Fair Isn’t Equal

After finishing my MFA thesis, I recently started a new poetry project.  Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the notion of advice giving.  About how telling people things isn’t the most effective means of communication, and yet, there is so much to tell.  As a parent, particularly, I know that my children will resist advice and long lectures.  And so I started writing a book of poems for Mia.  Poems of experience, poems of advice, poems that I will give to her as she nears adolescence.

I’ve been working on the project for about a month, and it is a project definitely intended for Mia.  This has bothered me and I have wondered why this project is so intensely Mia.  Perhaps, I think, I will be inspired to write something like this for Madison when she is five.  And yet, I know this isn’t true.  As I write the poems, I am writing for Mia.  If I start thinking about Madison, the context changes entirely.

Even though I know my girls are completely different with varying needs, it has bothered me that the poems are for Mia.  I have been holding on to an antiquated idea that to be fair, things have to be the same.

Cupcake for MadA couple of weekends ago, Mia and I spent a wonderful afternoon painting in water colors.  The last painting I created was for Madison…a cheeky cupcake running away with a present.  Immediately, I was inspired to write a different set of more playful poems for Madison using paintings as illustrations.

I have long known that fair does not mean equal.  Yet, until that weekend, I didn’t understand the entirety of this statement.  The narrative poems for Mia are suited to her.  I know who she is and what she needs in the same way that I know Madison will respond to the playful narrative.  Knowing my children deeply means responding to them in different contexts, and though this sometimes feels unfair, ultimately, I have to give them what they need.

The same rings true in schools.  When we talk about assessment, which is a huge focus of conversation these days, we should also keep in mind that fair isn’t equal.  This is why we need choice.  Feedback.  Assessment to standards, which really means multiple means of reaching standards.

Some may read the above to mean differentiating assessment to decrease rigor.  This is not my intent.  I simply mean that there are multiple ways of reaching a standard and choice-based assessments create deeper engagement and ownership, and ultimately, greater fairness.

Fair is not equal because we all have different needs.  Rather than focus on what others have or don’t have, we should give space for each other to receive what we need.  I may spend more or less time with one child, one team or one student, but I will always be focused on what each individual needs.  That’s what’s fair!

6 Replies to “Fair Isn’t Equal”

  1. Great read Tara!,
    It get’s making thinking more about the big picture of education. Ken Robinson’s insights on why we have students move through the education system based on birth years rather than developmental ability? Are we meeting the individual needs of students by locking them into these tracks?


    1. I love where you took this Ben. I would love if my own children could be in a multi-age classroom. When I was student teaching back in the 90s, I worked in several multi-age rooms. I wonder what happened to that trend?

  2. Tara,
    I appreciate your insights and enjoy your art work. I especially like the way you incorporated choice with differentiation. Years ago I implemented Kathy Nunley’s program of Layered Curriculum into my Economics and Computer Applications courses. This was before differentiation was a buzz word. I became very passionate about the idea of student choice enabling students to be responsible for their own learning. This way differentiation is built in without singling out student differences. I hope we are able to continue to explore these ideas as we begin working together next year.
    Best wishes,

    1. Hi Lorrie,
      Thanks for the compliment re the artwork. I am truly a novice, but Mia has inspired me. It’s so funny that you mention Layered Curriculum. I saw Kathy Nunley years ago in Taipei and used a lot of her principles in my own classroom. I often refer back to her in team discussions. Looking forward to next year. Tara

  3. Hi Tara.

    Great read. This is absolutely something that we as teachers forget. The children we teach are unique individuals and we should remember that when we support, asses or even just give emotional advice.

    Best of the best to you and your beautiful girls.

  4. At a recent teacher-led workshop at our school, an early childhood teacher asked us to create a representation of the child with a variety of EC-type materials. My table of teachers really struggled with this idea because we felt like we couldn’t create just one representation because all children are so different. It turns out that this was the point. Ha. While it can pose even greater challenges, allowing children to approach learning in different ways, through different interests even, can better help us meet students’ needs. This was a great post. Thanks.

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