Saturday, October 3, 2009

'The Providence Effect': Astonishing Educational Achievement, 'The Way It Should Be Done'

I took my oldest son to Santa Monica last night to see The Providence Effect. The movie is playing this week at Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex (the next block down from the 3rd Street Promenade). Kenneth Turan's review is here. And note this:

The person behind this heartening achievement is the school's president, Paul Adams III, a formidably charismatic individual who is determined to change the culture of American education, to break the cycle of poverty and give poor children the same opportunities as wealthy ones.

A veteran of the civil rights movement, Adams started at Providence St. Mel as a guidance counselor.

When the Chicago Archdiocese threatened to close the institution, he began a fundraising movement that enabled him to buy the building, take the school private, and run it so successfully that President Reagan came to visit. Twice.

Adams says he runs the school the old-fashioned way. Discipline is key for him; he and his staff enforce zero tolerance for drugs. Without discipline, he says, you can't get a student's attention.

Once that attention is assured, Adams counts on his inspired faculty to excite the kids about learning, and judging by the interviews with current and former students and glimpses inside selected classrooms, the method seems to work.
President Reagan's at 1:45 at the trailer above. He praises the students with open arms, exhorting them in triumph, "This is the way it should be done." To see him there, speaking to that school -- an all black school during the 1980s when the social welfare state had reached epic proportion, and when poverty and crime had destroyed the inner-cities -- is incredibly uplifting.

And what struck me, from the perspective of a teacher, was the no BS approach to instruction. There's no sign of progressive education throughout the entire film (and thus no mind-crushing leftist indocrtination). It's straight learning, with in-your-face instructors and administrators who spend time with the kids and in the classroom. Things go so well it seemed almost antiseptic. But as the early minutes of the film show, Chicago had been overrun by gang violence and much of the Westside had been razed in a far-from-finished scheme of urban redevelopment. Interviews with graduates -- kids who grew up to be doctors and bankers, etc. -- illustrated that the school was truly a life-saving institution, and education became the central focus of the child and the child's family.

The Providence Effect website is
here. The Providence St. Mel school website is here. The school boasts a 100 percent college entrance acceptance rate, and the homepage states that "The School That Refused to Die -- Now a Model for Urban Education."

And I was thinking exactly that after learning of the death of Derrion Albert in Chicago this week. The Los Angeles Times has a report, "Jesse Jackson, Louis Farrakhan Attend Chicago Teen's Funeral." And from the Chicago Tribune, "Derrion Albert Funeral: There Is No Simple Fix For Problems, Pastor Says; Parents Urged to Reclaim Their Children, City Urged to Educate Kids Closer to Home":

In death, the 16-year-old became the latest high-profile name on the long list of young Chicagoans who have died violently. The teen's brutal beating with two-by-fours was recorded Sept. 24. The attack captured the nation's attention and elicited a response from the White House.

President Barack Obama is sending Attorney General Eric Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan to Chicago this week in the wake of the fatal beating. Obama's spokesman has indicated the administration is preparing an initiative to address the national issues of youth crime and violence.
It's almost tragic that the president's not spending time on these issues -- the crisis in American education -- rather than the year-long ObamaCare fiasco. This is the modern equivalent of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. And while I'm tempted to say something like "I can't see how the president has ignored these issues," that's not true. I know exactly how. The corrupt Cook County Democratic Party machine, thoroughly infiltrated with crooked cronies, all the way down to union hacks, progressive education activists, and community organizing thugs, has consigned to city's poor to perpetual poverty. Michelle Malkin's book, Culture of Corruption, discusses how Michelle Obama milked her connections to lucrative jobs while crying racism all the way to the top. These people are a joke, and the Democratic political establishment is the last entity that's going to solve the crisis of the city's -- and America's -- urban poor.

That's why seeing Reagan in the film was so riveting for me last night. President Reagan was excoriated by the black community in the 1980s for cutting welfare programs, but it's going to be conservatives with the vision to match Reagan's who will lift the hope for America's youth again. And it's going to be the traditional educational methods found at Providence St. Mel that will be the vehicle for greater advancement for those now held back by institutional malfeasance and progressive political corruption.

See also, WitnessLA "
The Providence Effect: A Murder & An Answer." There's an interview there with Paul Allen, and this part illustrates my point:

WLA: With all your success, you must have a lot of people coming to you from the Chicago Public School system wanting advice as to how what you’ve done can be replicated in a public school setting.

PA: Actually no one has come

WLA: What do you mean no one? Like not one person from the Chicago School District has come to visit St. Mel’s?

PA: Never. Not one.

WLA: You’re kidding. I’m sorry to press this, but not one as in zero people?

PA: Zero.

WLA: Wow. That is completely nuts.

PA: I think so.

See what I mean?


Mark Harvey said...

Exactly so, Mr Douglas!

Donald Douglas said...

Thanks Mark!

Dennis said...

It is truly sad when the word discipline becomes a dirty word or worse. Discipline is the key to becoming successful in any endeavor. It is the key to a well lived and happy life.
How does one solve the problems and challenges of life, if one does not learn discipline in the home, at school, in the work place, and from the people they associate? I would posit that the downward turn of education came when we, as a society, removed discipline from our lives.
Talent in any field of endeavor only takes one so far. We all hit the wall and it is discipline that takes us pass it. It demonstrates that we have a lot more in us than we believe. It is the "can do" of life.

Donald Douglas said...

I'm passionate about this issue, Dennis, because I'm in the classroom -- but also, because I've been there personally. Discipline is key, and also a change in the culture. The leadership has to start at the top.

shoprat said...

The public schools are about careers and indoctrination. This is especially true in the poorer districts where the school-boards are near-criminal in their PCness and neglect. It is odd that it is the "racist" conservatives who want to make the changes that need to be made in the inner-city schools and the left is just determined to make it worse. Somehow or other the left is benefiting from poor, angry, futureless inner-city kids. The failure to educate these kids has to be intentional and it is the left that is doing it.

Donald Douglas said...

Thanks Shoprat ... it is strange that conservatives are always "racist" for trying to genuinely help lift folks up.

Dennis said...

I would suggest to you that leftists DO NOT want minorities to succeed. They want them poor so that they can be that proletariat mass that can be used to rule the world. Any study of Marx and the intelligentsia, Raymond Aron would be an interesting read, demonstrates that without a dissatisfied lower class, also think about attempting to put people on unemployment, there is no real hope for the left to rule.
It is why Obama and the Dems on the left are so dangerous.

Rusty Walker said...

Wonderful post, Donald! Yes, we can uplift these students with discipline and showing them by example that the street culture is not real, credible or lasting. These kids love structure when they see their school/college administrators and teachers really care.

vishakha said...

In Pune, India, many educationalists like Dr. Arun Nigvekar have come together to form Seamless Education Academy, that is the first and only Creativersity in India. they have very recently launched a blog ( as well. it seems here that they want to give a focus to the creative genius in their students in RJ, Sound Engineering, Gemmology, Animation and Broadcast Media. i think that initiatives like these are a ray of hope and really need to be commended.