Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Nasty Nexus: The Unsavory Mix Between Public Ed and Private Motivational Speakers

I have recently been doing some scattered research on possible dissertation topics, and one subject that has always interested me is the phenomenon of public school districts sinking millions of dollars into "programs" pushed by educational "consultants" (read: motivational speakers). It is a troubling trend to me because these companies, whose goal and expertise is the "hard sell" of educational ideas, are like vultures that happen to prey on under-critical schoolboards that have no monetary accountability (as they are spending the tax payers' money).

One such speaker is Flip Flippen. I first heard of Flippen when working for the Carroll County (MD) public schools. The previous year, the district had bought whole hog into Flippen's "Capturing Kids' Hearts" program. (Thankfully, the school where I worked refused to sign on, despite huge pressure from the district.)

Like most "education consultants" (motivational speakers) Flippen is not, and has never been, an educator. His claim to fame is in speaking to businesses (for a good fee). In typical motivational speaker fashion, Flippen's new book, The Flip Side bears jacket endorsements from NFL greats like Terry Bradshaw to MLB greats like Nolan Ryan (neither of which, I think, are known as extraordinary business men).

What is significant about all of this is that two years after the Carroll County School System sunk millions into Flippen's program, they quietly dropped it. (Flippen's frenzy-starting book "Capturing Kids' Hearts" also appears to be out of print according to amazon.com.) A colleague at the time described a Flippen workshop he had attended recently as a "come to Jesus" revival of sorts. It was quite systemically designed to make the participant feel good and excited (Flippen's got an enigmatic speaking style similar to Tony Robbins). My colleague, I think accurately, suspected that Flippen was able to exdrcise his charisma on some very gullible school-board members who, unlike business persons, don't have to scruitinize what they spend money on, as the money is not hard earned.

Anyhow, what made me want to write about this trend - and it does not stop with Flippen! - is a blog-entry I came across, bearing an eerily familiar description of Flippen's education seminars:

I went to the workshop in August, and Capturing Kids Hearts was far worse than I expected. I have written letters to both my state senator, and representative asking them to investigate this group and pass a law giving teachers protection from some of the tactics used in the workshop...

I had jokingly referred to co-workers having “drunk the kool-aid” because of their devotion to “Capturing Kids Hearts”. It wasn’t too far off the mark. The tactics used by the presenter reminded me greatly of cult recruiters or Amway/timeshare sales people. Their leader is the savior of schools...

This is the second time in 5 years a workshop did this the other was required this was strongly recommended.

As an educator, I have had to endure many motivational speakers pontificate on the strength of their system - the latest was Brian Mendler - and I am simply shocked at how gullible these school systems are. For-profit folks like Flippen and Mendler can make a hell of a lot of money pushing their product to school districts, who giddily sink millions into books (every teacher at the Mendler seminar was provided with two of his books, paid for by the county, who has better things to spend money on).

It is simply a shame that there is such an admixture of profit-seeking motivational speakers with financially unconcerned and unconstrained (and fad-loving) educational bureaucrats.


  1. You don't think School Board Trustees, and other administrators and governments officials can see through gimmickry, smoke and mirrors.

    What was this Flip guy selling anyways? How bad could it possibly be? He might have been selling the sizzle, but I doubt very much that there was no steak at all.


  2. It is not that I don't think trustees can see through smoke and mirrors. It is:

    (a) they are not accoutable for the money they spend in the way that CFO's are (they are not spending a finite supply of money, therefore do not put as much critical thought into what they spend it on).

    (b) the education industry is so "fad happy" that they are an easy target for Flip Flippens' who sell a "feel good" product and are wonderful sales folks.

    Was it that bad? They sunk millions into a program that they junked two years later. Spending millions of the tax payers money on a motivational speaker rather than books, computers, and curricula-related things is pretty bad (as a taxpayer).

    Flip's "system" is no differenet than every other progressive ed "fad" over the past 20 years: once you get kids interested they will willingly learn. We paid millions of dollars to hear THAT.

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  4. Hi, I was simply checking out this blog and I really admire on business motivational speakers. the premise of the article and this is really informative. I will for sure refer my friends the same. Thanks

  5. This is one of the most cynical and misinformed articles I have ever read. Please do not listen to this person. He has no idea what he is talking about. My district decided to work with the Flippen Group and I am so thankful. It changed my teaching and coaching in ways that I did not believe were possible. If you can actually go to this training and say that you did not get anything out of it, you should not be working with children. Thank goodness there are more caring teachers in the world than there are people like Mr. Kevin Currie-Knight. Last, there never was a "Capturing Kids' Hearts" book which would explain why it is not in print.

  6. Our district was just visited by Flippen. We spent insane amounts of money on a PR firm ( Unicom-arc) last year to brainwash our community with their clear use of Delphi technique.... I am sad to see our new superintendent following in the same tracks. It seems that administrators want to pay someone else to be charismatic, but not pay a decent wage to teachers. We wouldn't have to have cheerleaders come in and get everyone waving flags if we had a LEADER.

  7. Everyone is entitled to his opinion, so no disrespect to the author of this blog, but I would like to say that Capturing Kids Hearts helped me so much in my teaching. I went to a seminar the summer before beginning my first year of teaching. Prior to this, my college education had done nothing to give me practical classroom management skills and I had crashed and burned during my student teaching. Needless to say, I was looking for something and this was perfect. When I began my first year, I followed their model to the nth degree. It made such a difference and I thrived during my first year (unlike student teaching). I taught for five years (currently taking a "reprieve" since I have twin babies under the age of one). Over time, I adapted the Capturing Kids' Hearts model with my own teaching and management style to better suit me. However, it was my foundation! While I know it may not be for everyone, it helped me tremendously!

  8. The blog entry that you came across hit the nail on the head. My attendance at Capturing Kids Hearts was one of the worst experiences of my entire teaching career. It was a combination of a 60s encounter group and a revival meeting--with some Tammy Faye Bakker thrown in. These people are practicing psychology without a license. I was upset for weeks afterwards.

  9. So happy to see this... I thought we were already supposed to be capturing kid's hearts (it is called getting to know the population you are teaching). You do that by talking to the kids your teaching, getting to know where they are coming from, communicating with their homes (whether that be parent(s), grandparents, aunts, uncles, foster home whatever. Maybe I am in the minority but that is how I run my classroom. Meanwhile this program was adopted by my son's middle school and the inconsistency has created chaos. I have a hard time believing that simply using this program will work.

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