Hess blogs: It's not 'for the kids'

Now blogging on Education Week as Rick Hess Straight Up, the ed researcher calls for banishing the phrase, “It’s for the kids” (IFTK).

(Harvard’s Dick) Elmore bracingly terms “We’re in it for the kids” a “monument to self-deception.” He argues, “Public schools, and the institutions that surround them, surely rank among the most self-interested institutions in American society”–with school boards “training beds” for would-be politicians, superintendents sketching grandiose visions and then fleeing for cushier positions, and unions sacrificing student interests in the name of teacher job security.

IFTK can turn policy disagreements “into name-calling and questions of motive,” Hess writes. It’s hard to work out solutions when one side thinks it’s “for the kids” and the other side is not.

Also, he writes, motive doesn’t matter. “If someone is in it for the kids, for the adoring news coverage, or for a buck, all I really care about is whether they deliver.”

In his introductory post, Hess wins my heart by quoting P.G. Wodehouse’s characterization of Jeeves: “If not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.” Hess promises healthy cynicism.

. . . I find K-12 schooling to be one of the few places in life where we suffer a shortage of cynics and skeptics. The cost is a dearth of observers willing to deliver some bitter medicine to a sector gorged on saccharine sentiment. For better or worse, I’ve always found myself well-suited to be the guy with the castor oil.

I know the conventional wisdom is we can deliver great schools if we just care more, come together, and focus on “the children.” It undoubtedly says something about what a terrible person I am, but my instinct has always been–as soon as folks start telling me how much they love children–to pat my rear pocket to make sure my wallet is still there.

I know it’s not a popular view, but I’ve long thought our greatest problem is not a failure to care enough; it’s the reverse. It’s our inclination to allow good intentions (or proclamations of good intentions–I’m looking at you, NEA) to excuse lazy thinking, willful naiveté, and a refusal to make tough choices. We allow the mantra of “best practices,” vapid assertions of our love for kids, and the search for consensus to stand in for honest debate or critical analysis.

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  1. tim-10-ber says:

    I read his entry this morning! I absolutely love it!! As a parent I have echoed so much of what he says. May he keep hitting hard, below the belt, shouting the truth and finally, finally driving change in the failed experiment called governments institutions…er schools

  2. Independent George says:

    That’s about as artful a paraphrasing of the “constrained vision” as there ever has been.

  3. Right on. “It’s for the kids” is a claim that should always be met with suspicion, though we (educators) should always be asking ourselves if what we are doing is benefiting our students, directly or indirectly–and, hopefully, mostly directly.

    Some of us (teachers) do things above and beyond what our job requires, which we all ought to do. But the truth is, if you love the kids, it’s natural, you do more than what you have to. And if you don’t love the kids, I don’t see how you can stand teaching.

  4. I don’t know whether Hess is being disingenuous or he’s just dense but IFTK is a fine tactic to preclude thoughtful discussion since it preempts, if cynically, the moral high ground.

    If you’re in an advantageous position what purpose is served by thoughtful discussion? Will thoughtful discussion lead to greater advantage? Not likely so let’s not have any of that thoughtful discussion stuff.

  5. I agree with Hess about people who do things “for the children.” And I’m looking at people like Joel Klein and Micheal Bloomberg, who proclaim “Children First,” and treat 1.1 million kids like something they wiped off the bottom of their shoes.

  6. IFTK is almost as disingenuous as some groups clamoring for the education of the “whole child” (e.g. NEA).

  7. This reminds me of what I have experienced coaching a recreational first-grade soccer team. I often try to get the referees to help me convince the opposing coaches that they should obey the various rules such as: coaches should stay off the field; coaches should not go behind the goal and puppet-string the 6- or -7-year old playing goal keeper. And so on. What I get in response from coaches is, hey, this is supposed to be about kids having fun. Right. But does that reason support the position that coaches should obey the rules (and let the kids play), or the position that the coaches should try to eek out every little advantage over the other team of 6-year-olds by stage-managing their every move?

  8. They were Suspended for Protecting the Kids. What hooey. I especially love this line, “Since the parents had expressed their opinions to us, we thought this was all that was needed” so they refused to administer the test.


    They are in the MOST paperwork-intensive department. You develop IEPs following reams of rules and regulations, assessing impacts according to set protocols, and on and on and on. Every time the kid throws up on you, it’s a paperwork drill. What on earth made you think you could just blow off the state testing with just a shrug and an undocumented phone call?


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