Hour-by-hour look at hyper-disciplinarian charter school where kids maintain near-total silence for seven years

The Argosy Charter School in Fall River, Mass, described its hour-by-hour curriculum to the state Board of Ed. It's an horrific look at a hyper-disciplinarian "educational" environment in which students are expected to maintain near-total silence for seven years, apart from chanting cultish slogans in unison. Apparently, the plan is for America to attain competitiveness with China by running its schools on the same principles as the worst Guangzhou factory cities.

7:45 am Mr. Amaral escorts Carolina along with the rest of BU 5 silently to their homeroom/advisory. Carolina proceeds to her pre-assigned desk. Mr. Amaral gives a non-verbal cue for Carolina’s group to move to the back cubbies to get organized, and signals with his other hand that they have one minute to complete their cubby tasks. Carolina silently stands up and brings her backpack to her cubby, unzips it, and removes all of her binders. She puts her white writing binder and blue science binder in her cubby and places her empty and zipped backpack on top of the cubby, along with the other scholars’ empty backpacks. She brings her green math binder, red reading binder, and black social studies binder to her desk. She places the reading and social studies binders in the rubber band that wraps around the two right-hand legs of her desk. This rubber band keeps her binders tightly secured and out of the way, and Carolina finished her cubby tasks in less than 60 seconds.

Carolina sharpens two pencils from her pencil case, and places them along with a black pen and an eraser at the top of her desk. She begins reading her DEAR book, as the other students work for their minute time blocks to get their cubby work done. Mr. Amaral calls, “1-2-3 Eyes on me!” The class responds in unison, “1-2-3 Eyes on you!” and then proceeds to close their DEAR books and place them on the left corner of their desks. Mr. Amaral uses the last few minutes of class to review the main objective for the lesson, give feedback to the class using DREAM Points, remind scholars to copy HW, and provide direction for transition.Mr. Amaral says, “Scholars, yesterday you transitioned to Reading in 38 seconds. Your challenge now is to transition in 35 seconds. I am waiting for 100% eye contact.Good. Go.” Scholars quickly and silently switch out binders from their rubber bands around their desk legs. Carolina and her peers absolutely enjoy being timed for tasks and being challenged to beat their best times.

The Silent Treatment: A Day in the Life of a Student in ‘No Excuses’ Land (via Making Light)

(Image: ILGWU demonstration, women dressed in prison-stripe costumes, carrying chains, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from kheelcenter's photostream)


  1. I wonder what has to be done to these kids to reach that level of compliance.  I also wonder how they will decompress when suddenly introduced to the…  less regimented world of college.

    1. I wonder if there’s any correlation at all between strict upbringing and wildness in college… that’s the popular stereotype, but I’ve never read a study.

      1. Yes, anecdotes aren’t data.  There’s no need to tell me.  But in the small town I grew up in, the local Catholic school only went through 7th grade.  When they joined us in the public school system in the 8th grade, they (boys and girls alike) lived up to every stereotype imaginable.

        No particulars.  I have no desire to have a post removed on account of general ickyness.

        1. Hey, did we grow up in the same town?  About half my neighbors went to St. Tarcisius before joining the rest of us heathens.  I think that they went through 8th grade, though.  Somewhat unusually, the students from Catholic school were scholastically behind the ones who had gone to public school all the way.

          1.  My experience was the kids who entered public  high school from the local Catholic school pushed the boundaries, were the wild ones. Free at last! But unlike your neighbors’ school ours was taught by a very liberal order of nuns who could run a tight ship but encouraged critical thinking and social justice.
            Sadly, high school was more like baby sitting for teenagers. There were a few very good teachers but more boring ones and sports reigned supreme.

  2. You see, Carolina is a would-be student at a proposed new school, Argosy Collegiate Charter School,

    So this school doesn’t actually exist.

    You might have mentioned that before pulling out all the outrage stops.

    1. When it’s “proposed” is surely the best time to pull out all the outrage stops.  Once some idiot actually does it, it’s usually too entrenched to budge.

  3. For maximum compliance maximization, silence is useful, but silence can be augmented though solitary confinement, electric shock, and poison gas.

