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Old Kings’ “Leader In Me” Program: Corporate Indoctrination Posing as Character Education

| November 3, 2014

stephen covey leader in me program

A little too young to be corporate citizens. (Patrick Savalle)

By Carmen Stanford

What did you learn in school today? It’s the starter to routine, casual conversation we have every evening at the dinner table with our daughter, a first grader at Old Kings Elementary in Palm Coast.

That evening the answer was unlike any my husband and I had heard. Our daughter started reciting words we’d never heard from her before. “Be proactive.” “It’s a win-win.” “Seek to understand.” “Sharpen…” She couldn’t articulate the rest. But she offered to perform a routine that she’d obviously practiced several times.

Eagerly, she told us about the school project she is working on, writing the “Seven Habits”  on a visual aide as a classroom project. I suddenly remembered the flags flying on school property, reiterating the “Seven Habits.” The following day, all the teachers at drop off sites were wearing the same blue polo shirt with a “Leader In Me” logo.

I started to have flashbacks to my childhood. I grew up behind the Iron Curtain where you were rigidly taught the right behavior, the right words, the right greeting. There was no room for choice, no room for individualism. Struggling to understand, my American-born spouse compared it to New  Age Teaching and Scientology.

Old Kings Elementary selected the “Leader In Me” program as its character-development program. The school claims this program will raise leaders and prepare them for 21st century jobs.

The program is based on Stephen Covey’s best selling self-help book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Covey, who died in 2012, was an author, educator and motivational speaker with a degree in business administration and a doctorate in religious education. He was a devout Mormon who until his death fought his critics over the religious aspects of his books and his principles.


Carmen Stanford

The company implementing the program at Old Kings is FranklinCovey, a training and consulting business established in 1997 when the Covey Leadership Center merged with Franklin Quest, a time-management company. (The publicly traded, for-profit company had $191 million in revenue last year.) FranklinCovey’s “Leader in Me” program promises higher academic achievements and a decrease in disciplinary issues, and it teaches character and leadership.

But other than anecdotal evidence, there are no independent studies, data or statistics to verify FranklinCovey’s claims. The company in its own literature boasts of “the power to improve organizational culture in ways important to teachers, students, parents, administrators, and district board members.” But it presents no hard data to justify the claim. A 2012 Johns Hopkins University study commissioned by FranklinCovey concluded that the program “positively improved school climate.” But the study is based on observation, not data.

The Staten Island School of Leadership in New York is praised in FranklinCovey’s studies as indicating “promising results” as a result of the Leader In me program. But test data collected when the program was in effect at the school shows scores dropping in that time frame.

Our children are becoming fluent in a corporate language that includes phrases like, “Be proactive, synergize, think win-win.”  The habits are repeated to our students every day in every class and are incorporated in classroom activities. Classroom walls and hallways are decorated with the “Leader In Me” marketing materials to drill the seven habits into our children and teachers.

Revulsion at the notion that our children can become leaders “by indoctrinating them with some corporate training manual buzzwords in a cult-like environment.”

Flagler County Schools’ Curriculum Director Denise Haymes confirmed to me that the “Leader in Me” program did not go through the same rigorous review as the core curriculum since it’s part of Old Kings Elementary’s flagship program. That’s a district-wide, careers-driven initiative that gives schools ample latitude to implement programs that intersect academics with the business world. Some programs have more tangible value than others.  Nor did Haymes personally research the program, instead choosing to rely on data provided by FranklinCovey’s marketing arm. Yet the “Leader In Me” curriculum accounted for 40 percent of the graded assignments in Social Studies last quarter at Old Kings.

The promise of all our children becoming “leaders” by indoctrinating them with some corporate training manual buzzwords in a cult-like environment is repulsive. It is equally terrifying to watch how easily our public schools are willing to give up our children to over-intellectualized fluff with no content, and a slyly marketed program.

All this at a cost of $57,000 for the first year alone. If continued next year the price will reach $68,000. Flagler schools and taxpayers aren’t picking up the tab. It’s funded through a private grant from the I am a Leader Foundation, whose CEO, E. Boyd Craig,  worked alongside  Stephen Covey for years and is still serving as  the head of FranklinCovey Co.’s Stephen R. Covey Group.

