It can stem from anything, including what we watch on TV, who feeds the dogs, who gets new tennis shoes, and, the ever-favorite, who gets what punishment for some wrongdoing.
As parents, we know fair doesn’t mean equal. We know parenting means that in order to be fair to each child, sometimes one child needs more or less things, attention, punishment, or money than the other.
All kids are unique. All kids have different needs. Being fair as a parent means that we are making informed decisions about what’s best for our kids.
So why do we accept something other than this from classroom teachers?
The system we use to educate is antiquated: we group kids arbitrarily by age, stick as many of them as we can in one room, keep them in this system for thirteen years, give them a summer break originally designed a hundred years ago so kids could help with the harvest, and then teach them all in the same way, at the same time, and expect them all to progress in a lock-step manner with the same success. There is nothing more “equal” than this.
Since the birth of American education, the only real progress we’ve made is moving kids from a one-room schoolhouse into a multi-room schoolhouse. With all we’ve learned about psychology, learning theory, and brain development, it’s crazy we still run our schools like we’re in the 19th century.
Yes, we have begun to tinker with technology and project-based learning, and career technical education, but the core of what happens in the classroom - the sameness of teaching and learning - is still antiquated.
Because of this, my mission in the classroom has always been to treat each child fairly.
Fairly, not equally.
Even though I still have to deliver instruction to a large heterogenous group, I work every day to find ways to deliver it to differentiate for different types of learners. I deliver information so the auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learners can all excel. I deliver it so those with special needs can succeed. I offer various options for final projects and even provide more time for some kids, on a case-by case basis, if they need it.
I also try to find ways to provide additional support for those who aren’t quite ready to learn new concepts. I give graphic organizers, one-on-one help, additional instruction. Sometimes I even re-teach concepts to small groups of kids, because they need to hear the information a second or third time.
Not every child is going to be able to write a complete essay in two days - some need more time. Others won’t be ready for a math exam on Tuesday and need a few extra days, and help, to master the material. And a science lab may have been so technical for some that they could really benefit from conducting the lab again before writing the report.
All kids have strengths; all kids have areas in which they struggle.
I’m not suggesting we remove the struggle; I’m suggesting we help our kids through it.
Teaching kids how to work through struggle successfully, rather than just letting them fail, will ultimately teach more about life than the mastery of any content from our arbitrary, antiquated system. Today, we need to look at the whole child and commit to treating each one fairly - not equally.
As parents we know this isn’t easy, and we don’t always get it right. The same goes for the classroom teacher. I’m simply suggesting teachers start asking questions of our kids that ensure everyone is treated fairly. Instead of “How can I punish?” I would rather our teachers and schools start asking “How can I help?”
As parents, isn’t that all we really want?
I think that’s fair.