Free Weingarten Now
Yesterday I railed that the "it's for the kids" (IFTK) mantra turns substantive disagreements into name-calling. If I'm "for the kids" and you disagree with me on tracking, testing, or whatever, it follows that you're "against the kids." (As an aside, Knowledge Alliance honcho Jim Kohlmoos wryly asked whether it wasn't IFTK that led me into teaching. Straight up: nope. Cold-hearted guy that I am, I just enjoyed the instruction, the kids, and the content. But, it was easy enough to play along and mouth IFTK banalities just like the next guy. And that's the problem.)
The IFTK lingo becomes a reflex that stifles honest debate and cogent thinking. This brings us to AFT President Randi Weingarten's recent interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" show. Pressed by tough questions, the razor-sharp Weingarten illustrated how IFTK helps turn important discussions into vapid and disconcertingly stupid ones.
Asked, "Why are the teachers union held in such disregard?" Weingarten responds (in a bit of a non sequitur), "I think what's happened is that, since the economy has changed so much, everybody really wants to make sure we help all of our kids."
Told, "But the perception is that you all over the years have put job security in front of the welfare of the kids," Weingarten says, "Teachers want to help kids succeed ... But we need to help, all of us, take more responsibility to make sure all of our kids get a decent education."
Asked, "What's the central complaint of the teachers union about charter schools?" Weingarten counters, "Look, the issue becomes: how do you help all kids?" A minute later, she adds, "The issue becomes: how do we help all kids succeed? The issue in terms of the charter schools were, we want to make sure that they're taking the same kinds of kids that all other public schools have."
Weingarten's parting comments? "We want to do a great job with kids. That's what it's about." Just to be clear, she elaborates, "But it is about how we help the kids. And teachers want to help the kids." Randi Weingarten is smart, savvy, and engaging. I've got to imagine it was as painful for her to mouth that pabulum as it was to listen to it.
This isn't just about Weingarten, by any means. Pushed to consider revisions to No Child Left Behind that would relax NCLB proficiency targets, for instance, some high-ranking officials in the Bush Administration's Department of Education were prone to respond, "So, whose child are you prepared to leave behind?"
Such variants of the IFTK genus are intended to stifle questions by flaunting moral superiority. Playing the IFTK card ignores the likelihood that no one is eager to leave anybody's kids behind and the reality that policies entail imperfect choices. By squelching honest dissent, IFTK excuses incoherent policy and practice in the name of moral urgency.
So, here's a wild idea. Can't we just presume that everybody cares (or admit that we can't tell the posers from the real deal) and just argue policies and practices instead?