    … I got my share of scars and triggers in regular school. I’d probably either have died or have been rendered uncommunicative by this proposed school. …

    There are politicians saying the law should permit parents to execute disobedient children, and there is the school-to-prison pipeline, and there are schools using electric shock and poison gas to punish autistic children for being autistic, so this isn’t implausible.


  4. It’s kind of astounding how all of the example day is about the regimented discipline, rather than the content of the curriculum. Who is this really for, parents planning their child’s education, or factory owners looking for future employees?

      1. Umm, nope, I took a look at the submission. It really is that stupid. It really does propose that the kids do everything in silence and the only words from adults are corporate speak.

        I think we will be seeing this happen very soon. But not in MA, I think the school board has the sense to rip up the stupid proposal. It will however be fodder for endless distopian SF movies.

    1.  rather than the content of the curriculum

      Well, I would like to know where the non-regimented schools are in which fifth graders are at the level of learning Latin verbs and how mortgages work, so I can enroll every kid I know there.

  5. I actually thought of Trappist monks myself, not that it makes it much better for kids to be forced into such a regimen.

  6. I love how they portray the hypothetical little girl being totally gun-ho about it.

    I need a unicorn chaser… preferably with an unschooled unicorn.

  7. You do know this doesn’t exist, right? If the grinning stock photo of “Sweet Carolina” wasn’t a give-away, the first line of the second paragraph should have made it clear; “proposed” as in an idea.
    But I’m sure the ranty edushytser blog appreciates the traffic from BB…

  8. Sounds a lot like what I imagine the military to be like.
    Also, I wouldn’t let someone with these kinds of beliefs be alone with children.

  9. I wonder how amazingly pissed these kids will be (if not suicidal, honestly) when they grow up, get into this college of their dreams and then get out of college and get the same jobs as people who didn’t have anything close to this horrific experience, assuming they get jobs at all of course.  

    College isn’t the success guarantee it used to be.  Plenty of unemployed 20something’s with degrees from great schools right now, only difference is the better the school the more likely you’re in deeper on your student loans from what I can figure. 

    1. Agreed. Coworkers always express surprise when I tell them I have no college degree. You can still go very far in high tech without a degree. I am more well-rounded than almost any college graduate I know, but I admit that learning new things that I have no experience with is pretty much a hobby. And never underestimate the ability of students to get through a 4 year “liberal arts” degree without really expanding their minds or horizons. That only happens if you make it happen.

    1. Argosy is the perfect name. Argos was a neglected dog who lived on a pile of dung, was abandoned and ignored by his master, and then died.
      Or possibly they mean Argos the first bastard child of a rapist god.

      Or else Argos “the all seeing” with 100 eyes – the first of the gods to be killed when the revolution came.

      1. Or, they mean “argosy”.
        Like a boat.

        But that doesn’t allow for as many snarky, apocalyptic comments, does it?

        1. I agree (and duly “liked” your reply). Are you suggesting that BoingBoing is a suitable forum for serious lengthy discussion of controversial topics? 

          It seems to me that the discussion threads here, with their limited length and rapid turnover of topics, are designed for soundbytes or humour. I will try soundbytes next time.

  10. Well, I once caught myself saying ‘all the Mormon girls I know are complete maniacs’, but then I realized that I wasn’t likely to know any well-behaved Mormon girls (and yes, at the time we were all late teen, early 20s and ‘girls’ was the word I was using).

    Similarly, every child of a Jehovah’s Witness family I have knows was a hard ‘partying’ lunatic, but that was more a matter of the circles I moved in than their upbringing.  I have never been one for the bible study groups.

  11. One of the comments on the source page pleads that this be a parody.  Agreement, here.  Then I realized it’s just a proposal.

    Couldn’t ever actually happen, could it?  I would have eaten a pistol before I reached high school if I had been subjected to something like this.

    1. And that exact thing happens with frightening regularity in the schools in Asia after which this is directly modeled. They simply place a lower value on human life.

