The Grumpy Giraffe

Critiques on social and education issues

School shouldn’t be about equality

The public, like many politicians, tends to assume that they are experts in the field of education solely because they have been experiencing the effects of schooling for 13 years. It’s understandable, but surely nobody believes they are experts in web design after having spent a decade on Facebook.

Besides, education is so much more than just school: it’s about the home, the family, the community, the administrators, the trustees, the council, the board, the government, the world, the culture. To think that education exists mostly in the classroom is ironic: after all, we spend only 5 hours per day (1 hour is for recess and lunch), 5 days per week, in a classroom. Children and youth are educated through the media, through their friends, through socialization, even if that means learning not to go in front of someone in a line at the cashier.

However, it seems that the current trend (in the loosest sense of the word) is that school should be equal for all. This is especially true of the No Child Left Behind Act of Congress from the United States, where state assessments are developed to assess basic skills to help improve individual outcomes. The key in this Act is the emphasis on testing, especially state testing, meaning all students need to take the same test at the same time to ensure equality.


Equality is not equity.

Equality is not the best answer to any nation’s problems, unless all of its students have exactly identical learning profiles with exactly identical learning needs with exactly identical cultures. What works for one student may be a total disaster for another because their process of understanding may be different.

Many politicians (and citizens who are uninformed but have good intent) would exclaim, “But that isn’t fair!”

And that’s completely all right. Why should school be fair? Why is flattening everyone’s abilities a good way for everyone to learn? Or is learning not the priority of education in modern times?

Some of the criticisms of NCLB are that it violates the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which basically says that if a student’s IEP states that they need a question read to them out loud, the teacher may do so. However, because NCLB emphasizes on “equality”, all students must do the tests in one way, and in one way only: sit at a desk with paper and pencil (and eraser), and they must read the questions silently to themselves with no assistance from teachers. Moreover, NCLB was enacted after IDEA, so NCLB may trump IDEA in areas where they differ.

This means that blind students would receive a zero.

Schools should be aiming for equity instead. Equity is when you help the students in whichever way they can (obviously in accountable, responsible, and ethical ways) so that all of them are able to achieve the same goal. So if you want everyone to be able to understand algebra, and some kids require algebra tiles, you give the kids that need algebra tiles the resources. Kids who don’t need algebra tiles don’t get any, unless they request them to deepen their understanding (and that you can see they are not merely playing with them to build structures).

Reformers are currently supporting the notion where everybody receives 2 sandwiches, even though Bobby may need 3 sandwiches to be full. Everyone else is doing fine, but Bobby is always hungry. Ron may only need 1 sandwich to feel full, so he never even touches his second sandwich, leaving it to go to waste.

That shouldn’t be the goal in schools. The goal should be helping everyone feel full and nourished.

Equality is out, equity is in. Equitable teaching practices help all students achieve the same goal: understanding the concept. Equality devalues every student’s needs, and does more harm than good in leaving children behind. The usual “slow” group does get left behind, that much is known: special needs, behavioural disability, learning disability, learners whose learning styles are not dominantly visual/audio, etc. Learners in the “fast” group are also left behind through the pedagogy of equality: gifted children, students who understand concepts faster than the teacher anticipates, students whose learning styles are so attuned to the dominant trends that they excel. These “fast” students are left with nothing to nourish their thirst for knowledge because the teacher would emphasize on equality.

Educators of all types (not only in schools, but also in the family) need to realize that we actually don’t want our schools to be fair. No, we want them to be equitable. We want them to instil accountability and responsibility in the leaders of our futures. Assessments should be equitable. It’s a hard journey, but nobody said it would be easy. Equity ensures that students are able to reach the same goal and achieve success.

Equality is not fair to everyone.


20 comments on “School shouldn’t be about equality

  1. RightFromYaad
    May 6, 2013

    Had a long argument with a colleague today about trying to achieve equality of opportunity in education…which is impossible. I had to come back to this article.

