“We all do what’s best for children.”: The Banality of Educative Statements

Chris McNutt
September 9, 2018
“We all work everyday doing what’s best for children.” “We care about kids.” “We work tirelessly for our students.” Frankly, I’m tired of statements like these. It’s the perfect copout to any argument, a safety blanket for failing at innovative practice.

If the goal is to unite everyone for a common cause, let’s rally together: “We all work everyday doing what’s best for children.” “We care about kids.“We work tirelessly for our students.” Frankly, I’m tired of statements like these. It’s the perfect cop out to any argument, a safety blanket for failing at innovative practice.

There’s a fact at the end of the day: either one adopts practice backed by strong research, the cutting edge of what we know works for students — or they don’t. The status quo is not good enough, and although we all — assuredly — care about students, that isn’t enough to satisfy drastic change. At almost any conference I hear those words at an attempt to get everyone on board and accept mediocrity. It’s easy to keep doing things as they’re done. If one is taking the easy way out (and knows better), are they still doing what’s best for kids? What if they’re wishfully ignorant?

Demanding change is a different beast than desiring it. We can hypothesize and read book after book that present equity in education, gradeless learning, student-centered schedules, interest-based ideology, restorative justice, and critical pedagogy — but to enact it requires many to fall in line. Teacher autonomy is only as strong as the pedagogy that supports it. We expect that everyone does their research and works their hardest, but of course that’s not always the case. There are people that are right and wrong about their classrooms. And yes, only you know your students and that drives practice, but there is often a grandiose assumption of what this means and an unnerving connection to a teacher’s already developed curricula. Not all educators are exemplary — the act of going into this profession and doing whatever (even if you’re putting forth huge amounts of effort) should not make one shielded from criticism under the guise of heroism.

If educators aren’t united and constantly pushing forward — together — then two or more schools will exist: one that has teachers reimagining the classroom and the others doing decent work. Sure, one can do traditional well, but that doesn’t mean they’re doing what’s best for kids. Of course, this comes across as insulting — but I don’t think it should. Toxic positivity envelops education, we aren’t allowed to critique those in our profession without attacking “heroes.” In the same way that those attempting to reform the criminal justice system are judged— those critical of educators are seen to attack core principles of humanity itself.

Essentially, a leader should not waver to banal statements to make everyone feel safe. In the same way a band shouts the current location in their concert, releasing a quote that celebrates all teachers, regardless of what they’re doing, is guaranteed to gain support of the crowd. But there’s many issues — a degree of uncertainty and risk is a central tenant in progressive education and some will achieve while others falter. However, a safety manifest in staying safe perpetuates traditional teaching which is not what’s best for children. Is it wrong to criticize an educator who actually isn’t doing their best?

Perhaps it’s the combination of lack of respect and constant judgment that leads many teachers to celebrate these ideas. Endless pressure from the superhero mentality (which I’ve previous written about) has poisoned many to the point of giving up and, understandably, generic positivity helps foster support. Culturally, any teacher without consistent positive reinforcement would almost have to be doing incredibly poorly.

None of this is meant to assault well-to-do educators or imply that all choices I’ve made are correct, but to simply stop the dialogue of “everyone is doing their best for children.” I don’t think we should buy that — if everyone is doing their best, then what’s the point of any change? Wouldn’t we constantly be pushing toward separate outcomes? Doesn’t one — or even a mix — of sides have to be correct? We must stop coming to terms with easy, comfortable argument conclusions and keep up a constant stream of doing better.

Chris McNutt
Chris McNutt is the co-founder and executive director of Human Restoration Project, a nonprofit organization focused on student engagement, well-being, and motivation. His work centers on realizing systems-based change, examining how progressive pedagogical shifts (e.g. PBL, ungrading) reimagine school to best suit the needs of students and teachers alike. He was a public high school digital media & design educator who focused on experiential learning, portfolio-driven assessment, and community involvement.
The YouTube symbol. (A play button.)

watch now