  12. I think you meant Guangdong (not Guangzhou) factory cities. 

    Nevertheless, the principles of this school (as bad as it seems) cannot be compared with the worst factories in Guangdong. In those factories, workers lose limbs, contract occupational diseases that destroy major organs, and sometimes die. In the worst factories, injured workers receive little or no compensation, work behind barred windows that prevent escape during fires, work with chemicals that make their skin peel and noses bleed, and spend up to 16 hours a day standing at work stations for wages that are often well below the minimum. Workers in the worst Guangdong factories breath in minute particles that cut their lungs to shreds, are punished by physical beatings or fines that leave them with hardly any wages at the end of the month, and are verbally abused to the point where they can bear it no longer. The worst factories in Guangdong are beyond your imagination if you have not visited them or witnessed the human carnage that results from them.

    By the way, the same would go for the worst garment sweatshops in London, New York, or San Francisco. 

    The school proposal appears to be the creation of a deranged group of “educators”. The worst Guangdong factories are the creations of people who  have built them because – as one proudly told me many years ago – he could make workers do whatever he wanted (including 24-hour days). Having spent significant time with workers who have lost limbs in Guangdong factories (and families of workers who’ve lost loved ones), I can assure you the gap between this school and the worst factories is very large. 

    And to be honest, I don’t think Guangdong is the worst place in the world to be a factory worker… 

  13. The ultimate dream of corporate america: drones that obey authority without ever talking back, asking questions or any hint of revolt, independance or curiosity.

  14. If we wanted robots, we could build robots.  Also, why does the answer to remain competitive always to drop down to the most horrific labour laws you can find?   Why should first-world businesses be forced to compete directly with these torture cells?  How about, if you want to trade with the west, (who controls the vast majority of the world’s money), you have to have some basic human decency laws?

    If the business leaders admire their “work ethic” so much, why don’t we just send them over there, and let them admire it first hand.

  15. I’m reading L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet right now and this school sounds like the nightmare planet that had been assimilated by her version of the Borg.

  16. Um. Yay for sensational titles! As a PhD student at the number 1 school for education (and a former teacher), I feel like I have to weigh in here. This article describes a litany of evidence-based teaching practices, including routines-based teaching, direct instruction, instructional cues, behavior specific praise, repeated practice… I mean it’s just one after another. And yet it’s labeled “hyper-disciplinary”?! You know what is actually hyper-disciplinary? The majority of schools in America, which fail to equip children with behavioral expectations and the knowledge of how to meet those expectations, then send them through a punitive system of detentions and suspensions (removing them from the learning environment). The students that fall through the cracks end up way behind, with no obvious path to remediation, and terrible self-esteem. That’s 25% of students in our schools right now.

    One of the biggest challenges of education reform is that the stuff that works isn’t always what we imagined, but we can’t just avoid teaching practices because they don’t feel right or because they seem too adult-directed. The techniques described in this article are supported by actual studies… several of them. And they’re not just effective, they also create a better environment for children. I promise you Caroline values her time in this class much more than she would in a class that doesn’t use these practices, because she knows what to expect each day, she’s challenged even in routine tasks, she gets frequent adult attention, and she’s praised for her academic efforts. There is no reason to worry about whether she will develop critical thinking skills; one cannot think critically without first mastering the basic content, and Caroline will master that content better in this environment. Moreover, critical thinking can easily be taught through direct instruction. If you read the article, you should have noticed that they discuss buying vs. renting a home in her fifth grade financial literacy class, to practice applying newly learned concepts to unlearned situations. Yeah, I’d say that’s a pretty good opportunity for some critical thinking instruction.

    Honestly, after seeing this article, I am less enamored with boingboing. I thought of it as media that relied on science and waded through the bullshit for me. Now I’m concerned that I may have failed to recognize other BS headlines here, just because they didn’t pertain to my field of study. Shame on you boing boing.

    1. Honestly sir, In the first few paragraph’s i’ve noticed a number of appeals to authority and dissmissals of the article as shameful bullsit. now, i too think this is a wee bit sensationalist (especially so since it’s a school that hasn’t been built) but i feel like outright saying you’re in the number one school of psychology, you’re being a concern troll  and saying ‘oh this isn’t so bad’. that kind of makes me throw up in my mouth.

