KIPP Schools Junk Their Famous "Work Hard, Be Nice" Slogan As Not Anti-Racist
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A rare success story from the once fashionable era of billionaire-funded Education Reform efforts was the KIPP chain of charter schools. The point of KIPP was to offer volunteers schools that train poor students the way the military does: with an emphasis on order, character-building, and repetition in the fundamentals. KIPP never sold itself as a panacea. Instead, it was an option available for underclass kids willing to do the work to develop lower middle class habits. From my review of historian Raymond Wolters’ 2015 book The Long Crusade:

A few reformers have actually done some good, usually by undoing the work of past gurus. Perhaps the most appealing figures in The Long Crusade are Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, who founded the KIPP charter-school chain in 1994 to offer discipline, hard work, and back-to-basics schooling to the fairly small percentage of slum students serious about earning a way out of the hood. Good kids deserve some breaks in life, such as getting to go to a school without a bunch of layabouts and knuckleheads.

Some of the success of KIPP is due to reviving many of the techniques of public order and respect used by schools before the ascendance of progressive education ideology in the late 1960s.

Thus, KIPP’s slogan was, “Work hard. Be Nice.”

But, it’s 2020, so all good things must come to an end. From

Retiring “Work hard. Be nice.” as KIPP’s national slogan
Wednesday, July 1, 2020

After adopting a new mission and vision, we understood that Work hard. Be nice. needed to change; we needed to lift up a new national slogan. We learned many KIPP Regions had either passively stopped using it or were actively removing it from their schools. …

Feedback on the slogan falls into a few buckets:

  • Working hard and being nice is not going to dismantle systemic racism. For example, in the words of student performers at KIPP School Summit: “I’ve been told I should just work hard and be nice. That it’ll pay off in the end. I’ve worked hard and I’ve been nice but the nice guys finish last.”
  • It suggests being compliant and submissive. For example, in the words of an alum: “Asking us to ‘be nice’ puts the onus on kids to be quiet, be compliant, be controlled. It doesn’t actively challenge us to disrupt the systems that are trying to control us.”
  • It supports the illusion of meritocracy. For example, in the words of Orpheus Williams who leads the Foundation’s equity programming: “The slogan passively supports ongoing efforts to pacify and control Black and Brown bodies in order to better condition them to be compliant and further reproduce current social norms that center whiteness and meritocracy as normal.”

Yeah, kind of … Alternatively, you might phrase it as KIPP was offering black children an opportunity to learn a culture that doesn’t lead to so goddam many mass shootings at funerals.

… We are replacing it. We are not going to rush this part. Aligned with our shared mission and vision, we know we need to lift up a slogan that better represents the tomorrow we are hoping to build, together. While the Foundation’s Marketing and Alumni Impact teams will facilitate the process, we want the new slogan to be designed by our students, alumni, and families. We will share more details on this effort when we have them.

Suggestions for a new KIPP slogan: “Goof off. Do crimes.” “Be like George Floyd.” “Ibram X. Kendi for Philosopher-King.”

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