CRAZY LIKE A FOX: One Principal’s Triumph in the Inner City by Dr. Ben Chavis with Carey Blakely provides a hair-raising and inspiring account of educational achievement in Oakland, California.
Before Dr. Ben Chavis took over as principal, American Indian Public Charter School was a litter-strewn, rundown mess with unsupervised students, horrible test scores and dismal attendance rates, all factors that brought the middle school rightfully to the brink of closure.
Chavis, an American Indian raised in a sharecropper’s shack with no electricity, came on the scene and said he’d like to take over the school, then referred to as “the zoo.” Was he off his rocker? After being appointed principal, he raised the bar with an approach that would make most educators tremble and set American Indian Public Charter School apart as one of the finest middle schools in all of California.
In Crazy Like a Fox, Carey Blakely takes you inside the walls of American Indian Public Charter School for an up-close look at the highly unorthodox former principal, Dr. Ben Chavis, through whose perspective the story is told. Charismatic, intense, and controversial, Chavis garners the attention of supporters and enemies alike. As one Oakland journalist’s headline wonders, is he a “Madman, Genius, or Both?”
With an un-PC approach to race that makes many Bay Area residents cringe, a strict approach to discipline, and a capitalistic approach to attendance (by paying students who had come to school every day), Dr. Chavis transformed a bottom-of-the-barrel middle school in Oakland into one of the highest-performing schools in the state.
The scholastic achievements generated by the dedication of students and staff to the rigorous, no-excuses education model at American Indian Public Charter School debunk the myth that poor, minority, inner-city schools have little chance at academic excellence.
Some ideas you won’t often find in other books on public education:
- Public schools have enough money
- Schools are responsible, not parents, for their students’ academic success.
- Public embarrassment and making students repeat the grade can be effective tools.
- Academics, attendance, and hard work are the keys to educational success in the inner city, not multiculturalism, victimization, or remedial math.
Crazy Like a Fox excerpt on funding: “Public schools have enough money. Taxpayers have been conned for years—by public school administrators, teachers unions, and school boards who beg for more money—into thinking the problem with schools is that they need more funding. This is the biggest lie in public education in this country. Did you know that more money is given to public schools that are failing and destroying kids than to schools that are educating students? The financial incentive in America is to be a failing school.”
Ben Chavis, speaking on NPR about responsibility: “We like to blame parents. The parents are the victims. The school takes their money and then blames them. I do not blame parents if my school is failing. It is my job. It is my responsibility. If any school in America is failing, blame the principal.”
Crazy Like a Fox excerpt on political correctness: “Some critics say my use of public shaming and politically incorrect terms such as ‘darkies’ cross the line of acceptable educational practice. I prepare students for the realities of social stereotyping by getting them to see the pride and humor in being darkies, whities, half-breeds, or mixed breeds.”
Read this edgy, entertaining, and inspiring call to action for education reform in America.
CRAZY LIKE A FOX
One Principal’s Triumph in the Inner City
by Dr. Ben Chavis with Carey Blakely
September 1, 2009; 978-0-451-22818-5