    2. If your “evidence-based teaching practices” were science, they wouldn’t need an endless string of meaningless buzzwords to distinguish them from actual scientific methodology. They would just be called “science”.

    3. You’re obviously new here.  Media that relies on science and wades through bullshit for you?  Where did you see that?  I came for the zombies, myself.

    4. Okay, I’m willing to entertain that the teaching methods described are effective as long as the evidence says so, but most of your claims rely on unstated credentials that you say qualifies you to make judgements on the effectiveness of the teaching methods described.  So why don’t we clear that up first, michaelpaige?  Here are some reasonable questions that I think you should be able to answer:

      1: What school are you currently attending?  What makes it “number 1”?
      2: What is your thesis in?  Has it had any peer review yet?  You mentioned you are a PhD candidate — have you made any published, peer-reviewed contributions to your field? If so, can I read them anywhere?
      3: You said you were a teacher.  Which schools did you teach at?  Which grades did you teach?  Why did you stop teaching?
      4: How did you arrive at the figure of 25% of students “falling through the cracks”?  What do you consider “falling through the cracks”? 
      5: You claim that the teaching methods described are supported by studies. Which studies?  You said “several” studies.  How many studies?  What was their methodology?  Please cite your sources, with Authors, date of publication, and the names of the publications they appeared in.
      6: Have any of those studies been peer-reviewed?
      7: You claim the student “Caroline” values her time more in these classes than in classes that don’t use these practices.  Given that Caroline is a fictional example of a student (as is clearly stated in the Fall River Application For Charter, which I have now read most of — did you?), how did you go about determining what a fictional character enjoys?  What is your rationale?  How did you take into account the many and varied values that individuals have in your determination of what a student might value? 

      I value science and evidence too, so I look forward to the information and rationale behind your statements.

    5.  Maybe you could have taken that critical thinking class, where they instruct you to think critically.   
      You disagree with the Socratic method and feel that critical thinking can be taught easily? 

      It scares me when PhD students at the number 1 school for education hold opinions like yours.  And it explains a lot. 

      I remember school being far too much like described in the article.  For someone that CAN NOT comply with intrusive behaviour manipulation, your model of school is torturous. 
      Passing 5th grade is my highest achievement in education, it took me nine years.  I’m still scarred by the experience. 

    6. I’d like to post a supportive comment! While the outline does sound extreme, I was picking out all the evidence-base practices it applied. Similar practices are in place now (albeit perhaps do not seem as extreme as written out here) in low-income schools that were desperately trying to work towards the goals No Child Left Behind set. And you know what? They were having success. These techniques do help keep a large class in order (although I would gobsmacked if the teacher managed to have a completely quiet DEAR session).

      Perhaps Boing Boing just has a thing against social sciences, as we’re just not ‘science-y’ enough.

      1. I like positive comments, but I like positive comments that are backed by hard evidence.  Like MichaelPage, you don’t get a free pass to defer to unnamed authority for the sake of supporting claims.  I am however happy to engage you on established facts, and happily entertain that the described techniques might be effective. So, I will ask you many of the same questions I asked MichaelPage:

        1: What evidence-based practices are being applied?  Where is the evidence for these practices? Please cite studies, with title, authors, publication date, and journal of publication.
        2: Have any of those studies been peer reviewed?
        3: How have similar practices been put in to place at other schools?  Please provide specific examples, school names, links to curricula, and supporting rationale for the techniques.
        4: How have those practices caused schools to meet goals set by No Child Left Behind?  Please cite standardized test scores, or other independently verifiable sources which illustrate, with traceable causality, that similar techniques have improved schools abilities to comply with No Child Left Behind.
        5: How does general disdain for a teaching method that favours priming students for passing college entrance exams at the possible expense of other ways of being and learning make BoingBoing “against the social sciences”?  How are value systems that favor traits other than college admisability inferior to value systems and teaching styles that value other goals?  Please explain the philosophical, social, economic and scientific background for this assertion.

        I look forward to your answers.

