Friday, April 17, 2015

Equity literacy

The Declaration of Independence includes an often misunderstood phrase, "all men are created equal,... with certain inalienable Rights... Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Some interpret this statement to mean that all men are entitled to equal outcomes. This is one defense of socialism, but it was not Thomas Jefferson thought when he penned these famous words. He thought all men should have equal opportunity. Personal abilities, drives, and education would play an important role in determining how successful a person was. He was a great defender farmers and held much scorn for big business. A farmer who worked hard, stayed on top of the latest in agricultural improvements and personal development was more likely to be successful than the one who did not put forth the effort. Jefferson also knew there were no guarantees. Jefferson saw the corrupting power of big business. He was, however, one of the wealthy farmers of the day and saw nothing wrong with amassing personal wealth.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is a small but great thing. We are entitled to not worry that our life will be capriciously eliminated, to freedom to pursue our religion and speak our mind, and to try to find happiness so long as it does not infringe on the rights of others. We are not guaranteed happiness, but the pursuit of happiness.

Paul C. Gorski and Katy Swalwell in the Educational Leadership March of 2015 article, Equity Literacy for All, see a different interpretation of the ideals of our democratic state. Their article begins with a discussion of multiculturalism where a student declared, "There's racism at this school, and nobody's doing anything about it!" (p. 34). This is a sad but all too often true statement about society in general and many schools in specific. The authors then slowly incorporate ideas of sexism, homophobia and class inequality into the discussion of how to build equity into schools. states that equality is "the state of being equal especially in status, rights and opportunities" and equity as "the quality of being fair and impartial." There is a subtle difference between equality and equity that seems to have eluded the authors. Equal and fair are not the same thing. While I cannot argue against the idea that "heart of a curriculum that is meaningfully multicultural lie principles of equity and social justice- purposeful attention to issues like racism, homophobia, sexism," I do find fault when they tag on "economic inequality" (p. 36) to the list. They seem to have defined social justice as economic equality. They argue that we cannot prepare youth for participation in democracy without attention to "formidable barriers to an authentic democracy" which they have defined as including "poverty and sexism" (p. 39). They argue that the teacher's goal is for the "students to understand the issues involved and commit to working toward a society with less economic inequality (p. 39). Somehow they have equated equality with equity and the former as a requirement for a democratic state. Economic equality is necessary for a socialist state not a democratic state. People paying attention to sexism, racism and homophobia are paying attention to the social status we currently equate with the governmental structure of democracy where, to paraphrase Lincoln, we do not trample the rights of the minority under the will of the majority.

We want students to have equal opportunity to achieve great things, something a quality education facilitates, and we want them to be compassionate with people who have less or are hurting, but I do not believe that we want them to all have equal outcomes- we need plumbers and engineers, maids and teachers, doctors and police men. Truly equal would have them all earn the same amount, incur the same amount of debt for training and work the same hours. I know few teachers who want to work 48 weeks a year (goodbye summer break) and few people who think their neurosurgeon should not be paid more than their maid.

We serve students better when we give them the tools to rise above poverty and to reach out to people of different classes, sexes and sexual preferences then when we try to eliminate the differences that create these preferences. Education that truly provides a foundation, health care that enables people to be healthy, and housing that keeps everyone warm and safe and dry are the background. We do not want everyone to live in the same 1200 square foot ranch or apartment. We want them to have choices. When we ensure the foundation, we ensure opportunity. That is what our founding fathers wanted for our democracy.

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