(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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