    How are you, if we believe in human freedom, going to equalize the opportunity of the children of doctors/lawyers or congressmen vs. the opportunities of 5 children of a single mother working a minimum wage job? Equity.

    • The Grumpy Giraffe
      May 8, 2013

      They probably didn’t understand what equity was or how it can be achieved. Good luck with you and your colleague though! Is he or she a teacher as well?

  2. Pingback: When others speak my mind « neverimitate

  3. Samantha
    March 29, 2013

    This is well-put, and very true.

  4. aurorawatcherak
    March 29, 2013

    I get that you’re saying that equality of resources doesn’t work because students bring their own inherent abilities (and disabilities) to the party. However, are you advocating that we should spend resources to dictate equality of outcome?

    • The Grumpy Giraffe
      March 29, 2013

      Not “dictate”, but to attempt to get them at least to start on a level playing field. Whether or not they succeed in life is not something in our control, but the purpose of education is to equip them with the tools to change society for the better. The equality framework doesn’t work because it doesn’t accommodate to the learning profiles, but the equity one ensures that every student receives the tools necessary to succeed. However, that does not mean that all of them will be able to use them successfully. Some will definitely be more inclined to use certain tools over others.

      An example could be that the student finally understands algebra through algebra tiles (tactile), but prefers studying physics and building circuits, which is also tactile. The key here is to have the student understand algebra so they know what it is and how it can be used.

      Also, I was not aiming for equality of outcome, but rather equal opportunity of outcome. Equal opportunities doesn’t mean they will all succeed. Some may choose to use another resource, and turns out it doesn’t work, but the key is that they all had the same tools and (more or less) the same understanding of the tools before beginning the task.

      We help students start off more or less the same place, but how they plot their journey is in their control.

      • aurorawatcherak
        March 29, 2013

        What is your take on Common Core Standards and Race to the Top, which is an integral part of CCS?

      • The Grumpy Giraffe
        March 29, 2013

        I’m Canadian, residing in Ontario, so I actually don’t know what the Common Core is, other than hearing its name being bounced around on Reddit and other places on the Internet. I’ll perhaps write a post on it when I graduate, since I am currently working on final projects and essays.

        Thank you for the great topic! On the other hand, what is YOUR opinion on the Common Core? By the name “Race to the top”, it already sounds like competition is more emphasized than cooperation.

      • aurorawatcherak
        March 29, 2013

        I’m not impressed with what I’ve seen. Alaska chose not to take the federal funds, so we’re not adopting it, but two states that did take the funds are now trying to back out and give the money back. My teacher friends tell me it’s more dumbing down than striving for excellence. For example, math skills that are now required in the 8th grade were required in the 6th grade when I was in school, but under Common Core, they won’t even be introduced until 10th grade. That would be fine if we were talking remedial students, but Common Core sets standards across the board, so that kids who are good in math will likely be bored into hating it by the time the system gets around to challenging them.

        I only know what I’m told. I’ve seen a few papers on it. It doesn’t look promising. Anytime Washington DC tries to dictate anything to local governments, it almost always turns out to be a mistake.

      • The Grumpy Giraffe
        March 29, 2013

        That’s really unfortunate. So teachers aren’t allowed to do enrichment activities if they are under Common Core?

        Watering down curriculum is never a good idea. Most of the time, students do badly in school because they’re already bored, so they see no purpose in it. The reason why games are so engaging is because they provide the challenge and a reward system (immediate and delayed) that isn’t strictly material (so not only medals, but also new classes and roles are unlocked). Kids need a challenge to feel purposeful.

        Obviously politicians of any country haven’t done their homework on how learning works. So glad your state is out of it.

      • aurorawatcherak
        March 29, 2013

        Yeah, we can thank Sarah Palin for choosing to opt out of the initial stimulus spending that roped states into it before they even knew it was coming and then Sean Parnell for choosing to continue to opt out.when he did know what was coming. They both had to do it over the objections of the Legislature — though the current Legislature appears to be a bit smarter than the last bunch.