The company’s goal is to spread the program in all public school districts. After all, it works best when we all speak the same common language, when  we all—students, teachers, community members—are embedded in their culture of leadership.

Can you imagine if we used that private grant to invest in arts and languages, in science for all kids, for all classrooms? If we used that grant to invest more in our teachers? Or to invest in our exceptional education students? Maybe then, instead of reciting some corporate-tailored phrases, my child would learn who was the first President of the United States.

Old Kings Elementary school could raise very smart students who will be prepared for 21st century jobs not by memorizing expressions or formulas that suppress their individuality, but through their knowledge, their true academic intelligence. Nothing could dash what hopes I have for my child’s education more than that sort of corporate hold on the public school curriculum. I cautiously hope that our school board members will carefully review and revisit this program and will not allow its further implementation in  our public schools.

In the meantime, we  are proactively seeking to understand the process of transferring my child to a different school, which shall be a win-win for all of us.

Carmen Stanford the parent of a first-grade student at Old Kings Elementary School. She lives in Palm Coast. Reach her by email here.

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13 Responses for “Old Kings’ “Leader In Me” Program: Corporate Indoctrination Posing as Character Education”

  1. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    I’m not sure what exactly the author’s beef is? A private company, offers essentially a free leadership program to the school system, and they should turn it down, because…. it might make them better leaders in the future? I would take issue with requiring 1st graders to recite the Pledge of Allegiance (talk about actual indoctrination) each morning before I would worry about a leadership development course that might include a few “buzz words”. What possible “data” would she like to see about the program? I’ve read Mr. Covey’s book, and frankly found it to be quite helpful in my self development.

    But I do agree with her final statement, if you don’t agree with the curriculum any school is forcing upon your child, it’s time to move on to other options. But I would advise her to act instead of proactively seeking to understand the process.

  2. T says:

    Thank you for pointing this out. I would suggest that that our children (and future) would be better served by instilling within them critical thinking skills – including the ability to critically examine marketing, indoctrination, and fluff.

    • Louise V says:

      They are getting critical thinking skills during the language arts and math. I am a retired educator with 40 years under my belt as well as
      a mirad of degrees and certificates. I am a proud volunteer at OKES and I DO NOT SEE ANY FLUFF.
      I see great teachers and awsome kids are embracing their education and character building skills.
      Please pay a visit and I will be more than willing to show you

  3. Linda says:

    Thank you for bringing this to the attention of the public. I will also do some investigating too since this is disturbing.
    You also demonstrated and underscored the need for families to have dinner together and discuss what is happening in everyone’s life in a comfortable, nurturing situation where kids are likely to discuss a lot.
    Again, thank you.

  4. Lin says:

    The scariest part of this story is that the program did NOT go through a rigorous review
    Why not?
    Ms Haymes is not doing her duty & neither is the School Board
    I won’t make the judgment that this program will hurt our students but to implement this without thorough investigation is sloppy.

    A lot of learning involves patterns, memorization, slogans etc that can be considered indoctrination. There’s a real fine line here & very subjective. Depends also on how material is presented by the teacher.

    We need to think first & act later School board & curriculum director.
    Interesting story.

    Years ago when my husband was promoted into management the company sent him to a Dale Carnegie course. There was a lot in the course about negotiation public speaking confidence, etc. He was very shy back then. He came out one night saying “I am the king, I am the king”. Well, I wasn’t about to be his subject and had no idea how it would all shake out

    But he learned so much about relating to people, it gave him confidence whilst allowing the other party to save face in negotiating — all traits that help in every day life. And he is no longer the king.

    I’m not sure the covey approach is bad even for young students but we should know more especially when ur comes to effects on 5 yr olds

    • Louise V says:

      I am a Kindergarten Volunteer at OKES. Let me the first to enlighten you… the kids are learning and
      they are embracing the fact that they are being proactive. Come for a visit.