        As for BoingBoing being “against the social sciences”, if Social Science means being able to drive policy and action with unverifiable “evidence based practices” and claims that can not be widely reproduced, then yes, BoingBoing is against “social science”.

        1. In all honesty, I can’t remember the exact information I’m citing. This is no longer my field of study, so I’m remembering things I learned in my undergrad about 4 years back. But these *are* evidence based peer-reviewed studies (although most are likely behind a paywall – another complaint). However, I am referring to a documentary about a school in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex that, while not not applying all the concepts, did apply the chant-and-response for teaching reading. It was helpful for the school. Again, I cannot remember the name of the documentary.
          However, I will stand by my statements that such practices are useful for teaching facts required to pass the NCLB standardized tests and keeping over-crowded classes in underfunded schools under control. Obviously, it would be nice if all schools could have class sizes of 15-20 of well-behaved children with super-supportive parents and have all their emotional and physical needs met before coming to school so that they can spend a lot of time on critical thinking and being creative. This is a common complaint of teachers (again, nothing to cite but knowledge of lots of complaints in news articles). This plan was putting together a whole bunch of evidence-based practices to deal precisely with a situation of a low socio-economic area with large classes. It doesn’t sound fun and pretty, but if the school had been approved, I would bet that the charter school would have a long waiting list.

          And I admit, my anti-social science remark was in irritation of the lack expertise in education that led to such a jump in conclusions. I do enjoy all the ‘hard science’ reporting.

          1. Here is a summary of your comment:

            1: You don’t have up-to-date knowledge, notes that you can reference or sources to cite. 
            2: The evidence that you claim does exist is most likely not accessible for free or to laypeople.
            3: You saw a documentary once which you claim supports your points but you can not remember the name of the documentary or the name of the school it focused on.
            4: You conflate call-and-response for learning to read with call-and-response to enforce a certain type of behaviour.
            5: You continue to repeat unsupported statements despite lacking evidence, insisting that they are facts which you “stand by”. 
            6: You continue to claim that the techniques listed in the article are effective at priming students for NCLB testing, without supporting facts.
            7: You claim foreknowledge that the school would be popular.
            8: You conflate that popularity with effectiveness.

            None of the above points that I summarized look anything like evidence.  Mostly they are vague affirmations and occasionally they are conjecture.

            You keep saying the techniques listed are necessary for keeping large classes under control, but section II.a of the Argosy Application suggests that the class size is to be reduced, and the total number of students at full capacity is only 397 spread across 8 separate grades.  That is roughly 50 students per grade, so assuming smaller class sizes it is reasonable to infer that each grade will be split into 2 to 3 separate classes, with roughly 25 to 16 students per class.  You assert that control of large classes is a large part of the rationale for adopting these techniques, but there is no evidence to indicate that there will be large classes.

            Please don’t get the impression from this that I am against stating ones opinion.  There is nothing wrong with a statement like “I like this approach because of x, y and z.”  Stating preference, admiration or interest are all fair game. 

            However, when you state that what’s being described is an “evidence based practice” and then fail to present the evidence that supports the practice, you aren’t being helpful, you’re being irresponsible. 

          2. I don’t have time to write the research paper you are demanding for responses. And I don’t care, as I was simply posting my thoughts on why this school might not be as horrific as it seems on first guess. Good job, you won the internet!

      2. They were having success. These techniques do help keep a large class in order.” 
        Because keeping large groups in order is a primary goal of education? 
        It really is, isn’t it?

    7.  So much for all that research on “learning styles,” huh?  You education majors decided that was too hard and you wanted to double down on the “one-size-fits-all” approach?

  17. A number of years ago, a child came into my public school classroom. He had been in school, k-4, in a small private school run by his parents for him and other children in their church.  Those children sat in a study carrel doing pages out of workbooks for about 5 hours a day.  The didn’t interact with other children, didn’t interact with the teacher and didn’t get up to do anything except for scheduled restroom breaks.  He didn’t last very long in my classroom, people talking to him was just more than he could stand.  Might be fiction here, but I’m fairly certain that there are children sitting in classrooms like this right now.

