October 27, 2022

David Lee Finkle: Equity, Equality, Sameness, and Harrison Bergeron

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David Lee Finkle is the creator of one of the internet’s best teacher comic strips, Mr. Fitz. But he also occasionally blogs. In a recent post, he considers issues of equity.

The idea is that giving every student exactly the same material is equitable. This idea is, quite frankly, wrong. Google “equity versus equality” and you are told that “Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities. Equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.” Making every child do the exact same work is equality, it is sameness as they call it in The Giver. It is not equity. Equity means helping each student to a similarity of outcome using a variety of methods.

The question, of course, is this: what outcomes are we after for our students? I don’t think it’s any secret that the outcomes we have been commanded to get by the “system” (the state) are test scores. When I was a parent I was more concerned with other outcomes, and if my experience talking to parents at open house recently is any indication, today’s parents share my desire for outcomes other than test scores as well. They want their children to enjoy learning. They want their children to be engaged. They want their children to learn, not just how to pass tests, but to to write well, to enjoy reading and do it well.

Standardizing the curriculum means standardizing thinking – making all thoughts equal. But when our desired outcome is similar performance on standardized tests, it is perfectly logical to standardize everything. But I question the logic here. Is there a research base that says having every teacher in every school in a district who teaches the same subject and grade level teach the same material the same way at the same time improves student outcomes?

He questions the value of standardization, and the degree to which it interferes with equity rather than promoting it. But in the end, he comes back to the teacher’s role.

Only a teacher who knows his or her students, their needs, their strengths, their interests can create a truly equitable experience. It can’t be done by committee. It shouldn’t be done as far away from the classroom as possible. The best instruction is home-grown by creative teachers who know where their students started, where they want to take them, and have ways to take them there. Or, if their current toolkit doesn’t offer a way to take students where they need to go, they read or take a workshop. Or maybe, just maybe – they get creative.

We seem intent on putting weights on teachers, on putting noise-making earbuds in their ears, of putting masks over their individual talents. We seem intent to take aim at any teachers who stand out and maybe dance on air near the ceiling a bit.

But if we want to have excellence in teaching, we need to stop handicapping teachers and let them grow and think and meet the needs of their students as only they can.

Instead of standardizing teachers out of the profession, we should be encouraging their growth, their autonomy, their creativity, their ability to actually think about teaching. The whole Diana Moon Glampers approach has got to go. But I fear it won’t any time soon, and we’ll move from turning human teachers robotic to just settling for robots.

Read the full, thoughtful post here. 


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