  5. local bird says:

    Thank you for bringing to light this psychological corporate scam. The fact that Old Kings lets it mask for “Social Science” grades is appalling. There is clearly no “science” behind the program, only “social engineering”. Despicable.

  6. Yellowstone says:

    Well, for someone like myself that spent 30 years in the Carnegie/Earl Nightingale/Covey/Dare to Be Great/ I’m OK, Your OK/You are Who You Think You Are environment, I say “Good luck with that program!”.

    If it wasn’t one darn seminar then another. All dealing with same feeling good about yourself and others. Everything from dress for success to why you and your boss don’t see eye to eye.

    After thirty years I can say it worked for a day or two – then things always turned back to the same old “we have always done it this way – don’t fix it if it ain’t broke” mentality. Every single time.

    Believe me – I’ve been to all of them. After awhile you begin to believe they are designed and implemented by consultants – some of whom used to work for the company! Same idea – take advantage and take the money.

    It’s a good idea to help adults this way – but, for God’s sake please do not indoctrinate these young, precious kid’s minds with this corporate propaganda.

  7. Nikia says:

    The thing is that not everyone was born to be a leader and that is and should be ok. We need a mix of personalities for any work environment to function properly. As a manager, I have team members that are happy to put their time in, get the job done and go home. I have others that want cell phones and to be connected 24/7. We need both types of personalities. Critical thinking skills are far more important in either case. We teach our 7 year old that he doesn’t have to think like everyone else or inside the box. Throw the box away!

  8. Hmmm... says:

    I didn’t know that your kid coming home, talking about being “proactive”, or wanting to do something positive was a bad thing. I’d be concerned if my kid came home talking about procrastinating and being irresponsible.

    I’m also not saying that “The Leader In Me” is the fix all, end all for students or teachers. I think you have to take the good from all of these programs that are introduced and then thrown away in our education system. The 7 Habits are just another model of how SOME people live their lives and become productive. It’s not a religion or a cult unless you make it that way.

    I think that everyone has some sort of talent, or intelligence, that makes them different from others. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out what you’re good at. Maybe schools can help develop and nurture that talent.

    I also tend to think that Mrs. Stanford is jumping the gun here. What are the other schools “magnet” programs that are putting them ahead of the curve? I’m curious why that’s not mentioned in this article. Maybe because no one knows what they are…

  9. Pcmerry says:

    What I find most disturbing is how such a program was approved and implemented in our school system by, what appears to be, a unilateral decision by the curriculum director. I served on a school board overseas and we were very cautious and formed committees to research programs before even considering their worth and value for the students. Anyone who went to the Leadership In Me presentation at OKE in August will surely agree it was difficult to connect it to a positive impact on a student’s future. Lots of typical corporate power points that had very little relevance to character building, cognitive and creative skills and just about anything and everything that have to do with a successful, fulfilling and overall positive and happy future.

  10. Louise V says:

    I am a retired educator,with 40 years of experience. I am proud to be a volunteer at OKES. The Leader
    In Me Program teaches character building and self esteem in the children. The learning experience of
    Reading, Math, Language Arts etc. is the prime concern. I can attest that learning is going on in the
    classrooms. I spend close to 30 hours aweek in a Kindergarten classroom. I have Mr. Covey’s book and
    nowhere in that book is the word religion or communism written. My challenge, to Mrs. Sanford, is to
    step into a classroom,any classrom, and observe the learning that is going on. Perhaps, Mrs. Sanford
    needs to look into school choice. Old Kings Elementary School Rocks!!!!! The Leader In Me Rocks!!!!
    Our kids Rock!!!. I salute our administration, our teachers, staff and volunteers. But above all, I salute ou
    Kids. Go OKES OWLS!!!!!!

  11. Christina momof3 says:

    Seriously….this is purely just trying to teach good habits. If you do not like the program, home school your child as there is NOTHING negative about this program and you are simply looking for something to complain about. Comparing this program to indoctrination of the Iron Curtain is absolutely ridiculous. My kids get nothing but positive influence from this program….I think that the world needs a little more of this as well as a little less of people complaining about anything and everything.

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