Wanted: Equity Seekers
For many years I have transported a yellowed poster from school to school, stapled in different corners of different classrooms. Very few students, parents, or colleagues have ever acknowledged it and yet it remains a significant reminder to myself:
“Fairness does not mean everyone gets the same. Fairness means everyone gets what they need.” Rick Riordan
Equality and equity are often confused. We understand that Equality clearly means being and having the same. Equity, however, is more about the process of how people get to that spot of being and having what they need and is defined by Merriam-Webster as “fairness or justice in the way people are treated.”
Equality seeks to make everyone equal, equity, on the other hand, seeks to address the underlying and systemic differences of opportunity and access to social resources. Project Human City
Usually students comprehend that we don’t all need the same things and that what happens in a classroom might seem discrepant for some. The odd time I hear exclamations such as “that’s not fair that so-and-so gets a wiggly cushion” or “why does so-and-so get to sit on a chair instead of at the carpet just because their ankle is in a cast?”.
“So we should all get the same, right?” I ask, to which they exuberantly respond, “YES!” “And that means, then,” I continue, “that if a student needs a wheelchair to get around they should just leave it outside the school door, and be in here without it, because the rest of us don’t have one?” “NO!” they all shout, almost as exuberantly. “And that means that so-and-so should have to use the right handed scissors, even though she is left handed, because the rest of us use the right handed scissors?” “NO!” They get it.
Educators get it. We are excellent models of Equity Seekers. The survival and success of our students is based on our ability to transform learning and situations into accessible, equitable ones.
We see this — and do this — everyday in our profession. Whether it means upsizing and photocopying on to a yellow sheet so students with sight issues can access the work to bringing morning snacks in to the room for students who wouldn’t learn without food in their system. What teacher hasn’t paid out of their own pocket for one of their students to go on a field trip that student wouldn’t otherwise experience, or hasn’t purchased some sort of clothing or footwear for a student who needed it?
Until our policies reflect and include all people we need more Equity Seekers in our communities. And yet we can’t exemplify practices of equity until we admit that in our imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, we are not all treated equally and that we can not all achieve just and fair treatment without these practices of equity.
Admitting we need Equity is hard. And uncomfortable.
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” Audre Lorde
We can’t continue to be like the few students in my class who initially believed that either everyone, or no one, gets the wiggly cushion, and that either everyone, or no one, gets to sit on a chair rather than at the carpet. The survival and success of our society is based on our ability to transform all situations into accessible, equitable ones. We need to continue our quest as Equity Seekers.