  18. Meh, I’m sure they’re all fine with their pharmaceutically-induced quiet, as illustrated in the line from the drugstore in that photo. We’ll be seeing commercials featuring the newest made-up syndrome; maybe it’ll be, “talking too much dysfunction” or “Motor-mouth-malady” which will then be followed by 15 minutes of side effects that include death, but whatever, someone needs to make money off of it. Why should the conservative cottage industry of privatized charter schools be the only ones to cash in? Come on people, where is your entrepreneurial and capitalist spirit? It’s a win-win, money now, and zombie-slave labor later.

  19. You’re quoting from a blog post that has taken a proposal and removed all of the active learning and student interaction from the listed day. But you’ve successfully gotten a lot of people outraged, so good job.

    1.  He has also successfully gotten “educators” to comment favourably to said proposal, so yea, good job. 

  20. I’m sure I’ll be flamed for this, but I believe that there are some minors that would be improved by a school run like this over a traditional public school.  Kids that are *chronically* suspended, sent to ISS, sent to detention, or otherwise severely disrupting class to not only their own detriment but to the detriment of the other kids around them have far, far too much leverage in this era when school faculty are not allowed to discipline kids to the extent that their infractions call for, and often parents are not only unwilling to discipline their children themselves, will defend their childrens’ actions.

    If school districts or municipalities had one school like this in the community where the worst offenders, those that would not stop disrupting other kids’ learning, were sent where the rules were actually enforced against them, then I see two benefits.  First, the kids might actually learn that they can face consequences for their actions, and that maybe if they don’t want to suffer these kinds of conditions that perhaps they need to actually behave in class, and second, kids that might go along with the idiots that would end up here won’t, either for fear of ending up here or because those they’d go along with aren’t around for them to emulate.

    I’ve worked in educational environments for eleven years.   Kids seemingly have less and less grasp of consequences as time goes by, and that means they’ll learn about them when they’re fired from their jobs, or when they’re arrested and thrown in jail.  And I would expect that even the cushiest jail looks worse than this school program.  At least the kids get their afternoons and nights away from it.

  21. Given some kids inability to deal with any sort of educational freedom a certain amount of this might not be a bad idea. Kids who repeatedly demonstrate an unwillingness or an inability to function in a more relaxed educational setting might be offered this as an alternative until they can demonstrate that they deserve a better environment.

    That is is horrible might be the motivation they need.

  22. Well, as a layperson, who has 6 educators in the family, I find the proposed school revolting.  I do not have peer reviewed documentation, but I do know that several education books I have borrowed, that a school like this will most likely have the following result:
    It will turn out children who can recite facts, but not think critically.  Most will have trouble interacting appropriately with peers or authority figures.  In general, they will be fact-filled human sheep who do whatever the person barking orders at them tells them to do. (Which may be the entire point)
    Although my parents made many mistakes in their lives, my education was not one of them.  They allowed me free reign of a huge personal collection of books, ranging from psychology, science fiction, religion, and beyond.  Absolute conformity is the death of imagination and creativity.

  23. “Horrific” for whom? I was a gifted kid with ADD, and this sounds like a place I would have loved. No- I’m a highly creative person (had short stories and art projects win contests both locally and nationally as a child) but I had no “inner order” and found regular chatty classrooms near torture. I can understand that someone who didn’t crave or chafed at such structure themselves being repulsed, but it’s not “hell” for a lot of folks.
    I also worked in inner city schools, and there were a lot of kids I worked with who found such order and structure sheer bliss in contrast to the chaos that was their homelife. Many of the kids in my literacy group loved the classes with their “hard ass” teachers who enforced strict pre-class organizational rituals (sharp pencil at top of desk, fresh paper on right, book on left, homework turned in as you walk in the door. All social talking stops at the door.)
    As a matter of fact, there’s a lot of programs in poorer areas that are finding declaring the school a “silence zone” before class starts and requiring the kids to walk in line with hands clasped in front of them helps keep order and gives a better ability to focus in class.  
    If kids are applying and staying, and the college matriculation is high, I don’t think the kids are being hurt here.

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