What’s Wrong With “Doing What’s Best For Kids”

best for kids.

There’s a YouTube video called, “The Most Unsatisfying Video in the World ever made.” It lives up to its name. It shows people cutting tomatoes wrong, mixing M&Ms and Skittles, scraping utensils against the bottom of an empty bowl, and other cringe-worthy crimes against humanity. Each example in the video makes me reflexively recoil. It’s the visual equivalent of the many phrases in education that induce the same reaction:

“Teach with strict fidelity.”
“College and career ready.”
“Unpacking the standards.”
“Jigsaw this article.”
“Let’s put that idea in the parking lot.”

And also, “Doing What’s Best For Kids.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone — usually an administrator trying to make teachers feel guilty for self-advocating — say that we all just need to Do What’s Best For Kids. The phrase tends to show up during contentious contract negotiations with regularity. That’s no accident, because all too often it means, “Do what we want you to do, and if you question it, then you’re looking out for yourself instead of your students.”

Some teachers are guilty of using it, too. Questioned about why they made a certain choice, they will hide behind, “It’s What’s Best For Kids” without actually explaining why or how they know that to be true. It’s a way for anyone — teacher, parent, principal — to claim an ethically superior position and send the message that their actions, unlike yours, have selfless motives. They’re doing things for the right reasons, while you may be not.

It’s almost always nonsense.

The Problem

The problem with the phrase, “Doing What’s Best For Kids” is that it can be used to justify damn near anything.

“I’m spanking my kids to teach them right from wrong.”

“I allow my son to eat whatever he wants because I want him to learn he’s responsible for his own choices.”

“We’re taking away recess because students need more time on task.”

“I’m not vaccinating my child because I don’t want her to get autism.”

The phrase, then, is meaningless. But that doesn’t mean it’s powerless. It’s an ace up the sleeve, a flag planted firmly in the high ground, and it’s intended to be a conversation stopper. People on the phrase’s receiving end are supposed to look introspectively and question their motives. They’re supposed to think: I should sacrifice more.

How can anyone argue that educators shouldn’t do what’s best for kids?

Because it’s just not that simple. In addition to the fact that Doing What’s Best For Kids can be used to justify anything, there are three other problems.

Kids Are Different

This should go without saying, but since the phrase keeps getting used, someone ought to point out that kids are different. What’s best for one is often not what’s best for another. My daughter, always a reader, needed only to be given time and books to improve as a reader as she went through school. Other students — reluctant to read and lacking basic skills — needed much more direct instruction. Examples abound:

  • Recess is great for some kids, but it’s a source of anxiety and a daily reminder of their lack of friends for others.
  • Inquiry-based science is more authentic and engaging, but some students don’t learn the content they’re supposed to.
  • Group work teaches kids to collaborate, but it also means some students do much more work (and therefore learn more) than others.

Additionally, what’s best for an individual might not be best for large groups. Ryan is continually distracting the class and making it impossible to teach. It’s certainly not best for Ryan to be kicked out of the room, but it might be best for everyone not named Ryan. Spending one-on-one time with a student will benefit her, but what about the rest of the class?

Of course, a solution to this problem is to differentiate because giving kids what they need is what’s Best For Kids. But differentiation leads to a second problem:

Beliefs Are Different

Not everyone agrees about What’s Best For Kids. That’s why we have standards. Teachers, once mostly left alone, taught whatever they thought was important. I learned about dinosaurs every year from age six to age nine (lot of good it did me, too). I know a former teacher who took time out of every day to have her students sing her favorite college’s fight song. Some teachers still waste class time teaching the dead art of cursive writing. All of these teachers tell themselves they’re doing What’s Best For Kids.

Many educators have diametrically oppositional philosophies about what school should even be. Should it be a place of rigorous work with the aim of producing young people who know things and can demonstrate their knowledge on tests? Should it be a place of wonder and discovery, where failure is encouraged? Should it reflect society, or prepare students to shape a new, better world? Which philosophy is Best For Kids, and is that philosophy best for all kids?

