Psychologist Marty Seligman
Psychologist Marty Seligman “whose work formed the psychological underpinnings of the Bush administration’s torture program”.

From KIPP’s own website:

(And not to fret, I took a screen shot.)

kipp4kipp3kipp1 KIPP’s innovative approach is grounded in the research of Dr. Martin Seligman and the late Dr. Chris Peterson (the “fathers“ of Positive Psychology). Building off a partnership with KIPP NYC, Dr. Angela Duckworth and the Riverdale Country School, KIPP’s character work focuses on seven highly predictive character strengths that are correlated to leading engaged, happy and successful lives: zestgritoptimismself-controlgratitudesocial intelligence, and curiosity.

We’ve integrated our own experience as educators with this research, and developed a road map to help teachers, students, and parents foster behaviors that strengthen character.

That’s right. What all those low-income minority children need is “CHARACTER”! Instead of consulting with educators, the owners of KIPP charter school went to a behavioral psychologist who focuses on behavior modification and thought control. How else to deal with grinding poverty, homelessness, health issues and hunger? Pretend it doesn’t exist and just make the kids think that everything is OK.

Talk about willful denial.

I have posted several articles on KIPP charter schools including a compendium of articles under the heading of KIPP Charter schools  along with  A former KIPP teacher comments on her experience  and  For KIPP charter schools, more computer time, less class time .

But out of everything I have read so far about KIPP, this is the most chilling.

kipp work-hard-be-niceKIPP believes in a “no excuse” policy when it comes to their students who are mostly minority and mostly African-American. See  “At KIPP, I would wake up sick, every single day” and Documented KIPP Abuser to Speak Sunday at TFA Conference: “Bringing the ‘Joy Factor’ to Your School”.

The folks at Schools Matter have been monitoring KIPP for several years and in fact, that is how I became acquainted with the KIPP enterprise.

Recently they published the post  KIPP Psychology Guru Inspired CIA Torture Program which shocked even cynical me who thought I had seen and heard all the horrors of ed reform and charter schools but no, there are no bounds to what people will do to make money off of the most fragile of our populations.

To follow is an excerpt from the Schools Matter post:

Dr. Martin Seligman is the man to see if you have questions about how to turn human beings into compliant automatons with persistent positivity.  His experiments torturing dogs in the late 1960s was seminal to the development of “learned helplessness,” whereby subjects are pacified by repeated and unpredictable electric shocks that cannot be avoided.  Google “learned helplessness” for the readily accessible history of the research.

The subsequent “learned helplessness” exhibited by torture victims is countered by another Seligman invention, “learned optimism,” which turns compliant human subjects into persistent, self-controlled, and gritty go-getters who will not let any amount of abuse or degradation interfere with beliefs in self-heroic capabilities.  

The Seligman treatment has been used by David Levin at KIPP to behaviorally neuter children and then to have the same children self-administer heavy doses of No Excuses positivity in order to maintain high test scores regardless of children’s home life marked by pathological economic conditions.


Seligman’s “learned helplessness” techniques were central in the CIA torture program, and Seligman’s assistance to the CIA to understand how his techniques work was critical to implementing torture programs.  Seligman’s payoff for his assistance came in 2010 when his Positive Psychology Center at UPenn was handed a $31,000,000 no bid contract to do work for the Army to develop what amounts to a positive brainwashing technique that was hoped to counter the epidemic of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) among returning vets.  

It didn’t work, but Seligman and his colleagues cashed the check anyway.  Meanwhile, veterans served as guinea pigs, and who knows how many committed suicide as a result of not receiving legitimate treatments.

From Salon in 2010, “War on terror” psychologist gets giant no-bid contract:

The Army has handed a $31 million deal to Dr. Martin Seligman, who once blasted academics for “forgetting 9/11”.

The Army earlier this year steered a $31 million contract to a psychologist whose work formed the psychological underpinnings of the Bush administration’s torture program.

The Army awarded the “sole source” contract in February to the University of Pennsylvania for resilience training, or teaching soldiers to better cope with the psychological strain of multiple combat tours. The university’s Positive Psychology Center, directed by famed psychologist Martin Seligman, is conducting the resilience training.

And from NY Magazine’s article Meet the Psychologists Who Helped the CIA Torture:

One of the strangest subplots here is the unwitting role of Martin Seligman, a psychologist viewed as one of the leading modern researchers on human happiness. As the Times reported, Mitchell attended a small gathering at Seligman’s house two months after 9/11 conceived of as a brainstorming session to fight Muslim extremism. There he “introduced himself to Dr. Seligman and said how much he admired the older man’s writing on ‘learned helplessness.’ Dr. Seligman was so struck by Dr. Mitchell’s unreserved praise, he recalled in an interview, that he mentioned it to his wife that night.”

The concept of learned helplessness, a psychological phenomenon in which people who face persistent adversity effectively give up and lose the capacity to attempt to improve their situations — Seligman’s original research on the subject, from the 1960s, involved shocking dogs — was put to use by Mitchell and Jessen in their dealings with the CIA, and it echoes in the report: “SWIGERT had reviewed research on ‘learned helplessness,’ in which individuals might become passive and depressed in response to adverse or uncontrollable events. He theorized that inducing such a state could encourage a detainee to cooperate and provide information.” Many interrogation experts vehemently disagree: This level of detainee mistreatment, they argue, increases the risk that the subject will simply say whatever the interrogator wants to hear, leading to unreliable intelligence.

You can come to your own conclusions about Seligman’s influence on KIPP but it’s my opinion that KIPP charter school  is not the kind of school we want in our state.

Dora Taylor