Self-righteousness is not a strategy

More than ten years ago I wrote a newspaper column criticizing writers who attribute motives to others. I am going to violate my own critique here.

When educators say, “We should do what is best for the child,” these words contribute nothing to the decision making process, which leaves the significance of the utterance in the speaker’s motive. Evidently, the speaker wants others to re-set their consciences to what is best for the student, putting aside whatever selfish motives they probably have.

But the reason educators struggle to do what is best for the student is not that they don’t want “what is best for the student.” It is that they don’t know what is best. There is never a sign saying:

→ This path takes you → to what is best for the student →

In fact, the opposite is true. “Best for the student” raises numerous issues:

  • “Best” in the long-term or short-term?
  • What if “best” for one student sets an unacceptable precedent?
  • What if “best” for one student disadvantages others?

The questions go on and on.

Saying you want what is best for the student might make you feel good, but it contributes nothing to the decision making process. Self-righteousness is not a strategy. I love irony.


#1 Ryan Cooper on 02.13.15 at 2:54 pm

I agree that the idea of “best” is definitively subjective. I also agree that on a psychological level the idea of doing what is best for students is a way of deluding ourselves into believing that what WE do is best. The question remains, how do we make the determination? If it is on an individual basis (and I believe it is) when does a teacher have time to teach 100 kids? “Best” is enigmatic and will only be consummated when a team of professionals accommodates every student. Thoughts?

#2 casey on 02.15.15 at 12:03 am

Thanks for seeing the point of this blog. You asked, “how do we make the determination?” Yes — every good decision about what is best for a student is an individual decision based on a specific situation. Remember — no matter how hard social science researchers have tried to discover a principle or a behavior that should be applied in all situations, they have found none (because there are none). We are left with the fact that, in all situations, what is best for the student(s), depends on the situation. The only people who don’t like this fact are those who believe that educating young people is an applied social science. It is not. It is an art.

#3 Roy on 03.10.15 at 9:38 pm

As a rookie administrator I am seeing the point of this blog played out in front of my eyes every day. I have a list of directives, but at times those directives or procedures in place do not really have an individual’s “best interests” in mind, but it is probable that, that is not the intention of the procedures in the first place. I agree that we always have to think in terms of what is in the best interest of each child individually. Sometimes in practice, that is hard to justify to others. For example, what if there is an extremely disturbed young student in a classroom. When that student acts out, learning stops for everyone. The classroom teacher feels as though they must rid the class of this “distraction” and I completely sympathize with that. In a sense this would be what is “best” for the class. On the other hand, what is best for the kid creating the distractions? Is it in his best interest to be suspended and sent home to a poor living situation or to be put in an ISS room every week? Dr. Hurley is right when saying to Ryan that “It is an art.” We have to get really creative and think outside of the box when attempting to do what is best. Even though it may be difficult to justify to others, that ultimately should not matter. It is a matter of following what your head, heart, and gut say about what is in the best interest of those involved.

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