"But it's NOT fair!"


Did you watch the video? That's Louie CK; I have no affiliation or influence, but he's hilarious (in my humble opinion). He says..."the only time you should look in your neighbour's bowl, is to see that they have enough."

If you're a teacher, or even a parent-- you know all about the fairness woes. Kids are very concerned with what is fair--or better yet, what isn't. There is some link between feeling when everything is fair, everyone is equal; everyone is valued the same, so everyone gets the same...at least that's the idea. By being the same, we are equal....Hm....

Come in close for a second, I want to tell you a secret...we (you and I) and them (our kids or students) are not the same. They (we) are different; uniquely themselves (ourselves), in a way that no one else is. Here is part two of that secret, despite being different--as different as can be--we are equally valued. We all have equal claim to life, love, happiness and education. But--how can that be, isn't it true that in order for everything to be fair, we all have to be equal and the same? It is easy to see how kids become misguided. We are all equal, but it's because we are the same at the core, not in our variables. Our variables couldn't be more different; and that's pretty darn cool if you ask me.

For some reason kids (and even some adults) find comfort in sameness; maybe it's because of our cultural values or the perspective of the education system as a whole. Somewhere along the road of childhood, we become comfortable fitting in; being the same as the others (we dress the same, talk the same, you get the idea...).

Don't get me wrong, from a developmental perspective this is a totally normal occurrence; you would probably see it peak between 9-13 years old, but it exists before that too and often continues long after the teen years.

Wouldn't it be cool (and I am not being sarcastic here) if we taught our kids that being different is what makes us alike? After all, we are all different, and isn't that something we have in common thus something that contributes to our equal claim to life's virtues (education, love, happiness and so on)? As a society we are getting better about celebrating difference; but we're not quite there yet.

Where am I going with this?

In my class, there is sometimes talk of fairness--I admit, even I am not exempt from this discussion. What I want to share with you is how I redirect this into productive discussion of values and merit which build confidence and develop independent thinking.

In any class, differentiation occurs; this is where expectations (of many forms) are modified for some specified students. The obvious question that arises is when worksheets are different, expectations on performance vary, or other observable differences emerge; so the common exclamation is "But that’s just not fair!" And my response goes like this (you may have heard this before)

"Fairness is not everyone getting the same; it is everyone getting what they need" (credit to Rick Riordan).

Most teachers or parents will tell you (like we see in the clip), that this adage won't suffice for some kids (who need more), so here are my tips:

-Emphasize that everyone has strengths and needs and that irrelevant of said strengths, everyone has equal value in the classroom dynamic. "You're right Johnny is allowed to do his spelling test orally and that's because that is what works for him; do you think it is important for Johnny to work in a way that works for him?"

-Develop empathy and self awareness. You may address the obvious concern about someone having "easier" work or expectations; you may say something like "this is something Johnny is working on and it's hard for him, so it's important for him to do it in this way; what's something that is a little harder for you?"

-Make sure you're always bringing it back to the students; "just like you find math hard, Johnny finds writing hard; you think writing is easy, and Johnny thinks math is easy; we all have things we're working on, even me (the teacher) and that’s OK".

-Acknowledge differentiation but don't dwell on it; it's not right to call attention to a student's challenges over and over (shaming is never ok); after you have addressed the issue in a proactive manner which upholds the classroom dynamic (that everyone has something to contribute; that differences are ok; that despite the variables, everyone plays an important role) don't be afraid to tell the student that "you only need to worry about yourself."



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