey, I feel all-right,* followed with a stomp. The phrase is repeated with two stomps, then three stomps and finished off with: *I feel motivated to learn. And graduate college.*

KIPP defines chanting as a key component of *KIPPnotizing,* the process by which students come to identify with the school and its culture. As this student-family handbook from KIPP Triumph Academy, St Louis Middle School explains:

Chanting at KIPP Triumph begins in summer school, where all new students learn a series of school wide chants. For 5th graders, learning to chant their multiplication tables during summer school is an essential part of their KIPPnotizing. Since many of our students arrive so far below grade level, they often have significant deficits in terms of their multiplication facts. However, when set to a chant, students—even our most struggling students—are able to learn all of their times tables in a few weeks.

The following jingles from KIPP are illustrative:


A is for audacious
What could be wrong with teachers using stomps, chants and *sparkle* as a means of generating *joy* in their students? For one, the chants, like those from KIPP have little to do with learning and less to do with education; indeed, they may work against it. Education is not recitation; it is becoming knowledgeable and curious about our human heritage—physical and cultural—about the properties of the universe from atoms to galaxies, about the heights and depths of civilizations, about current threats to the biosphere and the dignity of living beings. History is a dramatic story of events and dilemmas, brave and principled heroes, vain and villainous deeds that should stir reason and emotions. Claps and jingles get in the way of this pursuit. A better antidote to low interest is a fascinating rather than fast-paced, even frantic lesson.

Emotional manipulation?
But there is something more disturbing at work here than abetting memorization rather than deeper learning. Educators at no excuses schools assume the Image result for joyauthority to manufacture emotional states in students in the service of academic achievement, while at the same time disallowing genuine emotional states – anger for example – when they interfere with teaching. They stimulate *joy* so that their students will greet the strict codes of discipline and daunting academic expectations at these schools with eagerness and excitement.  But genuine joy cannot be canned or imposed. As C.S. Lewis described it, true joy is experienced as descending upon us, stabbing us unexpectedly; unlike pleasure, it is not in our power to procure. Real joy must come from within.  While it is possible to set the stage for a joyous experience, it is inauthentic, even manipulative, to demand, regulate, and use *joy* to improve a test score or make students pliant to authority figures.

That is not to say schools shouldn’t plan for fun, have games, skits, songs as a release from work, or sometimes to facilitate rote learning. It is also true that through such activities there is important social learning and opportunities for inventiveness.  But that is qualitatively different from stimulating a culture that imposes bursts of joy, excitement, zest. The harder, more essential, task is to stimulate genuine intrinsic interest in students rather than externally induced transient excitement. We’ve known since Piaget that without significant and authentic input from students themselves, without engagement through interaction, learning will be a collection of evanescent bits and pieces; hardly joyous.

Joan Goodman is a Professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania and a psychologist. She did an interview with EduShyster in 2013 about The High Cost of No Excuses.

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Apples to Apples

I talk to Richard Whitmire, author of The Founders, about the NAACP moratorium, the *charter pushback movement* and how to measure Success… 

1471902369_3354.png (600×375)EduShyster: Let’s start at the end of your new book, The Founders: Inside the revolution to invent (and reinvent) America’s best charter schools. You wrap up with three challenges facing charter school expansion, one of which is what you call *the charter pushback movement.* It seems to be gaining steam, even since the book came out. How concerned are you about, say, the NAACP moratorium or the Black Lives Matter platform which makes many of the same demands?

Whitmire: I’m concerned about it because any time you start playing race cards it gets a little dicey. I think the unions are pushing any edge that they can get in this battle and they’re doing quite a good job of it. Frankly it doesn’t surprise me at all because if you’re looking at this from a political perspective, in other words, how to build a political base in *x* city, then the traditional school system—forced assignment, no charters—really works out better for you. I saw that in Washington DC when I was doing the Rhee book. Marion Barry had that Department of Education just overflowing with people. It was all part of his political machine. And it worked out really really well for him and it worked out really really well for the people who were employed there. The only people it didn’t work out well for were the kids. But from a political machine point of view, that’s the model you want. That’s the model that’s preferable. So it’s understandable why they’d push for that. But again, you have to look at those who are aspiring to be political leaders or already are and then those parents, and I come back again and again to those 4,000 parents on the waiting list for the Brooke Charter School in Boston. They’re all either Black or Hispanic. Who are you going to listen to: the NAACP or those parents? I choose the latter. Continue reading →

To Market, To Market

A new study finds that with the education marketplace comes a whole lot of education marketing…

dressforsuccessEduShyster: I thought I’d set the stage for our conversation by describing a great, by which I mean appalling, example of education marketing in action. Donald Trump visits a Cleveland charter school that advertises itself as *top-rated* despite getting an *F* rating from the state. And the school is operated by a deep-pocketed for-profit chain that is *on a journey towards excellence.* Thoughts?

Catherine DiMartino: It makes me think about health care advertising. With health care you have the FDA putting certain limitations and providing some kind of oversight. Education is a public good and this is children’s learning and their future, but there’s no kind of regulation.

EduShyster: One of the points you make is that parents, and even teachers, are increasingly on the receiving end of what I’ll helpfully call *ed-vertising* without even being aware that what they’re looking at has been *marketized.* Explain.

Sarah Butler Jessen: They might not be aware that when they go to these websites, for example, that what they’re looking at isn’t necessarily imagery of the actual school they’re considering. They’re looking at websites with stock photos of kids that have been OK’d by charter management organizations that encourage schools to pick the photos. They’re not even always using pictures of the school’s own students. Continue reading →

Holding Back to Get Ahead

Researcher Joanne Golann says that no-excuses charters are teaching low-income students to defer to authority and hold back their opinions—the opposite of what they’ll need to succeed in college and life.

walking in lineEduShyster: You’re one of the first researchers to spend an extended period of time inside a no-excuses charter school. Here’s where I ask you to sum up close to two years of research into a single sentence. OK—you can have a paragraph.

Joanne Golann: I found that in trying to prepare students for college, the school failed to teach students the skills and behaviors to help them succeed in college. In a tightly regulated environment, students learned to monitor themselves, hold back their opinions, and defer to authority. These are very different skills than the ones middle-class kids learn—to take initiative, be assertive, and negotiate with authority. Colleges expect students to take charge of their learning and to advocate for themselves. One of the students I talk about in the article learned to restrain herself to get through, to hold herself back and not speak her mind. She ended up winning the most-improved student award in 8th grade for her changed behavior. Continue reading →

Bad Apples

Rutgers Professor Bruce Baker shines a light on some extremely shady charter industry practices—and causes my hair to literally catch on fire…

BadAppleEduShyster: Your new study, about the policies that charter school operators use for financial benefit, is harshly critical of a few bad apples. But why focus on them as opposed to, say, the high-performing many?

Bruce Baker: The important context for this report is to understand just who are the dominant charter managers in the landscape. You’ve got Imagine, you’ve got National Heritage, you’ve got White Hat and you’ve got Charter Schools USA. A lot of academics and charter advocates are going to think well *those aren’t the big ones like KIPP and Uncommon.* But KIPP and Uncommon aren’t the big ones. The big ones are Imagine, National Heritage, White Hat and Charter Schools USA. If we were to decide that here and now is the time to clean all this stuff up and just shut down a bunch of these operators, we’d be taking out a sizable share of charter schools in Florida and Ohio. Continue reading →