Car Keys, Wallets, Cell Phones, and Kids?

forgotten chidlrenBy Bill Henk — Go on, take a guess.  What do all of the nouns in the title have in common?

Got it?  Give up?   Either way, let me tell you.  They all too often get lost.

That’s right.  it seems like we adults are forever misplacing our car keys or our glasses,  hitting the panic button over losing our wallets, ID’s, and credit cards, or forgetting where we left our increasingly essential electronic devices.

And much too frequently in our conversations about education, the kids themselves, our precious students,  become forgotten.  Whether we realize it or not, even the most caring and competent among us somehow manage to let the very “object” of our schooling fall through the cracks with some regularity.  From educational professionals to government and  community leaders to average citizens, we’re all guilty of it.

How Did I Come Up With That One?

lost and foundThis sobering connection dawned on me the other day when my daughter and I found a pair of glasses in the parking lot of her school.  As we took the spectacles back into the building so that they might eventually be reunited with their rightful owner, I had an epiphany, namely that when it comes to schools, it wasn’t just eyeglasses or mittens or library books or sweaters or lunches or homework that get lost.

The kids do, too — at least in what we adults discuss, hear, and read relative to education.

In hindsight, I’m sure that this conclusion occurred because of frustrations I’ve had with various school-related issues over the years, ones that have grown more acute and annoying, because they persist endlessly.   Almost certainly my observation is  rooted in the countless presentations and panel discussions I experience in one way or another, the continual public and private conversations in which I engage or just listen, and the substantial amount of reading material about education that I encounter.

With inconspicuous, yet disturbing dependability, the kids too often go nearly unmentioned in these contexts.  It’s almost as if they’re incidental.  Even when we agree to leave our politics at the door,  the ‘hooray for our side’ rhetoric can creep in slowly and undetected.  Then before you know it, the focus is no longer on the school children, but rather on our issues as adults.  In effect, the kids become relegated to something of an afterthought — voiceless and unwilling victims or beneficiaries of the resistance, compromise, or consensus that adults enact.

And despite those instances when students are rightly in our thoughts, their presence deserves to rise to the level of ‘first and foremost,’ a fitting high ground that feels all too rare in my experience.  The bottom line is that school children rely on their elders, in this case us, for ensuring access to a high quality education.  Yet as things stand, whether we like hearing it or not, we are failing them with our educational discourse and deeds.

good-intentions-gone-wrongNow having said all of this about students being distal to our conversations around education, I am NOT questioning the inherent motivation of the overwhelming majority of  stakeholders to ultimately help kids.  There is absolutely no shortage of good intentions in these interactions, but somehow the direct connection to student welfare can go missing amidst promoting our individualistic or group dogma and achieving their attendant ends.

So, What Questions Should We Be Asking Ourselves?

Let’s try these for starters:

  • When it comes to public, charter and choice schools, can we please dispense with the notion of ‘market share,’ and channel our energies squarely on providing the best education imaginable for all children?
  • Can we quit competing for relevance, prominence, and dominance for our respective causes, and rather collaborate across sectors in the interest of our students?
  • Can we share best practices, even when proprietary, for the common good of our kids?
  • Can we let go of our dear-to-the-heart ideologies and concentrate on the big picture of education instead of becoming mired in pettiness and technical objections?
  • Can we lose the jealousies over which of our initiatives matter most or rightly or wrongly get the most attention?
  • Can we focus our discussions about teacher associations on what is best for children?
  • Can we look at school governance with the lens of what would most benefit the pupils we serve?, and…
  • Can we acknowledge, in real and actionable terms, that the welfare of our school children should always trump turf?

move the needleSurely some and perhaps most of those who read this post will regard its message as overly simplistic, naive,  idealistic, and most of all, preachy.  You know what?  I  really don’t care.

Fact is, If we are EVER going to move the achievement needle fpr school children in a truly significant, scaled, systemic way, then we simply MUST pull together.  We have to get over our adherence to, and fascination with, doing things in ‘our way and only our way’, dismissing or minimizing other models as a matter of course, working at cross purposes, and failing to seek and orchestrate best practices jointly.

Until we do, a profound risk exists:  that our beloved children will end up in the Lost and Not Found.

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