On Wednesday the charter school organization The Knowledge is Power Program, commonly know as KIPP, announced that it will be retiring the slogan "Work hard. Be Nice." as school officials believe the phrase is counterproductive to abolishing systemic racism.
Richard Barth, KIPP Foundation CEO, said in a press release that after a letter from KIPP Co-Founder Dave Levin about the ways in which the organization can change its culture, he decided to ax the slogan as it "diminishes the significant effort required to dismantle systemic racism."
"Over the last few weeks, we have all been working hard to turn words into action, recognizing that there is still much more work to be done to eliminate any practice at KIPP that furthers systemic racism, anti-Blackness, and inequities experienced by our students, alumni, families, teachers, and staff," said Barth.
A few weeks ago, Dave sent a letter to all KIPP alumni, and I shared my thoughts with all KIPP staff; both acknowledged the ways in which the school and organizational culture we built and how some of our practices perpetuated white supremacy and anti-Blackness. pic.twitter.com/UsgWn5AW7R— KIPP Schools (@KIPP) July 1, 2020
Levin's letter was full of white guilt, expressing how he takes blame for not doing enough on behalf of KIPP to stop racial injustice. The practice of disciplining students of color instead of making them feel "affirmed, uplifted, and celebrated" was wrong, he said.
"In recent years, I have come face to face with the understanding that white supremacy doesn’t just mean the public and hateful displays of racism; it applies to all aspects of the world that are set up for the benefit of and perpetuation of power for white people at the expense of Black, Latinx, and other People of Color," said Levin.
"Work Hard. Be Nice." certainly has the outward appearance of promoting values that would make life better for every person who chose to espouse them. But to Barth, the idea of being nice and working hard offered too narrow of a future for children who might want to be lazy and mean in order to get what they want.
"[The slogan] places value on being compliant and submissive, supports the illusion of meritocracy, and does not align with our vision of students being free to create the future they want," his statement read.
In addition to the removal of the slogan, KIPP also plans to distribute grant money to communities most affected by the novel coronavirus and from racial trauma, eliminating discipline practices in schools that officials determine to be inequitable, providing a senior equity officer, along with countless other actions spurred by the killing of George Floyd.