The Good Enough Society

One of the more sensible people that Teach for America had speak to us when we were getting our 5-week training was a former TFA teacher who had gone back to school and become a family counselor. She said that most parents could worry less about whether they were good or bad parents, but whether they were “good enough”- whether they passed a (fairly low and forgiving) bar from day to day. Similarly, despite Teach for America pushing the idea of the outstanding teacher as a transformative force in poor children’s lives, on an average day it probably made more sense to think less about being an awe-inspiring superstar and more about being a “good enough” teacher- passing your own forgiving bar, by your own standards, as best as you can.

It’s a concept that I think we could do with applying more broadly. American schools could arguably be improved further, but it is to me quite hard to argue they don’t pass some low bar of adequacy; the simple fact is that in all but the most chaotic schools, motivated children on average do quite well, even if not as well as they conceivably would in the best of all possible settings.

If you wanted to point the finger at aspects of individual children’s lives that don’t meet that low bar of “good enough,” you’d usually want to look outside of school, but not at whether parents are involved enough in the kid’s schooling- often even quite poor parents are fairly involved.  The places that are more likely not to be “good enough” for kids are things like exercise, diet, not enough sleep, too much media use, not enough in-person socializing, not enough time outside, few opportunities for shared conversations and stories that are not transactional and distracted: frankly, more-or-less the same things that American adults struggle with. The good society is the society that is good to grow up in, more or less, and even if in some ways we do better by kids than by adults at the moment, for both we have a ways to go- in some domains, not all- before we are good enough.

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