by Paul Thomas, @ The Chalk Face, March 7, 2013
Let’s start with a graphic and Question 1: Do Student X and Student Y below have EQUAL opportunities to move the boulder?
The answer is obvious, “Yes.”
Now, let’s go one step further and consider this: In the free market (both the U.S. economy and the “free market” of ideas within schools), capital (economic, social, linguistic, connectedness, etc.) moves that market.
Question 2: Are the equal opportunities to move the boulder of the free market EQUITABLE for Student X and Student Y?
The answer is obvious, “No.”
Student X has the lever of privilege that includes his home and community, but also access to challenging courses and the best and most experienced teachers once in school. None of these advantages for Student X have been gained solely through that student’s grit, by the way, but are the cumulative gains built on the accident of that child’s birth.
For Student Y, not only does the student not have access to the lever of privilege, but also the struggle up the mountain of poverty. And a variety of events outside of the control of Student Y multiply, sometimes exponentially, the challenge of poverty—sickness, parental work obligations, parental work loss, parental sickness, etc.
Question 3: Should the expectations of effort and engagement be EQUAL for Student X and Student Y?
The answer, again, is obvious, “Yes.”
But the problem is that current education reform, notably the “no excuses” ideology, assumes Student X’s accomplishments are primarily earned by that student (through “grit”) and that Student Y (the solution) simply needs to buck up, try harder (with less), and embody that assumed “grit” idealized in all Student X’s.
The real problem of education, then, is not about equality (Student Y needing to equal the “grit” of Student X), but about equity, or more accurately, the social and educational inequity between Student X and Student Y.
And herein lies the ugly fact: To achieve equity, Student X must have his lever removed (keep in mind how parents in privilege are the first the swoop in and defend their children at even the hint of inequity) or some effort must be made to provide Student Y the dozens of elements (social and educational) that equal the lever of privilege and removes the mountain of poverty….
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