The education reform movement has given birth to many surprising acronyms, based on a desire to standardize behavior and expectations, especially within the charter school chains. According to a thorough and insightful article by Paul Tough, in the NYTimes, 2006, the first use of the idea in the early Charter, KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program, 1994) grew out of a desire to establish behaviors that would mark children as eager, capable scholars: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/26/magazine/26tough.html?pagewanted=9&_r=1&ref=knowledgeispowerprogramkipp - (the relevant section starts on p.5 and dwells at length on the goals and beliefs of those Charter innovators, David Levin and Michael Feinberg).
If you wisely ask: “Compared to what?” – the answer lies in the assumption that ‘dominant culture norms’ would serve poor and/or minority children in the marketplace better than their perceived behaviors at that time. Possessing this ability is sometimes called “double consciousness” – the fact that, as described by W.E.B. Du Bois in “The Souls of Black Folk”, while minorities may know from frequent contact what it is like to be both black and white, whites almost never know what it is like to be black. Less charitably, this means that black and brown kids would have a better chance in the dominant society if they could reproduce the behaviors valued by that society. It’s another way of enabling “code switching” – the ability to talk the talk with your friends and then sound like a middle class choirboy in a formal setting. This is quite valuable at a certain level – you probably don’t swear in front of your Grandmother, or if she swears, you hope she doesn't do it at parent night… But to build an entire behavior modification program out of it, and then mandate it in schools with very dire consequences for non-compliance – that’s a horse of a different color. Here’s Elliot Witney defending his approach to Debra Meier: (He was the Principal of a Houston KIPP Charter school).
So what does S.L.A.N.T. stand for? The KIPP version (and alternative versions from the Poway Unified School District website and others):
- Sit up (Sit up straight)
- Lean forward (Listen)
- Ask Questions (same) (Ask and answer)
- Nod (Nod yes or no) (No talking)
- Track the speaker (Talk with teachers)
Apparently, the TFA (Teach for America) alums who started KIPP in Houston TX were influenced by the ideas of Martin Seligman and his book ‘Learned Optimism.’ KIPP’s ideas are also aligned to Uncommon Schools (Newark), and Achievement First, based in New Haven. But the acronym pops up everywhere that schools are trying to modify behavior and increase outcomes, and there are any numbers of uses, authentic or not.
In schools that I've personally observed, the use of these routines can create a robotic feel, thus deviations are easily spotted – leaning on her hand instead of ‘S’ led to a three day suspension for a friend's daughter, for example, and anyone not on line or not having the puffed up cheeks of a ‘bubble’(you can't talk with a 'bubble' in your mouth!) can be reprimanded instantly. Along with the uniforms, the drive towards utter compliance is evident. The presence of cheery chants and constant praise for successes is meant to ameliorate this. Proponents point out that once you've got everyone’s attention, anything is possible. High scores, high achievement in college and careers are the goal.
Here are some informative websites to learn more - the youtube.com video is especially specific:
The implementation of any system can make or break it, admittedly. If the words of a man named Jesus can be exploited for world domination, anything is possible - however, every choice has implications, and you can't pick and choose the parts you want without understanding the ramifications of what path that sets you upon. Can children be ordered to follow rigid rules without question - and then be ordered to be free, independent thinkers?