You don’t have to spend a great deal of time in a school to hear the phrase, “best for kids” mentioned in a meeting or inservice. This phrase permeates into much of what we do in schools and is often the justification behind a great many decisions. You don’t have to look far into mission statements, visions or school improvement goals to see some iteration of that phrase. Yet, do our actions support the use of this statement? Even when we want to can we ever truly do what is best for all kids?
First, are we doing the best for all kids when we implement a zero tolerance policy in schools? These policies leave many students out in the cold due to many variables. My own son was victim of this when he was disciplined by an administrator when in kindergarten he used the word “gun” to explain a contraption for catching a Leprechaun. Seriously. Students who are innocent are being punished for the past crimes of the guilty. Suspensions are being handed out to students bringing knives, matches, etc in to class for legitimate projects all because of zero tolerance. Is this the best we can do for all kids? Can we get rid of zero tolerance and instead engage with situations on a case by case basis and recognize the nuance and context of each individual situation?
Another idea which is not a popular one to discuss is that of inclusion. On the surface, inclusion makes sense, and as an educator I support the idea of providing all students with the best educational experience as possible given their individual strengths or struggles. However, are we doing what is best for all kids when the needs of one student infringes upon the learning of the other students in the class? For example, when lessons can not be taught or students can not focus due to the actions or support required of one student, are we doing what is best for all kids? Or, when the student being included is essentially being left out of the learning but is in the room purely for the sake of inclusion, is that best for that child? Where do we draw the line?
Is the entire notion of a classroom and general school based curricula best for all kids? Is it entirely possible some kids will not maximize their learning potential in a traditional classroom setting? Many students struggle in classrooms, not because of any academic or cognitive ability, but due to the confines of the classroom itself. Are we being arrogant as educators when we put forth a comprehensive curricula for all kids knowing full well vast amounts of it will have no value to the students when they leave our schools? Can we create flexible learning environments where students can come and go as they need? Additionally, can we create curriculum based on potential future need as well as current student interest? Can the students have a role in deciding what environment as well as what content works best for their learning needs?
Sometimes we as educators get in our own way when it comes to what is truly best for kids. For example, how many times have we stepped back and neglected to support a child or provide the best possible resources because of a parental conflict? When parents disagree with what we as educators know what is best for kids, how can we still push forward and do what is best for the kid? When we know a school rule or outdated district policy is not what is in the best interest for each kid, how do we engage in dialogue with powers that be in order to help support our students? Sometimes doing what’s best for kids is simply being the advocate they need and too often don’t have.
Best for kids is an easy phrase to roll off the tongue. We as educators often use it to justify our work but often we fall desperately short of putting action behind those words. Sadly, best for kids is often a cop out to justify what is easiest for adults. Rather than a one size fits all attitude, can we really do what is best for kids? Instead can we focus less on what is convenient for the system or easy for the adults and instead shift to what is truly best for the individual student?