      • The Grumpy Giraffe
        March 29, 2013

        Sarah Palin did something that helped society? I’m not a fan of her, but I do with more of her positive things were talked about more than her lack of expertise.

      • aurorawatcherak
        March 29, 2013

        She did a lot that was very helpful to Alaskan society. I am a huge fan. She was the best governor we’ve had since Wally Hickle — another governor who quit on us halfway through his term. We forgave him 25 years later and elected him governor again.

  5. RightFromYaad
    March 28, 2013

    Reblogged this on Right From Yaad and commented:
    I wish our educators in Jamaica will get some of this into their heads…..

  6. RightFromYaad
    March 28, 2013

    I wish more people got what the “Grumpy Giraffe” has been preaching on about education. Top quality article. I shall reblog!

  7. Pete Laberge
    March 28, 2013

    Well, there is Equality, and Equity… But they are fairly synonymous.
    I think the real problem is METHODOLOGY.

    Someone decided that some kids were not learning enough and wanted to fix that. Someone decided that all kids should know certain facts (What does 1776 mean?), certain techniques (This is how you do titration…), certain procedures (This is how you solve an Algebra equation!) etc. Then they created a standardized set of tests to test that. Then they decided that they would have to change the answers each year, or kids would catch on! (The little devvils!) But the teachers, wanted to “look good”, so THEY started swapping answers, and teaching to the test… and soon forgot how to teach anything else. But the “admins” wanted everybody to do the tests, so they tied school funding to the tests… and so on…. And, enter the Law of Unintended Consequences!

    The general idea, that there are some facts, techniques, procedures, abilities, “knowledges” and so forth that every one should know, was not a bad idea. The idea that for kids to know this, they would have to be taught, read a book, watch a video, whatever, was not bad, either. How else will they get it? Through osmosis? The idea of testing the students to see if they learned anything was not bad either. How else to “quickly check/know”? Mind you, there is no follow up on the students. So “If Johnny could not read before the standardized test — he still can’t!” Nobody does anything “useful” with the data. Poor Johnny. Nobody gives him feedback or “fixes” him/his problems! “They” forgot about Johnny. But Johnny, is the raison d’etre!

    The problem is, the way they went about the tests. And the so-called teaching of this “agenda/curriculum”…. (And I use the word “agenda” on purpose.) And then, to boot, they are collecting big data, and the corporations are accessing it for free! Ugh! And worse, the people who did this, want to sell it around the world! (The Australians are “debating this” now.) Oh oh.

    The emphasis on these tests (“The be all and end all … the Great and Powerful Oz!”), and the administration of them, well, that is the pits. (I could use much stronger language.) That has to be fixed, and soon. The teachers are up in arms. (Well good! Somebody finally woke them up!) The kids are up in arms, too. Not so good. For one thing the kids are” (a) bored, (b) rejecting all school, (c) becoming un-creative, non-thinking, un-happy, and so on… (But I will not go on. You already know!)

    I think a good look needs to be taken at the testing techniques. (As you wisely pointed out, along with some other stuff.) I think a good look also needs to be taken at “what the things are that we want everyone to learn, know, believe”. We have have too long a list, or we may have a “list with an axe to grind”. Or, we may have things that are simply not needed on the list. Example: For a kid in Minnesota to know how many volcanoes there are in Hawaii, and which ones are active…. WHY? What’s he evver gonna do with it? And to teach this to the kid in Hawaii? Now THAT is stupid! The kid will pick up that knowledge just by living there! And a newcomer to the state? How about a “This is Minnesota / This is Hawaii” booklet. Make it available for free, to anyone, and there you go. YES! The example is poor. But I think you get my point!

    And there, you go. My two cents. Now, now we need some more constructive criticisms, and some really really good suggestions of “quick simple things we could do to start fixing things”… The whole thing cannot be fixed at once. But if some good bites were taken, well, every little bit helps, and the bits would soon add up. If you want to paint your house, you might start with the bathroom. You will not put up drop-sheets in every room, and try paint them all at once. Not if you want to live there sanely at the time.

