are you now or have you ever...

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Ill's of Progressive Education: Bernard Chapin

Bernard Chapin is a friend of the blog and one of the most outrageously politically incorrect people you'll ever meet. In fact, it is possible the phrase was invented to describe Bernard, who makes me blush on occasion.

Bernard is devastating when he combines his countercultural conservatism with a subject he knows particularly well. As a school psychologist, Bernard knows the wily world of professional educational philosophy and practice. What he knows, he doesn't like. His recent book Escape from Gangsta Island explains why.

For an excellent preview of the book's contents, check out Bernard's interview with Front Page Magazine.

Here's a little taste:

Dexter, a dean at Eastlands and my former friend, was battered in the middle of the hallway by a student with a criminal record as long as the Mississippi River. I made a split second decision to leave the family I was escorting through the hall so I could end the beating. The impact of my intervention didn’t turn out as I planned. The kid dragged me down a wing of our building until help arrived. After the danger subsided, our principal showed up. In 11 years, no sicker scene have I ever witnessed than when she began to rub the boy’s stomach while whispering, “That’s alright baby. That’s alright.” It wasn’t alright. Dexter wasn’t alright either. He had bruised ribs, a concussion, and saw double for several months thereafter. The center’s complete lack of leadership was evident when our assistant principal yelled at me for allowing the family to observe the thrashing. I had no witty comeback. What could I say?


Jay D. Homnick said...

Rub the boy's stomach? Funny, my principal never did that for me, and I practically lived in his office for an interminable series of offenses ranging from locking the class out to disrupting to playing practical jokes to failing tests to listening to a radio in the bathroom during class time. He even pretended to be upset when I played hookey, although he was probably plenty relieved.

But no stomach rubs, unless it was me doing it to myself with glee.

Hunter Baker said...

I don't know if you've seen Bernard, but he's not a small or weak individual. The guy looks pretty strong and the dude who got the stomach rub treatment took Bernard for a ride down the hall. Stomach rubbing is an interesting response.

James F. Elliott said...

From the blurb you linked to:

"In this astonishing true story, author Bernard Chapin reveals what happened when a once proud school was placed into the hands of a principal with a personality disorder."

That explains a lot (unless "progressivism" is the "disorder"). My first boss as a special education teacher had (I'm positive) borderline personality d/o. The wrong kind of director can do horrid things for a school. My class had special needs (developmental delays combined with mental health diagnosis; or severely emotionally disturbed); there was myself, an in-class therapist, and five aides. All the students had aggressive physical and sexual behaviors.

I'm a part-time Personal Assault Response trainer as well. It's amazing what kind of a mess poorly-led and poorly-trained staff can make of a situation. Having worked in alternative school settings and with at-risk adolescents and teens for the last four years, I can't stress that enough. Just because an administrator (or staff) looks good on paper doesn't mean they have what it takes to work with those kids. Bernard Chapin, in his interview, certainly sounds like he does have the knack, and I look forward to reading his book.

The hostility Chapin reports from his superiors is unsurprising to anyone who has butted heads with an entrenched bureaucracy - and schools tend to have some of the most entrenched. I think his "explanation" of child-centered education is more than a tad simplistic, and his exaltation of the wild-eyed David Horowitz distressing. He has some insightful recognitions of the needed balance between child-centered and traditional pedagogy. That said, self-esteem is the farthest thing from a bogus concept. Self-esteem-centric education is something else entirely.

"Where one lives or what one’s physical characteristics are have no correlation with personality." This is just distressingly dumb coming from a psychologist. Correlation, yes. Causal/deterministic, no.

"One must recognize the biological basis of mental illness and the way in which environmental factors can exacerbate psychiatric conditions. In life, one must be wary of the unknown, and set firm boundaries. Advocating for children is not the same as permitting their every behavior. That’s not being tolerant; it’s being a fool."

I don't know an educator or mental health professional (and I know many in the progressive bastion of the Bay Area) who'd disagree with that.

I found Chapin's description of progressives in general to be far too encompassing, but also sadly accurate towards a fairly large swath. My own experiences in graduate school in challenging that kind of thinking - trying to get my fellows to turn some of that critical gaze inward - validates some of what he says.

Hunter Baker said...

James, you and Bernard could probably keep a very interesting blog conversation going for years, particularly based on similar experiences and different political orientations.

James F. Elliott said...

Hey, I'd welcome the chance to swap stories, ideas, and perspectives with Bernard. It can be a little stifling in this arena. I'm just glad I have a generally contrarian and skeptical nature that motivates me to poke holes in people's reasoning when they're apparent. (Would that I were more accepting when the shoe's on the other foot, eh?)