Sometimes, determining what’s best is actually choosing between two benefits, in which case the determining factor is almost always something other than What’s Best for Kids. Field trips are great for kids. So is time on task in the classroom. But if you do one, you sacrifice the other. And since field trips cost money, guess which one administrators think is Best for Kids.

The Biggest Problem

But here’s my main objection to being reminded to Do What’s Best for Kids: It suggests sacrifice and that sacrifice, almost always, is supposed to come from one group of people: teachers.

Teachers, the people doing the hard work of actually educating kids, may have the only legitimate claim on the moral high ground, and yet they are often the ones accused of looking out for their own interests above those of their students. Politicians blame teachers’ unions for ignoring What’s Best For Kids, while turning a blind eye to a myriad of other problems. Administrators — people who have intentionally left the one place where they had the most direct influence on students — have the temerity to suggest to teachers — the people whose job is literally all about the kids and who have chosen to remain in that job despite stagnant pay, deteriorating working conditions, greater expectations, less autonomy, scapegoating, and being reminded to Do What’s Best For Kids — that they ought to sacrifice even more. And sanctimonious teachers wield the tired phrase to feel better about themselves, oblivious to the meaninglessness of their words but comfortable in their own moral superiority.

“Doing What’s Best For Kids” is a weapon. It’s the language of teacher-shaming. It’s manipulative. And when you hear it from an administrator, parent, policy-maker, or even a fellow teacher, prepare to be exploited. Because the insinuation behind this phrase is clear: Teaching is not your job; it’s your calling. And that calling requires you to sacrifice. It requires you to agree to whatever thing someone with more power believes is What’s Best for Kids. So sit down, shut up, sign the contract, and get back in your classroom. Go Do What’s Best For Kids. And if you can’t figure out what that is, don’t worry, someone will let you know.

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Related:

A More Effective Way for Teachers to Say No

The Myth of the Ideal Teacher

We Don’t Believe in Your Magic Bullets

 

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How to Feel Like Less of a Failure

failure

I have a few students who are very challenging this year. I’ve been unable to get through to them. The old tricks aren’t working. My principal has been supportive. The parents aren’t blaming me or the school; they’re doing what they can. But for these students, it has not been a successful year. In fact, it’s been disastrous. And it leaves me feeling like a failure at the end of many days, which makes it difficult to get up and beat my head into that wall again the next day. I’ve been looking for ways to feel like less of a failure, and here is what I’ve tried so far with moderate success:

Taking Inventory

When I think of my class, most of my thoughts drift to those students who are struggling behaviorally. This is expected. In order to hold things together, I spend most of my day focusing on them, so it’s not surprising that when I lie in bed at night or prepare for work in the morning I think of them. The thoughts are almost always negative, which is a really bad mindset to have. So one strategy I’ve used is taking inventory. I go through my class list and assess how each student is doing in school. It’s a subjective exercise, but I try to be as honest as I can. Most are having a good year. A few perform inconsistently. Only three are having big problems. Looking at things this way makes me feel like less of a failure.

Forcing Myself to Focus on Positives

The reality is that most of each day is conflict-free and most students have very few problems. Most do their work. Most have positive attitudes. Most treat others respectfully. The incidents that cause me to feel like a failure are rare, but because they’re disruptive, stressful, and often emotional, they are sometimes the only parts of the day I remember.

So instead of thinking about only those students who don’t seem to be improving, I think of some that obviously have. Like the student who started the year not willing to try, but makes an attempt now. Or the kid who couldn’t control his temper, but hasn’t had an explosion in weeks. There are success stories, and acknowledging them is a good way to counter self-doubt.

In my book Exhausted, I discuss one strategy teachers can employ to use less willpower, and therefore conserve energy lost because of the body’s stress response. Walter Mischel’s famous marshmallow experiment is well known in education circles. It’s often cited as evidence of the importance of self-control. But Mischel was interested in how students distracted themselves from temptation. And the lessons he learned from the kids apply here. When we focus our attention on negatives, we feel stress. We can reduce this stress by distracting ourselves. The kids in the marshmallow experiment covered their faces, turned to the wall, sang to themselves, and looked at their shoes. They did what they could to ignore the marshmallow.