    I do hope you can now write some (more) practical ideas on what to do, and how to do it. Yelling “Tear down the whole system!!!” will NOT work. They tried yelling that in the late 1960’s. (Failed!) Besides, the “entrenched interests” will destroy you. Better to start “mutating the system”, a piece at a time. Mother nature does that. And it works. True, it will take more time. But the results might be longer lasting, and any mistakes can be fixed along the way.

    Take care. Let us know what ideas you have.

    • The Grumpy Giraffe
      March 28, 2013

      Equality is definitely not equity. Perhaps I was not clear in my post.

      Both these concepts concern methodology. They differ in resource distribution. Equality means giving everybody the same amount and type of resources, whether or not it actually accommodates to their learning style, because it’s “fair”. Nobody gets more or less than anyone else.

      Equity means attempting to bring everyone to the same goal, even if that means giving more help to someone else because they can’t do it,and someone less assistance because they pick it up fast.

      Assessment is definitely important, but it’s too bad that testing is the most common way, and also the idea that has become most distorted as time progressed. Like you mentioned, if some kid is shown not to have grasped the concept on a test, it was seen more as a label than an indicator to the teacher.

      Fortunately, the teacher I work with currently does not follow this model. She still does tests as evaluations, but we recently had this one test where most of the class had bombed it. She’s reteaching the concept in a different way, and said to the students not to worry about this one test. They’re practicing until they understand and can apply the concept.

      Instead of testing techniques, I think teachers should focus more on assessment rather than evaluation. Evaluation is still good, but there seems to be more evaluations than assessments in the current trend of schooling. Small check-ins with the students would be great: exit tickets, dramatic enactments (I’m excited to do this one with them this April!), creating their own video PSA, etc. I try to avoid tests as much as possible, and love to inject some creativity into my evaluations.

      Trivia knowledge is no longer the main content of the curriculum (thank goodness), and there’s been a heavy emphasis on critical thinking in schools since a few years ago.

      I firmly believe that the community and the school should work together to take it piece by piece. The school should invite the community to be involved, and the community should open itself up to working with the school to create a community curriculum together, like teaching the culture (but not brainwashing them).

      Many schools here already do this, but for those who aren’t, they should explicitly acknowledge the value of the community in their pedagogy so students are invested in their education in- and outside of school. Learning becomes so much deeper, and this leads to less testing, since it wouldn’t be needed. More creative assessments and evaluations could be given out, leading students to become more interested in the field, and the community would help them. It’d be a cycle.

      One of the ways this can be done is to check out events happening in the community. Even if the school does not give you the approval stamp for a field trip, even writing a letter to the leader of the event (to make it more accessible to students/schools, or to contribute to their cause, etc.) would greatly help students be interested and invested in their education.

      When kids don’t connect to what they’re learning, they can’t learn. Why invest time into something that seems to have no purpose?

      • Pete Laberge
        March 28, 2013

        So we agree on the main points!

        One VIP thing you say: “More creative assessments and evaluations could be given out, leading students to become more interested in the field, and the community would help them. It’d be a cycle.”

        Yes, getting community contacts is VIP not only for the schools (besides fundraising), and the teachers, and the students, but also the community. But it must also be of value to the students AND the community.

        2nd VIP point you say: “When kids don’t connect to what they’re learning, they can’t learn. Why invest time into something that seems to have no purpose?”
        You hit the nail on the head!

        Not to say you do not have other good points. BUT those struck me. Gotta let you know which ones are VIP as far as I can see!

        Take care ….

  8. jcmarckx2009
    March 28, 2013

    Well put. I am a teacher, and I endorse this message!

Leave your 2 cents here :)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on March 28, 2013 by in education, politics, school, society, teaching and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .


Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

%d bloggers like this: