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EDUCATION/ Why It’s Not All About the Kids

ELISE MATICH comments on the maxim, “it’s all about the kids” and how it fails to capture the experience of education, an opportunity for both kids and their teachers and their community. 

(Fotolia) (Fotolia)

“It’s all about the kids.” During my time as a public school teacher, I heard this maxim often. It was the mantra of principals and administrators in their efforts to hearten discouraged faculty members, resolve conflicts, and defend unpopular school policies. Whether applied out of genuine concern for the students, or with sanctimonious authority, the phrase was never met with rebuttal. The audience invariably greeted it with solemn nods and affirmative utterances. Indeed, what retort could one make without appearing self-interested? At the time, I experienced a vague sense of unease at each invocation of the phrase. I have since come to recognize this axiom, and the sentiments that underlie it, to be perilously misleading. A brief look into a recent school tragedy will help to expose the fallacy of believing education to be “all about the kids”.

In February, a Los Angeles school made headlines when its entire staff was replaced after investigators uncovered the third in a string sexual misconduct cases to have occurred at the school since 2009. Parents responded with outrage, both to the alleged abuse and to the superintendent’s drastic remedy. Each party in the incident had something to say on the subject of best serving the students’ needs for safety and quality instruction. Every parent, teacher, and administrator interviewed justified his position based upon concern for the students’ wellbeing. The situation illustrates the deceptive nature of the “all about the kids” mentality on two levels.

Firstly, no one actually practices it. No adult in this painful circumstance acted solely on behalf of the children. The perpetrators, clearly, acted out of deeply perverse selfishness. The other staff members, however sincere in their desires to protect their students, also wished to protect their jobs. The superintendent, well-intentioned as he may have been, made an extreme decision that served as much to demonstrate decisive leadership as to foster an ideal learning environment for the students. The parents, who were more likely than any to have their children’s best interests at heart, also acted out of concern for the impact the situation would have on their families and themselves.