I’ve tried doing this with my challenging students. Sometimes, their actions are cries for attention. I play into their hands by giving it to them when they make poor choices. And I also stress myself out and feel like a failure. Instead of noticing and reacting to their every misdeed, I focus elsewhere, calling attention to students doing the right thing.

Not Accepting Responsibility For Others’ Choices

My job is to make expectations clear, to be consistent with consequences, to build relationships, and to try to make my classroom a place where kids want to be. If I’ve done those things, students will make better choices. At least, that’s the theory. In reality, some poor student choices have nothing to do with me. This year, I’ve had to remind myself that once I’ve done my job, it’s on them. Each student is responsible for her choices.  If they make bad ones, they alone should suffer the consequences.

I wrote more about this here: The Best and Worst Lie Teachers Tell Themselves

Embracing the Challenge

I made a huge mistake at the start of this year. I had a fantastic class last year. I left work with plenty of energy, enough that I started this blog and published two books. I started to feel like I really knew what I was doing, that the success I felt at school was because I was a more skilled teacher than I had previously been. I thought I’d finally figured this thing out, and that from here on out things would be clear sailing.

I forgot a really important truth about teaching: It’s damn hard.

And what makes it hard are students who don’t show up to school with everything they need. You know, the ones who actually need me.

I also need them. My challenging students are there to stretch me as a professional. They provide me with the opportunity to try new things. They force me to adapt, to leave my comfort zone, and try new things. And although most of what I’ve tried this year with those students hasn’t worked, I will show up tomorrow and try something else. I’ll look for incremental improvement, any sign that I’m making an impact. It is those moments, few and far between as they may be, that will help me feel like less of a failure.

Remembering the Past

These are not the only challenging students I’ve had the last 18 years. Far from it. It helps to recall former students who made me feel like a failure. There have been a fair number. I survived every one of them, and I became a stronger teacher because of the experiences. These students and their challenges will not be the last of my career. When I think about going back to work tomorrow or returning day after day for the next twelve or more years, I recall a favorite quote by Marcus Aurelius: “Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.”


 

The Best and Worst Lie Teachers Tell Themselves

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I used to dread notes from substitute teachers. Upon arriving at school following an absence, I would see a note on my desk and delay reading it as long as possible. I’d make copies. I’d fine-tune lesson plans. I’d check some papers, answer some emails. Eventually, curiosity would get the best of me and I’d read the note. Invariably, I’d learn about the awful decisions made by the usual suspects. My blood pressure would rise. I would rehearse the cutting words I was itching to hurl at them. Didn’t they know how to behave? How dare they be so disrespectful! It was a horrible way to start the day.

An Epiphany

After a while, I came to realize that the way my students behaved for a sub usually had far less to do with my students and far more to do with the substitute. So instead of getting mad at my students, I would toss the note, unread, into the trash, and tell myself that whatever happened the day before was mostly a reflection on the adult at the front of the room. That led to an epiphany. If I blamed substitute teachers for how my students behaved, why should I not blame myself for what went on in my classroom on a daily basis?

It was the single most productive question I’ve asked as a teacher. It forced me to view every problem in my classroom as the result of something I had or hadn’t done. It led me to realize that every issue in my room was something I could work to resolve. Through research, collaboration, and trial and error, I could improve my craft and enjoy the fruits of my growing competency. I could influence student behavior, effort, and motivation.

  • When students didn’t learn, it was my fault.
  • When a student misbehaved, it was because of my classroom management, or my lame lesson, or my failure to build a positive relationship.
  • When students were bored, it was because I was not making things interesting enough.
  • When transitions were sloppy, it was because I hadn’t taught them clearly enough or didn’t have high enough expectations.

There’s no question that I started to improve as a teacher when I stopped looking for excuses. Instead of labeling students as lazy, disrespectful, or selfish, instead of blaming their parents, or lamenting the effects of generational poverty, the ugly side of capitalism, or other outside circumstances for what happened in my room, I looked in the mirror.

