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Philosophical Meanderings

We Say It Is All About the Children

Cross posted from my blog

Time and time again I hear the statement, “I do it for the children…” or “It’s all about the children.”  Politicians, the general public, and yes many educator if not all at some point utter something similar.  I hear it from teachers before I hear any educational philosophy or methodology, and I have yet to meet a teacher that does not think it is all about the children.  Thank goodness.  So then what happens from that statement to our classrooms?  Where does the disconnect start because how can you say it is all about the children and then assign punishment or rewards?  How can you say it is all about children kids and assign hours of homework even at an elementary level?  How can it be all about the children when there are no re-takes, no extra chances, no resources allowed on tests?

So if it is true that it is all about the children, then perhaps we need to rethink what that means.  The way a lot of educational systems are set up is apparently all about taking time away from those same children and making sure the teacher is in focus and in control.  Do we not think that “All about the children” could mean those kids had a say, were more in control, and were even listened to?  Because if inane classroom management, pointless homework, letter grades with no explanation, and test upon test is what is meant by being all about children, then no, I am not all about the children.

About Pernille Ripp

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA, who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade. Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day. First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now. Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press. Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.


10 thoughts on “We Say It Is All About the Children

  1. Perhaps we also need to ask the children what they need. Not that their voice is the only voice. I get it. We need to be adults and all that. But really, there is profound wisdom that children can offer about their own fate and we can’t hear their voices among the clamoring debate in the media-fueled “reform” echo chamber.

    Posted by johntspencer | July 8, 2011, 5:50 pm
    • Exactly John, that question and making sure my students are then listened to has been my driving force all year. I think we are so quick to know best and then just do education upon these children rather than having them be a part of it. This is why I love student blogging so much and not having punishment/reward system because the kids then share what they think of the classroom, subjects, school etc.

      Posted by Pernille Ripp | July 9, 2011, 6:26 am
  2. Your post has me thinking about how to move from work that is “about the children” to work that “involves the children,” Pernille. I think I’m on John’s wavelength here.

    What do you think is most useful from us in helping kids voice – and act upon – their wants and needs in learning?


    Posted by Chad Sansing | July 8, 2011, 10:07 pm
    • Great question Chad, we have to give students voice. i presented on this in the New Teacher Reform Symposium because it means so much to me. My students are heavily invested in our classroom through blogging and general ownership and I strive for that every day. You would be amazed at the level of thought that students will put into answering whether they like or dislike a curriculum. But you have to give them the opportunity to speak about it for their voices to be heard. The number 1 thing my students tell me they love about my room: having a voice! And not just speaking up but someone listening to them. It hurts when students tell you a lesson is boring but you know what, they are right, and then it is up to me to fix it. Just because we may not like what students say does not mean we should remover their voice. I feel a blog post coming on, thanks for making me think even deeper.

      Posted by Pernille Ripp | July 9, 2011, 6:30 am
  3. I’m offering a more frank assessment here. In our culture we actually don’t respect children very much, and don’t value childhood highly. That is why we have classrooms and school systems that seem aggressively designed to counter the needs and developmental impulses of children–culturally, we don’t really take the evidence of this dysfunctional very seriously.

    When I hear most people say “it’s all about the children,” this usually is a not-very-well thought out rationale for serving the needs of adults; some would say conventional, old-school school is really about serving the needs of adults and has very little to do with the needs of children.

    Pernille, if you could redesign your entire school to really be about the needs of your students, as you perceive them, what would it look like? How might is change?

    Posted by Kirsten Olson | July 9, 2011, 10:11 am
    • Well Kirsten, I have been pondering your question for about a day now and I cannot tell you that I am anywhere near finishing what my dream school would look like. I did however, come up with a basic idea of wishes and it ended up being a blog post in its own right. Here is the link:

      I think the big thing is that my school would change, it would not be centered in one vision, or in one person’s mind, but rather a community effort where everyone’s ideas were taken into account.

      Thank you so much for making me think. We can say it is not all about the kids but then how are we going to change that. I am going to change that wherever I can.

      Posted by Pernille Ripp | July 10, 2011, 8:24 am
  4. I guess it really isn’t all about the children. It’s all about lipservice to the children. I agree with Kirsten that this is anot so subtle form of denial. Schooling is not so much about the children as it is daycare for children or job security for those engaged in administering to the children or for politicians to have as both whipping boy/girl and cover for fraud/waste/abuse. For many years I have held back in my criticism of parents, but I can’t hold back anymore. Most parents are clueless about the most important institutional structure in their children’s lives–schools. Why? Because it might require them to give up something, anything.

    Harsh, yes? But consider what James Kunstler says in the larger context of American society in a recent post (

    “Surely many in this nation see an approach to an abyss. I wish we could get our heads together before it gets here or we get there. There is so much to do besides what we are busy doing now, keeping a set of stupid rackets spinning just because they are our rackets and we’re used to them. Among other things, in case you haven’t noticed, money is going extinct. The distant roar you hear today is neither Nascar nor Niagara. It’s the sound of institutions crashing. I guess, like Scarlett O’Hara, we’ll think about it tomorrow.”

    I think many here are getting heads together to be ready when the canoe goes over the falls. As a whitewater guy from way back, there is nothing quite like the sound of water ahead. It gets the blood going, but it can be dangerous when you misjudge and shoot it when you should portage around. The problem is that there ain’t no goin’ ’round. The rackets are spinning, but soon, so very soon, they will come crashing down. Don’t get crushed.

    Posted by tellio | July 9, 2011, 10:41 am
    • Yes, we need to realize what is happening around us and then we need to have a plan. Teachers have become the easy fallguy and either we let them do that to us or we fight. I think it is time we band together, such as here in the Coop and fight.

      Posted by Pernille Ripp | July 10, 2011, 8:26 am
  5. Good points, Pernille. I think when people say,”it’s all about the kids” or “we need to do what’s right for kids” it has the effect, wittingly or not, of stopping the conversation or at least slowing it down considerably. Schools are not generally about the kids but often about the adults that inhabit that space. Why it can’t be about the collective US, teachers, families and students, is beyond me. What needs to happen more often in schools is conversations, particularly those where adults are doing more listening and less talking.

    Posted by Elisa Waingort | July 10, 2011, 9:58 am
    • The idea of a conversation on a level, safe field of play is anathema to most school cultures I have belonged to. Power relations make them problematic at best and downright impossible at worst. Most folks’ idea of conversation in the school is the teachers’ lounge. Well…that dog don’t hunt. Dyads and triads have been the most productive conversational groups for me at school but there it stopped. All actions were local and change was local and within existing constraints. Lame sauce for the most part at the organizational level of improvement; hot sauce at the classroom level. But…I don’t think significant and useful reform is now possible with what we have in most school districts. Your mileage may vary, but around here teaching positions are for keeping the SUV’s topped off and the Precious Moments gimcrack on the shelves.

      Posted by Terry Elliott | July 11, 2011, 12:00 pm

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