They Don’t Hate Our Kids

Recently, I was at a edu-labor event, listening to some folks who I genuinely respect talk about the battle right now in public education. At the event, one of the speakers was talking about the corporate ed-reform ┬ámovement and said, “They don’t care about our kids.”

I get it. It is easy to think that the folks who are in the process of demonizing public education and the educators who have worked hard for the kids in those schools don’t care about kids. So much of the rhetoric they espouse is so counter to the way educators think.

But the thing is – whether it is Michelle Rhee or Rahm Emmanuel or <Insert Corporate Ed-Reformer Here>, they don’t hate the kids. There is, fundamentally, a battle between competing visions of the world. And that’s really important for those of us who are on the other side of the equation to understand.

Those folks who believe it is o.k. to pay education CEOs $500,000 / year or who believe that it is o.k. to create for-profit companies that can be contracted to run schools believe in the power of the market to create solutions that are better than public schools. It is not that they don’t care about kids, it is that they believe the market can better provide for kids and create wealth for investors. And, perhaps frighteningly to me, for most of those folks, this is not a cynical thought, but a deeply held belief.

I’ve detailed why I think the idea of for-profit schooling is fundamentally flawed, so where I stand on this argument is clear, but I also don’t think it helps to demonize or strawman the other side of the argument. We have to understand, what is going on in educational policy today isn’t about who loves the kids more. It is actually far, far more scary an argument than that.

What we are engaged in is no less than a debate over the intersection of the two dominant schools of thought in American society – are our children best served when the dominant ethos of schooling is based on the communitarian ideals of a democratic government or on the competitive ethos of a market system?

This is a real debate. This is the debate we need to have.

And no one wins when either side accuses the other of not loving the kids.

13 thoughts on “They Don’t Hate Our Kids

  1. I agree… and I think it is sick and sad when they make that argument too. The point for me in writing this is trying to make those not on that side understand how we win. I don’t think we will ever out-shout them. We have to make the better argument.

  2. Well said. I’m of the opinion that most political issues fall into this same trap, when people are so strong in their convictions it can be easy to view the other side as immoral. If there’s a solution to this inherent flaw of democracy, I’m not sure what it is. I may share this with some of my students as part of our learning about political parties. Thanks for writing.

  3. Chris, in essence I completely agree with your stated premise here: how the “humanizing” argument must include all in the debate about meaningful education of our children. I too agree that “they don’t hate our kids” when they place market value over human values in education, and all aspects of our lives. There are other reasons that that “corporate” value mindset has worked well for them though and not for the rest of society, and that they are thus willing to pursue that benefit even at the risk of ignoring the education most truly beneficial to the human child.

    As an educator of 30+ years, I argue that the most critical current issues in our world and deeply in the currently broken American educational system revolve around the lack of developed social and emotional intelligence. And anyone even partially sensitive to those issues instead of their own entitled “worldview”, would notice the effect on the children and often the teachers themselves, of all the test-taking, labeling, control and stratification this worldview subsequently implements in the American classroom. It actually isn’t a very pretty picture nor very “caring” of those children at all. It results often too in, along with a lot of “bully pulpit ideological/political” arguments, a lot of “bullying” accepted society-wide.

    So while I believe they do not “hate our children”, I don’t believe “caring” for those children in any sensitive, emotional sense is very high on their priorities, compared to other goals. And I do think that needs to be deeply understood and explicitly deconstructed, when arguing against those policies and their actual results for all of those children and a subsequently more uncaring society for all.

    • June – I agree. But I’d rather us make that argument than just say, “They hate the kids.” We need better arguments. We need more nuance. And we need to make sure we don’t paint with an overly broad brush, too.

  4. Well said, as usual, Chris. The “They don’t care about our kids.” threat is just that, a threat designed to enhance FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt.) It is a tool in the same bag as “They’re gonna take our jobs.” and the trope, “They’re indoctrinating our kids.” These are tools that are not designed to motivate thought, but to enflame emotion. Use them often enough and people repeat them back, perhaps because they’ve heard it enough times to believe it, or because it is easier than actually working the problem. What these tools build is clutter instead of clarity; stumbling blocks instead of bridges.

    Is it possible that, in an education can happen anywhere, knowledge is a few keystrokes away world, where new types of jobs are being created (not just by industry, but by individuals,) and too much information can impact our daily lives as often as too little, that the answer lies somewhere between the two arguments? Or perhaps somewhere beyond them?

  5. I don’t know if the reformers “hate” the children or not, but they certainly don’t seem to be concerned with what an individual child needs. Putting one’s own needs above those of the children or what is good for children is not right. What is going on in Houston schools is treating children as “them,” not as individual people. Bullying teachers might not be “hating” children, but it certainly doesn’t look like concern or love to me. A person might believe that hitting children is good for them, but it seems like abuse to me.

    Teachers formed unions to defend themselves against mistreatment by administrators, not to set up a system that put teacher’s needs above those of the children. Equating unions with privatization doesn’t compute for me.

    • Michael – me neither… but I want those of us on the side of smart educational innovation to make better arguments. So for example, one of the great flaws of the edu-corporate reform movement is this: You cannot bully teachers into caring for children, so we need to find ways to make schools more humane places for everyone – teachers and students alike.

  6. I think there is a lot of frustration among many in industry with the quality of students graduating from high school. The other day I asked for some gift certificates. I has for 4x$20 and 2x$10 and the young man behind the counter asked for $120 to pay for them. It took a manager to get it squared away. And there are thousands of stories out there. Chris Dawson posted some from his own family last week at http://www.zdnet.com/the-us-education-system-didnt-get-any-thanks-at-our-table-this-year-7000007821/

    People like Bill Gates are not trying to destroy public schools even though is seems like that is their goal. They know they need a better educated work force and that the public schools are not giving them (or their students ) need. They think they are helping. They think they are doing the right thing. Right or wrong I believe their motives are good.

  7. Hugely thoughtful post. As a person from a red family that grew up in a blue part of America, I understand the philosophies behind both major political parties.

    It is hard for me to read posts assuming that the assumptions of the other party are evil or hateful. I prefer to assume best intent.

    …and it was sure nice to be overseas during the elections so that I missed all the negative ads (Yes, I voted :)

  8. I never heard anyone say “They hate the kids.” I don’t know anyone who has. It is more accurate to say “They don’t care about the kids” or “The kids are a commodity to be used when they see fit.” I’ll admit I’m wrong the first year my school doesn’t have an influx of students from charters right before the PSSA, when they can keep all the money that came with the student, and make themselves unaccountable for their testing performance.

  9. They don’t love my kids. Maybe a bit too subtle for all the noise around here, but they don’t.
    If they did, they would not believe what they believe.

  10. I would have to agree with Bill and a few other comments that are along the same lines. Although I do not think all corporate ed reformers can be lumped into one group, I think many have “making a profit” or capturing market shares as their priority – and in many cases, as their sole priority. Especially in PA, I believe the goal is to allow for profit charters to take over education and if they are poor quality – well that is the “customers” (aka parents) problem. That may not be ‘hating our kids,’ but it sure seems as though it is complete indifference. I truly do not believe that these corporate reformers believe they can provide better for kids, I think they simply believe they can develop a profitable business model; and I believe the politicians who support them only care about reducing the financial “burden” of having to educate our future citizens. But, I think this is the way our country is going in many areas – and it is very troubling, indeed.