My mantra was, “I am responsible for everything that happens in my room.”

It’s the best lie I ever told myself.

The Best Lie

It’s an empowering lie. We can’t do anything about our students’ home lives. We have little control over district policies. We can’t alter the standards. But we can control what happens in our classrooms. This is the way teachers who want to get better have to think. It’s what we must believe. It forces us to evaluate our practice. It compels reflection. It leads us to seek out solutions, which means we’re observing others, seeking information from multiple sources, and trying new approaches, all in the interest of improving our craft.

What’s great about believing this lie is it forces you to do something about the only thing you can control: you.

But it’s still a lie.

The Truth

The truth is that you are not responsible for everything that happens in your room. Sometimes, a child’s poor decision has absolutely nothing to do with you.

The truth is that some kids are lazy. They were lazy last year, and they’ll be lazy this year. They’ll grow up to be lazy adults. Look around. They’re everywhere. They didn’t start becoming lazy because of a teacher.

The truth is that sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you can’t reach a kid.

The truth is that some students have very little self-control, and no matter how much you try, they still won’t have much self-control when they leave you.

The truth is that some kids know damn well what they’re supposed to do and they don’t do it for reasons that have nothing to do with you.

The truth is that no matter what you do, some students will find it boring.

The truth is that some students don’t want to accept responsibility for their learning, and so it’s easier for everyone — the student, their parents, your boss, politicians, people who don’t know jack diddly about teaching — to blame you.

The truth is that sometimes, it’s the kid’s fault. Sometimes, their failures are on them. In fact, we rob something important from a student when we accept blame for their failures, just as we would rob them by taking credit for their successes.

The truth is that your impact isn’t nearly as great as you have been led to believe.

When you believe the lie that everything that happens in your classroom is because of you, then you will improve as a teacher. You will constantly problem solve. You will try new things, read more, and connect with other teachers. You will experiment, fail, tweak, start over, fail again, and try anew. You will learn. You will grow. You will get better.

The Worst Lie

But lying has consequences. The more you put on yourself, the greater frustration you’ll feel when things don’t go well. The more accountability you accept for others’ choices, the more stress you’ll feel when those choices are poor ones. The more stress you feel, the more exhausted you’ll be. And the more exhausted you are, the more likely it is that you’ll burn out.

I know teachers who go home in tears over their students’ poor choices. They expect to make a difference, and when it seems as if their efforts are going to waste, they feel incredibly disheartened. When it seems like we’re not having an impact on our most challenging students, we feel like failures. We lose sleep. We stress over how the behavior of a few students affects our classroom cultures and how the learning of the other students is harmed. We become anxious over even the thought of anyone peering into our rooms, seeing our struggles, and judging us because we have already judged ourselves so harshly. When we put everything on our shoulders, it’s hard to stand tall. Our knees buckle. Some of us collapse.

What teachers need isn’t more accountability for things over which they have little control. I know very few teachers who don’t already feel tremendously accountable for what happens in their classrooms. Teachers need to know that they can’t solve every problem in their rooms because they can’t solve every problem in their students’ homes, in their communities, and in society. Yes, teachers should always try to improve. They should look at themselves first. But they should also admit that they’re not miracle workers. And just because parents, administrators, policymakers, reformers, and even teachers themselves believe they can do it all, doesn’t make it true.

What Public Education Can Learn From Chocolate Milk

chocolate milk

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The criticisms of public schools are incessant:

  • School is a waste of time.
  • School discipline leads to a “school-to-prison pipeline.”
  • Schools aren’t preparing kids for the future.
  • Not enough kids are “college and career-ready.”
  • Too many kids don’t go to college.
  • Those that do need remedial classes.
  • The kids are bored.
  • Too many don’t graduate.
  • School hasn’t changed in 100 years
  • There are achievement gaps between various sub-groups.
  • Other developed countries outperform us on international tests.
  • The future of America is in the balance, and it’s an ugly fate thanks to our shitty public schools.

We have an image problem.

