Monday, February 15, 2010

21st Century Review of Dr. Ben Chavis’ Book Crazy Like a Fox

As a school principal, I am always fascinated with the stories of other principals who have done the miraculous, turned around failing schools. Apparently, Dr. Chavis has done this. He is certainly to be commended for his accomplishment. What turned me off in this book is his constant bashing of viewpoints opposite his own. We all know that the "one-size-fits-all" approach to fixing what ails education is not going to work. The solutions he describes in this book worked for him at American Indian Public Charter School. That does not mean they will work at other schools. I took away some inspiration from this book. However, I see little universal application in many of the things he discusses. For example, he talks at length how "embarrassing students successfully changes behavior." What you do not hear in his book all those students who did not succeed from his high-handed tactics. While I would agree that schools have sometimes went too far with the self-esteem emphasis and the feel-good curriculum, I still have problems with using hurtful words and tactics that tear down students further than they are. But you know, there might sometimes be times when Dr. Chavis's approach could work. I am not the type of principal who can do those things with a clear conscience. Dr. Chavis seems to spend a great deal of time blabbering about his own rise from the ashes of his childhood, for which he is to be commended. His constant pontification about the promise of "free market capitalism" is a bit tiring by the end of this book. His complete dismissal of all efforts to address racial problems and multiculturalism completes his narrow-minded view of the world. Yes, Dr. Chavis has apparently turned around some schools, but his ideas are of limited value to most of us.

I have had some more time to reflect on Chavis’s book since I wrote that review above, and I still remain unchanged about my opinions of him and his school reform tactics. The more I’ve read about him, the more I just can’t bring myself to acknowledge that bullying students is ever the right thing to do. There are just too many educational charlatans and quacks out there peddling their wares. The wise and critical 21st Century administrator is going to look for ample evidence and research to support these products and practices before investing scare time and money into them. Ultimately, we have to remember that educating young people is a complicated task and making learning happen is a messy process.

Crazy Like a Fox by Dr. Ben Chavis: Book Cover


  1. Your impression of his book completely matches my impression of his personality from other reading and from seeing him on that MSNBC education event last year. Don't think I'll be adding this to my reading list.

  2. Ben is not a one size fits all. Ben is about getting the ghetto out of the schools and getting on with the business of teaching. For ghettoized people of color and want-a-be ghettoized people of color, some times drastic measures are needed. I met the man. Yes if all reports are true he may have stepped over the line. But he does produce.

    Bill Edwards
    Saponi/Lumbee/African American

  3. Mr. Edwards I agree. J. Robinson I think that if you were to see Dr. Chavis in action that you would gain a new appreciation for his methods.

    When we were in school children did not behave the way they do today because they feared what would happen to them if the teacher had to call home. In today's society, parents make excuses for their children and will cuss out the teacher instead of disciplining their child for unacceptable behavior.

    If the education system does not stop making excuse for not disciplining ignorant behavior, it is going to end up further in the gutter than it is today.


  4. I do appreciate what Dr. Chavis has done in the context in which he's done. What I do disagree with is a)the way he puts down other viewpoints than his own in this book and b)the idea that his tactics such as belittling and embarrassing students. There's no doubt he's been successful with his tactics at the schools in which he describes in his book. I doubt whether those tactics could be applied universally. As far as your assertion that the education system does not discipline ignorant behavior, the schools in which I've worked, they work very hard to address "ignorant" behavior. As a teacher and administrator I also hold students to high behavior expectations and demand they adhere to those. Personally, though, I do not embarrass and put down students. But if it works for Dr. Chavis, and it saves some students from the gutter, then more power to him. Thanks for the comment.