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Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

‘It’s for the Kids’ Needs to Go

By Rick Hess — February 17, 2010 1 min read
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It’s time to banish the phrase, “It’s for the kids,” (that’s “IFTK” for those of you keeping score at home) from the edu-discourse, along with its insipid cousins like “it’s all about kids,” “just for the kids,” and “we’re in it for the kids.” Actually, it’s way past time.

Two things recently reminded how much I loathe IFTK. One was a terrific little essay penned by my old mentor, Harvard University’s Dick Elmore. The other, which I’ll take up tomorrow, was AFT President Randi Weingarten’s painful interview recently on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show.

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.

“It’s for the kids” is a phrase that encourages obfuscation and posturing. It allows self-interest to hide behind self-righteousness and vapid sentiment. It also imposes real costs.

First, the rhetoric of “it’s for the kids” makes it easy for serious disagreements about policy or practice to devolve into name-calling and questions of motive. If I’m “in it for the kids” and you oppose my stance on teacher licensure, desegregation, charter schooling, or merit pay, it can be easy for me to assert (and maybe even assume) that you’re not in it for the kids. This fuels ad hominem attacks and makes it more difficult to find workable solutions.

And, honestly, I can’t see why motive much matters. I couldn’t care less whether my doctor loves me; I just care whether she’s any good at her job. 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. If they do, terrific. If they don’t, their noble motives don’t matter.

Enough for now. Check back tomorrow if you want to catch the second half of this little tirade--and a few choice quotes from the Weingarten interview.

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.