This past Saturday, Linda Darling-Hammond, educator-extraordinnaire, stood before an audience of approximately 3000 people in Riverside Church in New York City and told a story of some doctors who had gathered at a conference in her home state of California to discuss the issue of inmates who had been sentenced to death row. The question that sat before this group of anesthesiologists was this: What is the best way to end a human life?
The doctors talked and wrestled a little with the question but it didn’t take them long to realize that they while they could answer this question and offer the state of California more humane options for death row candidates, they would not. They decided that they were not in the business of killing people and so decided to stand together as professionals and say, “This is something we will not do.”
Dr. Darling-Hammond then asked the large crowd assembled before her, “What is it as educators that we should stand up for? What is it that we should be refusing to do?” With the exception of the occasional voice speaking up to say, “standardized test,” she rendered the crowd speechless. We were all lost in our own sea of thoughts thinking hard about what it is that we do as educators that deserves that kind of unanimity?
Since Saturday I have found myself thinking often about this question and I find myself thinking a lot about instructional decision making and educational programming. So much of what we do depends on conflicting directives. Decisions are made on the basis of anything from funding to staffing to research to the whim of a single individual. Directives are given and in spite of whether or not the directive is in the best interest of the students we teach, we comply. When I think about this and I think about the question that Dr. Darling-Hammond posed, I answer her question like this: I will not do anything that is not in the best interest of a child.
Instructional programming and decision making can’t be about politics and whim. They need to be about children and their best interests. That’s what I’m willing to stand up for. And you?