Not so long ago, so did chocolate milk. In 2011, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver (along with other health food advocates) was able to persuade The Los Angeles Unified School District to remove chocolate milk from school cafeterias. News articles from that time reported that other large districts were considering doing the same. The kids were fat, and the schools were making them fatter by offering chocolate milk. In some districts, the answer to the question “Got Milk?” was, “Sure, but not chocolate.”

Chocolate Milk — It’s Actually Good For You!!

A few studies existed that touted the regenerative characteristics of chocolate milk for elite athletes. The fact that these studies had all sorts of problems and that, at best, chocolate milk was comparable to other supplements when it came to replenishing glycogen in elite athletes who needed a quick recovery for additional intense workouts didn’t matter much. Big Milk ran with it.

A self-interested, well-funded group called the Milk Processors Education Program has spent millions of dollars on a campaign to defend chocolate milk from attack. It took those far-from-conclusive studies, exaggerated the studies’ claims, and extrapolated the benefits to the casual athlete and the public at large. You’ll now see chocolate milk handed out at virtually every road race, even though glycogen stores will replenish through regular diet within 24 hours. There are TV ads, YouTube videos with celebrity athletes extolling the virtues of the drink, and print ads that feature NBA stars lauding its recuperative qualities. The message was clear: Chocolate milk doesn’t make people fat! The fittest people in the world drink it! It’s good for you!

It’s been successful. In the year following the start of the ad campaign, chocolate milk consumption rose from 10% to 12% among 18-24- year-olds. Runners demand it at marathons. Coaches give it to their athletes. Perhaps most importantly for the milk people, LAUSD and other school districts reversed course. The L.A. schoolkids can drink chocolate milk again, just like Olympic swimmers!

USA Swimming Athletes Tyler Clary and Jessica Hardy Dive Into New National BUILT WITH CHOCOLATE MILK(TM) Campaign (PRNewsFoto/Milk Processor Education Program)

Public Education — It’s Good For You!

Meanwhile, public education does nothing but cower in the face of ceaseless, well-financed attacks. It stands there like an out-of-shape boxer, winded, taking blow after blow, flinching, holding up its hands, whining to the refs, and hoping its opponent will get tired or distracted and leave it alone.

It’s not as if there aren’t things worth bragging about. Public education has a lot more going for it than chocolate milk (although admittedly we can’t compete on flavor).

In 2014-2015 (the most recent year with available data), graduation rates in the US reached an all-time high for the fifth straight year. In spite of more demanding standards, relentless attacks, and state budgets that have not returned to pre-recession levels, public schools are preparing more kids for success. A higher percentage of students graduate now than ever before.

Haven’t you seen the billboards?

High school GPAs strongly predict future incomes. A recent study by researchers at the University of Miami found that a one-point increase in high school GPA raises annual earnings in adulthood by around 12 percent for men and 14 percent for women. The study also shows that even a one-point increase in GPA doubles the likelihood of students completing college—from 21 percent to 42 percent—for both men and women.

A researcher at Boston College followed 81 high school valedictorians and salutatorians from graduation onward. 95 percent graduated from college. Their average GPA was 3.6. By 1994, 60 percent had received a graduate degree. Nearly 90 percent are now in professional careers with 40 percent in the highest tier jobs. They are reliable, consistent, well-adjusted, and by just about any measure, the majority have good lives.

Schools do what they’re supposed to do.

If you do well in school, you do well in life. That’s worth bragging about.

It’s Time to Fight Back

Despite its obvious benefits, hardly anyone is trumpeting the value of a public education. It doesn’t seem difficult to throw money at a few celebrities and have them talk about the importance of public schools. Such a campaign should fall to the Department of Education. Tax money should be used to promote an educational system that exists to serve all. Instead of tearing down the institution, the DOE ought to be building it up. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine other federal departments acting like the DOE does. The Department of Justice doesn’t go around publicly bitching about the recidivism rate or blaming cops and judges for failing to curtail crime. The Department of Agriculture doesn’t badmouth farmers.

