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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Crazy Like a Fox: One Principal's Triumph in the Inner City by Dr. Ben Chavis and Carey Blakely

Comments from a veteran teacher

This is my twentieth year of teaching. I've taught in the inner city, way out in the country in a school surrounded by cornfields and currently teach in a school that is a crazy mix that ranges from urban ghetto to suburban McMansion neighborhoods.

There is nothing in Crazy Like a Fox: One Principal's Triumph in the Inner City that I can disagree with so far as the methods that Chavis espouses. He introduces an extreme quantity of discipline, accountability and rigor to an inner city environment that is seriously lacking in those three traits. He preaches respect for private property, pride in your school and rewards students with cash and prizes for doing well.

He blows up the concept of the mega-high school (I teach in one and it does NOT work well) and keeps his school small so that it has a family feel - everyone knows everyone.

Dr. Ben Chavis
But, this is not a traditional public school. It is a charter school - students choose to go there and because of that Chavis is free to institute his ultra-disciplined system. He is also free to jettison students who will not quickly adapt to his program, two things that regular public schools cannot do, nor will they likely every be able to do that due to the compulsory nature of public schools - because everyone has to go, courts have often ruled that the rules cannot be too extreme (this wipes out many dress code rules, etc.). The regular public schools cannot exclude students, even those that everyone knows will disrupt everything until they have had their "due process", a restriction Chavis does not have to deal with.

As a veteran teacher with a family I know that I could not teach in a Chavis-run school. He wants them young and without families so that they can devote every waking moment to his school. He comments that he wants them right out of college and then only for 3 or 4 years. I cannot cheat my own family like that so I have to stop being teacher for a little while and be a dad and husband. (That being said, I'll be grading late into that night tonight and most nights of this long Thanksgiving weekend!) He is also a little too enamored of hiring students from big name colleges like Harvard, Yale and Berkley. I'm reminded of a certain doctor of education who came to my school because she wanted to try out some of her ivory tower theories in the classroom. She had tiny classes (6-8) and could not control them. She also failed to do a darn thing with our reading scores and went right back to the university. Diplomas don't equal any ability to teach.

I only rate this book 4 stars out of 5. Why only 4 stars? I grew weary of the first person format - at times it sounded like Chavis was saying, "Me!Me! Me!" way too much. Also, he spends several pages towards the end of the book addressing petty gripes he had with former staff members - that stuff should have been kept in house, rather than lamenting about "the biggest insult of all is that the teacher would accuse me of cheating them out of money after everything that I had done for them." (p. 253)

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Crazy Like a Fox: One Principal's Triumph in the Inner City by Dr. Ben Chavis and Carey Blakely.

Reviewed on November 25, 2009.

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