“Fair Isn’t Always Equal” : The Case of the Spectator

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October. What a beautiful time of year…with the leaves changing, the weather cooling, the flannel shirts and cinnamon/oatmeal cookies making their appearances, Christmas on the horizon, and playoff baseball. Call me sentimental, call me a romantic, or just call me a fanatic, but playoff baseball has to be one of the greatest things on this earth, and it only gets better when my Cardinals or my Giants are playing. My ‘fanhood’ has history, ever since my little league appearance on the Cards solidified by obsession, and the rest is history.Image

“…that’s nice and all, Andrew, but what does this have to do with education?” I’m glad you asked. What sparked my baseball ‘trip down memory lane’ was an image I ran across when looking at the idea that fair doesn’t always mean equal.

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When I was asked by my instructor to analyze this idea through my blog, I thought I’d touch on a couple ideas regarding both sides and be done, but after my discovery of this image, I really started to understand. Could it have been the baseball reference? Sure. (…and there’s a lesson to be learned there, surrounding sparking student interest too, but that’s another entry in and of itself). …but what struck me was the simplicity displayed here regarding this concept that we, as educators, have made so complex. Fair doesn’t always mean equal!

My first encounter with this phrase came in Gail Boushey and Joan Moser’s book, “The CAFE Book,” which is an invaluable resource for lower elementary level language arts instruction. I wasn’t quite sure what to think regarding these “sisters'” ideas at first, but the above image made me finally see it: it’s all about student need.

Every student we encounter will need something different at that point and time on their educational journey. This could change based on learning style, special needs, previous experience, interest level, or any other factor, but as this image depicts, students all need something different to best “see the game.” To treat each student the same, and provide equal support will suffice for some but do a disservice to others…we’ll either stifle the student’s view of the game by hiding them behind the wall or put them up high above the wall when they could have seen fine to begin with.  

These images put it nicely as well…

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As I have touched on before, I am a firm believer in the true calling of educators: to foster the development of better people, not test scores. This idea of fair and equal contains no exception to this aspect. If we strive as educators to send out 25 changed people from our classroom at the end of the year, who have also grown immensely on an academic level, we have succeeded. What’s important is our focus on providing support that meets the student where they’re at, on their level, and with the appropriate help. Will this always be the same for every student? Absolutely not! We don’t want to produce “cookie cutter kids,” so we shouldn’t expect to teach them that way. BUT, do we need to help each student fairly develop to the next level, regardless of where they are right now? Absolutely. That is the fairness that Boushey and Moser are talking about: appropriate help and fostering of growth for each and every student.

Don’t block your students’ view of the game! Make sure your help and support meets them on their level and gives them exactly what they need to enjoy some “playoff baseball.” Ensure that no one is hiding behind the wall and no one is getting a boost they don’t need. Rather, ensure each and every student is getting a fair shot based on what they truly need to best enjoy the game.

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