Every single person on this planet is different. Everyone we meet has a different story behind them and a different future in front of them. I am very lucky that I get to meet lots of little people with a little past behind them and a lot of future before them. And it is my job to try and make sure that every single one of those little people get the best they possibly can so that they can have the best future possible. However, I cannot do this if I treat them all equally. To treat them all equally is to not recognise the myriad of personalities that sit before me, the short but very important variable backgrounds they have behind them, the infinite levels of sensitivity they have for sound/light/touch or the immeasurable differences in what they all know and can do.
Unfortunately we as human beings seem to have a natural propensity for wanting things to be equal and claiming things are ‘not fair!’ if we don’t all get the same. I’d like to argue however that equality is not what we really want at all, because equality by it’s very nature leads to a very large group of people being disadvantaged and discriminated.
What we really want is fairness so that everyone gets what they need to succeed. That means that the children in my class will be treated differently based on their needs. If one need more support than others in a subject that’s what they get. If they need more support than others with friendship groups that’s what they get. If they work best laying on the floor instead of sitting then so be it. If they need to sit apart from their best friend to get any work done then that’s what they get, even if they’re not particularly happy about it. The important thing here is to explain why so that they understand. That natural propensity is soon calmed with a simple explanation in most cases. Understanding goes a long way. That is how we build tolerance for differences between people. It’s when the explanations are missing that mistrust and suspicion have room to grow. I believe that if we explain why people are treated differently then we will build a more tolerant society than if we teach children that everyone should be treated equally.
A lot of this is written with those children in mind that in one way or another have greater needs, be that behaviourally, emotionally, socially or cognatively. It was in fact a comment I heard the other day that got me thinking about this very subject. I work in a school with quite a large number of children with special needs and the comment went along the lines of that we are too tolerant of behaviours that don’t fit into societal norms and we need to teach the kids how to fit into these norms by treating them as all the other children, in other words children with special needs get away with too much. I really don’t think it is this simple because if they could they would. Treating them equally often puts too many demands on them so that they can’t succeed. Treating them fairly, understanding that they maybe have a different set of rules to follow is treating them and everyone else fairly. I know full well that if I treat all my kids equally then I am likely to invoke a massive meltdown that disturbs the whole class. As much as possible I try to avoid this and sometimes that means different rules for different children. My class are very tolerant because they understand why.
Yes, we need to give children skills to survive the outside world, a world with certain norms which is less tolerant than our little school bubble. But what’s more important is that we create a new generation of people who are more tolerant than the last. One that understands that equal and fair are not synonymous and that an equal world is a vastly unfair one.