The Boom Boom Method

At his Classical School for Brilliant Children, Alvin "Boom Boom" Jackson promises to enhance self-esteem and academic performance. Erik Vidor certainly got a lesson he'll never forget.

But at least some of his much-repeated story doesn't check out. According to Penn State's registrar, though Jackson was enrolled there from 1972 to 1977, he never graduated. Despite his constant references to his football days, he didn't letter in the sport and his photo does not appear in Penn State's football guides. Neither Penn State's sports department nor its archivist can confirm that he ever played the sport. Groves, Jackson's old track coach, says that Boom Boom trained with the football team but rarely played because he was almost constantly injured.

At Xavier, Jackson didn't do graduate work in journalism, as he claims, but a semester of undergraduate work. There, too, the registrar says he failed to receive a degree.

Jackson says that he began M.B.A. studies at Rice, but didn't complete the degree. According to the director of admissions at Rice's Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Administration, Jackson never even enrolled.

Apparently, Boom Boom has managed to transcend such troublesome facts through the power of positive thinking. As he himself wrote in The Elite Child, "The wonderful thing about the brain is that it does not know the difference between imagination and reality."

In late February, Boom Boom's high-powered attorney, Mike DeGeurin, fretted that his client's nickname wouldn't sit well with the grand jury that would consider the spanking case. Otherwise, DeGeurin would say little about the case. But Boom Boom himself was happy to show off his kids' achievements.

The Classical School occupies about half of a grim little office building on Richmond, between Greenway Plaza and the railroad tracks. After a visitor is allowed inside the school's locked doors, the walls of the entryway testify to Boom Boom's greatness. A plaque displays a laudatory clipping from the Houston Chronicle, complete with a picture of the young Jackson in an athletic pose. And a cluster of poster-size photos bespeaks Boom Boom's association with a motley assortment of celebrities: He grips 'n' grins with Vanna White, Montel Williams, Patrick Swayze, Dave Thomas of Wendy's and even Hulk Hogan, the aging blond star of the World Wrestling Federation.

Around 3:30 p.m., parents began trickling in to pick up their kids. All praised Jackson to the skies; several said that he'd saved their children. Almost all of the Classical School's 50 or so pupils are black, and most, Jackson says, live with a single parent. Money is often tight for these families: Though tuition is only $17 a day (less than $400 a month), Boom Boom laments that he sometimes loses students for financial reasons.

Kids loitered in the school entryway, waiting for their rides. Boom Boom snagged a small group, snapped his fingers, pointed to a 14-year-old and said, "Presidents!" The boy rattled off, "WashingtonAdamsJefferson Madison...," progressing all the way to Clinton in less than a minute.

"The presidents," as the ritual is known, is a student's initiation to the Classical School. Jackson says he first greeted this boy as he did most new students: by presenting him with a list of the country's commanders-in-chief, and informing him that when he'd memorized all 42, he could go to the restroom.

"When did you get it done?" Boom Boom asked.
"Not till ten at night," said the boy.
"When you did it, what did you think?"
"That I could do anything."

That, said Jackson, is the point: to raise the child's self-esteem, and his estimation of his capabilities. The ploy has never failed, even with the toughest kids. He recalled one particularly stubborn girl who started the routine at 2:30 p.m. and didn't finish until 4:30 the next morning. "The bathroom," he said impishly, "was calling real hard about midnight."

Jackson admits that such methods can sound harsh, but he maintains that they work. He believes in absolutes and quick conversions, and shamelessly preaches simple solutions to complex problems. For instance, the school requires all kids to make 100 on every test. If a child misses a question, he has to re-study the subject and take the test again until he's mastered every shred of knowledge it covers -- no matter how long it takes him, or how many attempts he has to make. Thus, all of Boom Boom's kids are A-plus students.

The kids in the entryway carried textbooks by E.D. Hirsch, What Your Fourth Grader Needs to Know and its equivalent for other grade levels. Jackson commanded a kid to hand him a book. He opened it at random and fired off questions, snapping his fingers and pointing to the student he wanted to answer.

"Who was Eleanor of Aquitaine?"
"She married Henry II."
"What's eight times eight?"
"Which president was Jefferson?"
"The third."

And so on: rapid-fire question followed by rapid-fire answer. Like Boom Boom himself, the kids displayed impressive self-assurance and speed.

Not that they always got the right answers. Jackson corrected the boy who asserted that nuclear fission was responsible for the dinosaurs' extinction. But unchallenged, another boy maintained that manifest destiny had something to do with China, and that Guinevere "was a very rich queen, the daughter of the king of Europe, I forget what year." Likewise, a spelling test Jackson showed off was marked as perfect, but shouldn't have been: "Exchager" and "curiosness" were clearly missing letters.

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