Recently, a friend asked me why I thought my teaching practice should be shaped by distributive justice (equity). So this blog post is the long answer, which I couldn’t manage on a Friday night over dinner.
One from a family whose parents completed high school and obtained a tertiary education, they have books in their house, the student is helped with his homework which includes the reading of an age-appropriate book for English.
One from a family whose mother completed high school and works night shifts and a father whose literacy is where he left it in high school at the age of 15. His father tries his best to help with his homework but the book requires him to sound out the words aloud before he can help his child.
Which one is most likely to finish their homework to a better standard?
No one is equal in education.
The answer to this? Equity.
Equity acknowledges that people are inherently unequal. Students are born with characteristics like creativity or an affinity for algebraic equations. Some are born with impairments, or disabilities. Others, lag behind academically. Others have been born into high cultural capital families.
So what is equity exactly? Well here’s the layman’s definition:
Equity is the provision of resources to those who need them in order to create a level playing field.
Equity perpetuates inequality to create equality. (Woah). It discriminates on the basis of need to enable fairness of chances in succeeding.
In education this can take many shapes and forms. It can be the employment of Teacher’s Aides, diversifying learning activities or changing expected learning outcomes. Really, it’s being aware of student’s weaknesses, strengths and diverse backgrounds then acknowledging that these will impact the learning experience of every single student in a different way.
As a classroom teacher, I will never be able to provide the funding needed to employ a TA, purchase specialist resources or a far reaching educational program. However, I can differentiate my teaching. This uses all that I know (and can find out) about the students in my class and then alters my pedagogy (everything teacher’s do) to cater for the needs identified.
An example is of these two export tables. One was given to Year 9 students who were reading at a primary school level, the other to those at or just below stage level:
Note: I did six revisions of the readability of the export table, to change headings, simplify commodities, exclude the %’s traded, and the font.
Sometimes, this is time-consuming and often hard, so why bother?
I wrote this in a recent education assignment:
Differentiation requires learning objectives for all students to be the same, but ensuring tasks are tailored to meet the needs of individual students so that each have the opportunity to engage and learn.
What I really wanted to write was something far deeper and less secular.
The only thing that Christ treats equally is his love of people and hatred of sin. Jesus was sent to save the sick, not to call the righteous (Mark 2:17). Christ also treated those who were downtrodden with an unyielding compassion regardless of who was watching (Luke 7:37-50).
Although Christ’s love is far more pure, constant and unconditional that anything I can offer; my students are equal human beings who deserve me to care about them, however, I didn’t become a teacher to sit and watch students struggle when I could easily do something about it. I choose to discriminate my pedagogy so that a child who may fall into the cracks of the education system can achieve, even if it means another child’s worksheet hasn’t been read seventeen times for readability when they don’t need that treatment.
I also wrote this in the same assignment:
This [equity] is contrary to current discourse which requires teachers to be competent experts who are measured on the basis of standardized tests.
It is easy to forget equity when a standardized test like NAPLAN or an exam measures your ability to teach well. When differentiation is time-consuming and almost irrelevant to the national assessment of education, why use your time if the student isn’t even going to be able to read the question on the HSC test paper?
I wrote this:
That is, realizing how to cater for students is a life-long process, and I will not always be the expert, but that my praxis [way you teach] will be constantly reinvented.
What I meant was:
As a Christian, we are called to emulate the love and fruits of the Spirit that Jesus so awesomely displays to the world.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. ~ Galatians 5:22-26
Sure, a teacher can’t be expected to fix the world– it’s infinitely filled with brokenness, and almost every student will be marred by this (#Jesus can fix all: Luke 18:27; Job 42:2; Jeremiah 32:17).
Yet if I’m faced with the decision to have a two hour nap on a Friday afternoon, or change all my slides to black and white, so that the student I just found out was colour blind can read the explanations, notes and instructions; actual kindness demands me to forego the nap. Or, despite the great desire to discipline the student who stands outside the classroom he’s just been kicked out of whilst banging on the door, screaming to be let back in; self-control reminds me he has an additional learning need, where he can’t draw the connection between being punished (in this way) and his behaviour so I sit him down, ask him why he’s outside, what he should have done then explain it’s fair to be outside.
Short answer: Equity. I think it matters. Jesus.