Beware the “for the kids” canard

One of my seminal moments in education reform was a Denver BOE meeting many years ago. There was a resolution before the board, and a BOE member spoke passionately and articulately in its favor, ending their statement by saying “we have to do this for our kids“.

Another board member spoke with equal passion and grace in opposing the measure, also concluding their remarks by saying that “we have to think about what is best for our kids.” Needless to say, under this dialogue, the kids always win. Except they also always lose.

This came to my mind Friday when I witnessed someone who is passionate about education complain that his opponents unjustly painted him as being “against kids.” This is clearly unfair, and no one should need the substance of the argument to disagree with that accusation. However, in concluding remarks just moments later, the same person maintained with no hint of irony that his opponents were uniformly “against teachers.”

Hopefully the dialogue here and elsewhere is about different reform strategies and philosophies. No one gets exclusive rights to kids or teachers, any more than they can claim the individual favor of Your Personal Deity. Much of this discussion will focus on kids, who unfortunately don’t participate; lots more will focus on teachers – and individual current, former, or aspiring teachers will certainly have opinions, and generally ones that are highly (and often uniquely) informed.

And hopefully many of them will participate, and unsurprisingly at times they will disagree. No one in this or any other policy debate speaks for an entire class, race, profession, age group, political party, or any other category.

So beware the arguments that end with an admission to do something “for the kids.” But equally beware arguments (and speakers) who purport to be “for the teachers.” It should be a discussion – and yes a debate – about ideas.

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