What is fair? What is equal? Is it the same thing? Well, in the world of education, it isn’t. Equal is when everybody gets the same, regardless of the needs of the learner. Fair, is when children get what they need in order to succeed. Different kids, different needs. For example, Johnny has to sit on a table at the very front of the class because he has poor vision. But, there isn’t space for every kid at the front of the class. So is this equal? Nope! But is it fair? Of course! Johnny can’t see a thing if he sits further back so it’s important that he gets what he needs in order to succeed.
A few years ago I had a boy in my class who was diagnosed with ASD. He would start the day highly anxious and aroused if he played outside with the other children before 9am. So instead, his morning process consisted of coming inside with his parents and playing a quiet game or doing crafts for 10 minutes before the bell went. Although that time before school is precious preparation time for all teachers (fellow educators out there can vouch for this) it was in his best interest that I made an allowance for him in the mornings so he was set up for a successful start to the day.
Were other children allowed in during the mornings? Nope! Did it matter? Nope again! Was it equal? Nope! But was it fair? Yes indeed! The other children were able to enjoy play outside without it affecting their senses or focus. My ASD student needed more support, and heck, it was absolutely my priority to give it to him.
This whole idea of Fair vs Equal is a beautiful reminder to be kind and tolerant. It’s time that we talk to our children about what these terms really mean and how their impact trickles into the wider community and even our world. There are people all over this beautiful planet who need more than others, for whatever circumstance. They need more support, more funding, more grace, more kindness. The way we educate or even co exist with each other is not a “one size fits all” approach. We all come with different needs, and those needs should be respected and nurtured every step of the way.
The other thing I’d encourage you to do when discussing these ideas with your children, is guide them to cultivate as much gratitude as possible. If your child is the one saying “Hey it’s not fair that Bobby gets to sit at the front all the time,” remind them that they should be grateful for their 20/20 vision. Or their healthy physicality, or their peaceful senses, or their ability to regulate their emotions. Remind them of their privileges and their blessings. If we want to raise compassionate and empathetic adults, then we need to have those conversations with our kids while they are young. They may not understand now, but one day they will.
If you have any thoughts or comments about this post, feel free to leave a comment below!