Since the Department of Ed seems more intent on destroying public education than promoting it, we have to rely on other people. The only groups who consistently attempt to defend public ed are the nation’s teachers’ unions. They do what they can, but their motives will always be questioned because their primary job is to look out for their members and because they give almost all of their money to one political party, making enemies of half the country. When it comes to public relations, union support is a liability because half of the country doesn’t trust them and never will.

Public education needs a PR department, funded by wealthy benefactors who understand its importance to a democratic society and who are frankly willing to lose money to save it. We need rich idealists who will put their money where their mouths are to stand up to corporate reformers, whose mission is to destroy public schools so they can replace them with private options that will line their pockets.

There are legions of famous successful people who attended public schools. You’d never know it. Other than a handful of celebrities like John Stewart and Matt Damon, most people, even those who’ve had phenomenal success in life, don’t do much to support public schools. Pressure should be put on them. Public education needs their money and influence. And it needs to use it to fight back.

I look forward to a day when I turn on my TV and see the latest pop star, billion-dollar athlete, or TV personality look into the camera and say the words, “Public school worked for me, it works for this country, and it will work for your kids.”

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Note: If you’d like to know more about the chocolate milk research, I found this site informative.


Related:

Every Student An Athlete

The Most Offensive F-Word in Education

The Willful Ignorance of Education Research

 

Every Student An Athlete (ESAA)

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We have a crisis in America. Our kids are fat. To combat this epidemic, Congress has decided to make exercise compulsory. They’re prepared to spend billions of other people’s money. It’s a simple plan. They’re going to cut one hour off the end of the school day and students will be bused to their local gym. If no gym exists, one will be built. Students — check that — “athletes” will be assigned a personal trainer.  Some trainers will be responsible for 25 kids, others more like 150. It’s called, “Every Student An Athlete,” and the goal is simple: no more fat kids by 2025. I spoke to the plan’s architect, Tara Bullidea, and dug deeper into the details:

MURPH: Hi, Tara. So every kid, starting when they’re five, will be required to work out for one hour after school each day. How will you enforce it?

TARA: This is just like school. Athletes have to attend. It’s mandatory. I mean, I guess their parents could pick them up from school and take them home, but we really don’t want them to. We’ll threaten stuff and, oh… you know what, I just thought of this — we’ll hold the gyms accountable for athletes’ attendance! That ought to do it.

MURPH: So the gym will be punished if too many of their athletes don’t show up to exercise?

TARA: You got it!

MURPH: Okay. What if the athletes come but don’t want to participate? What if they refuse to follow their trainers’ instructions? Or what if they actively interfere with the workouts of other athletes?

TARA: Those athletes will be in big trouble. They’ll have to sit out or even be sent home.

MURPH: But wouldn’t that sort of defeat the whole purpose? They may want to sit out, and if they’re sent home, they’re not getting the exercise they need.

TARA: True. Trainers shouldn’t do that. They should do everything they can to get those students to work out. I guess maybe they should make it more fun. They should, um, build relationships so athletes will want to work out! You know, now that I think about it, if a trainer has some athletes with bad attitudes, it’s really the trainers’ fault, isn’t it? Such poor athlete attitudes should be reflected on the trainers’ year-end ratings.

MURPH: The trainers are going to be rated? How will that work?

TARA: That’s my favorite part. Look, we don’t want any consequences for the athletes. I mean, if they fail to lose weight, they’re only hurting themselves, right? But the trainers? We’re paying the trainers! The taxpayers will expect a decent return on investment. So we will hold the trainers accountable for their athletes’ weight loss.

MURPH: Oh, I see. So will there be bonuses for really good trainers? Some way to reward excellence?

TARA: No, silly. Nothing like that. We can’t afford bonuses. No, what we’re going to do is punish the gyms that don’t get their athletes’ to shed the pounds. If a gym is really bad — like if only a few kids achieve expected yearly weight loss (EYWL, pronounced “I-will”) — we may even close the gym. Or at least fire all the trainers. Also, each trainer will be rated at the end of the year, and we would expect gyms to fire the trainers with the lowest ratings. As for the best trainers, we’ll  give them the laziest, most overweight kids.

