E is for Equity in Education

equity equalityThe goal of any education system is to prepare learners for life and the world of work-preparing them for their futures. In the United States, the education system is no different. Charter schools, private schools, public schools or home schooling, all look to prepare learners for the future.

Education plays an important role in determining how you spend your adult life. Who you will be and what you will do-the role you’ll play in society. The more you learn and the higher the education level, the more you earn– theoretically. That is, in a perfect world.

As a democracy, where the heralded belief that ALL were created equal, there is an implied equity that transcends race, income or location. It assumes that all would be educated and taught under similar, if not the same set of variables.

These include the content taught, and the context of being taught. These include instructional materials which offer, within the diversity of population, the same diversity of instruction. Notwithstanding the core sciences, which are empirically-based, every other subject matter introduced, as part of the standard curriculum, is representative of a corresponding degree of equity.

The concept of equity speaks to fairness as a defining characteristic of education— access and opportunity. Equity is not to be confused with equality, which  presumes a ‘level playing field’. Equity, in this sense, recognizes that some require more than others in order to level that field.

In the same way that it is understood that all schools should be equally resourced, it is understood that some schools require more resources in order to be considered an equitable learning environment. In communities of color, a generally poorer population, with under-resourced schools, equity requires additional resources than provided to white, more affluent communities.

The reasoning behind this is that historically, poorer communities were denied access to that which was freely available to those with higher income, and they were intentionally-determined white. Over years, generations, and centuries, poorer communities of color, lagged behind white ones, in practically every area throughout and across the life span.

In order for schools to boast equity, regarding providing quality education experiences, in poorer communities, it must be evident in the way they purposefully level that playing field. The playing field, in this country, has never been ‘level’, and cannot be so with an act of equalizing resources. However, it is a positive starting point-from this day forward.

Before we are equitable, there is a lot do do, for there is a great gap to be narrowed first. We balk at the idea of approaching children of color from a ‘remedial’ lens, that is actually where society has positioned all people of color in America. Playing catch-up, to approach equity in education, will in fact involve remediation.

Actually, this is not remediation in the context with which it is generally perceived. Remediation assumes that children have had the opportunity to learn certain skills, or acquire knowledge in certain areas, when this type of remediation is an introduction to these skills for the first time. Most children of color are not deficient, and require review of learning. They have never been introduced to it.

Does that mean that they are in need of special education or special attention and instruction. Placing these children in special education programs in school, simply fosters a sense of ‘incompetence’ within the children, along with the heavy burden of stigma.

Placing these children in special education academic programs, and strapping them down with I.E.P.s can thus become an excuse for the absence of educational equity. This is within the understanding that some of the circumstances from which these children come, are not within the control of schools at all.  However, schools do have a responsibility to be responsive and sensitive to the circumstances of the populations they serve, and prioritize that environment accordingly.

Many would cry out in protest, that in efforts to be equitable, schools in some areas will need more resources than others. This does not look like it does now, where the affluent areas have more resources than those poorer areas. It will have to be the other way around.

So, if equity is our aim, we cannot be deterred by the voices of privilege that scream out ‘foul’, and that their taxpayer dollars should not leave their communities, in efforts to be human, just and fair. For far too long, the power structure has reinforced the rich and punished the poor. Is that being a human, lover of all mankind- a person who frequently  exclaims their love for all children. These are the people who believe that giving, in the form of donations to causes, once per year. Then, their giving dollars are written of on their taxes.

Will these people confidently freely present their child to challenge a black child to a duel, under the framework of total fairness? Do you believe, with pure confidence, that your child will prevail over a black, indigenous, Latinx child, when they have both been socialized and educated within equitable environments? This presumes that any privilege is moot. It is based on sheer skill, knowledge, and the same tools. No cheating. Be honest. It’s OK. Nobody will know but you. Think about it.

That’s what equity will look like. Amidst an environment, surrounded by poverty and people of color,  my daughter, who is ‘of color’ is living proof that equity breeds excellence across the board. With the benefit of my own college degree status, my somewhat ‘privileged’ childhood, my mother’s education, and family values, I excelled. My daughter benefited from this.

She read at 3, was advanced a grade from kindergarten to 1st grade, was enrolled in gifted and talented programs from elementary through high school. She became H.S. Valedictorian, attended Penn State on full scholarship, enlisted in AFROTC, and graduated with a degree in engineering. She then, as 2nd. Lieutenant, entered our Air Force, graduated from pilot training program, highly competitive and rigorous, flew a cargo jet around the world. Now a Major and instructor pilot, with a Masters in International Diplomacy, she is soon separating form her role as an instructor, and moving on to NOAA. This is a clear example of what equity looks like.

Don’t cry about the inevitable restructuring of the school funding framework or changes to more expansive instructional strategies and instructional content, particularly widely published textbooks, from which we teach. If we  strive to be the best in the world, leaders, the ‘jewel in the crown’, we need to demonstrate self-confidence, as a nation of glorious diversity. We must strive to demonstrate to the world that diversity IS American life, and we thrive within the multiple realities of this democracy.

As this nation matures, the irrational, paranoid fears of yesterday erode and transforms into a brave commitment to prosper by the level of skills we acquire and the quality of our work, as individuals. The time will be when success is determined by our merits alone, not color or connections. Equity is when the playing field is level and opportunity and access is equally available and everyone has to play fair in order to win races to the top. Equity is no cheating and no short cuts. That will be a truly exciting time. It is then that we discover how good we each are, and inform us of what we need to do to make it in America!


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