MURPH: How will you figure out which trainers deserve low ratings?

TARA: We’ll just go in and weigh all the athletes at the start of the year and weigh them again at the end of the year. If they haven’t lost enough weight, that trainer will get a bad rating.

MURPH: How much weight should each kid lose? What’s going to be the cut-off?

TARA: Oh, I don’t know. Let’s just say 10% of their original weight. Actually, on second thought, we’ll change the target every year and not tell the trainers what the new goal is. I know. We’ll come up with a really complicated formula to assess the trainers. That way, if someone starts to question it, we’ll just explain to them that they’re not smart enough to figure it out. In reality, I won’t be smart enough to figure it out either. Hardly anyone will. We’ll just say that some statisticians somewhere said it’s fine and that will be enough.

MURPH: But isn’t it unfair to hold trainers accountable when they only see the athletes for five hours a week? What if the kids go home and their parents undo all the trainers’ hard work? What if they feed their kids horrible food and never exercise themselves? What if they, God forbid, denigrate the whole idea of a healthy lifestyle? Isn’t it possible that some parents, either through ignorance or willful neglect, will sabotage the trainers’ efforts? Should trainers be punished for that?

TARA: Uh, huh. Yep.

MURPH: Okay. How about these trainers? We’re putting a lot on them and trusting them with the future health of the nation. How will you ensure that they’re up to the task?

TARA: You know, I’ve thought a lot about that. We’re going to be rating them, so they have a strong incentive to really study their craft and become excellent at what they do. They’ll be judged on their performance (okay, actually their athletes’ performance, but let’s not split hairs), so they’ll probably try really hard. So, here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to require them to train kids certain ways. Now, sometimes those ways will be based on the latest scientific research on wellness. But other times, they’ll just be based on the latest fad, like maybe a popular book that’s out at the time. And to be sure they’re all doing pretty much the same thing, we’re going to make them sit through lots of meetings where we train them in these methods. We really want them to train their athletes the way we think they should train them.

MURPH: But then, shouldn’t it be you who is held accountable? I mean, if the trainers are just following your marching orders and they don’t get results, isn’t that your fault?

TARA: I don’t think so. Perhaps they aren’t training with fidelity. Maybe they aren’t very good at implementing the required methods. Their fault, for sure.

MURPH: Let’s change gears and focus on the kids.

TARA: Athletes.

MURPH: Right. What about those athletes who come from families that can’t afford tennis shoes or gym shorts?

TARA: We’ll provide those.

MURPH: So will all gyms get the same equipment? Will they have the same budgets?

TARA: Hahahahaha! No. Taxes will be raised at the local level for equipment, so certain areas will have newer machines than other areas. But every gym will have some equipment. Research tells us that it’s not the equipment that matters, but the trainer. So we won’t accept any excuses from trainers who have to work with older equipment, or even equipment that no longer works. Those trainers will simply have to be more creative.

MURPH: That sounds difficult. It might be hard to get good trainers to work at gyms with broken machines. Will you pay these trainers more?

TARA. No. Less, actually.

MURPH: But–

TARA: It’s fine! It’s all going to work out fine. We’re going to have no fat kids by 2025. They’re all going to hit their EYWL targets. Every Student An Athlete is going to be an amazing success because I really want it to be!

MURPH: Aren’t the athletes going to get tired of all this working out? Won’t they need some breaks? Even elite athletes take some time off.

TARA: Yes, you’re right. We’ll build in a few two-week breaks throughout the year and we’ll give them — I don’t know — two straight months off in the summer. It’s too hot to work out then anyway.

MURPH: But won’t a lot of athletes, especially those whose parents don’t value exercise and healthy eating, regain the weight and fall back into bad habits?

TARA: Perhaps. But the trainers will just have to work extra hard to make up for it.

MURPH: Just one last question, Tara. What is your background? Do you own a gym? Are you a former Olympian? Have you ever been a trainer yourself?

TARA: No, nothing like that. I’m rich. I’m very, very rich.