Equality v Equity: What is Your Opinion?

The United States of America is famously known for being the land of opportunity where everyone should have an equal chance to succeed. However, lining everyone up at some Olympic starting line and simply saying, “Go!” isn’t likely to be fair to everyone.

Anyone following Tokyo 2020 knows Black athletes tend to run faster than Whites; and male swimmers are faster than females. In a simple model, just saying “Go!” gives advantage to the physically strongest individuals. This is how the world operated throughout most history. People may have had equality when starting, but not equality of outcome. There were many losers and a small handful of winners.

The WOKE generation now says we should focus less on equality and more on equitability. Here’s an example: Because treating people fairly often means treating them differently.

Because treating people fairly often means treating them differently

My criticism of the WOKE generation is they believe their demands are unique. Unfortunately, they do not know history or the efforts of previous generations.

As a university professor in the 1990s, I asked such questions in my political science classes — over 25 years ago. We were WOKE back in the day. The younger generations believe they thought of these questions on their own. Americans have been seeking answers for some time.

Here’s a discussion with Ella-Maereen Kilpack, who posted the meme on social media. What are your thoughts? Please join the conversation by adding your comments below.

Ella-Maereen Kilpack

Question: if we agree to treat everyone differently, how do we know it is fair?

Ella: If they all reach the same outcome — success

Thanks for responding. Is “success” defined the same for everyone?

Ella: I imagine a general definition of success would need to be used. Able to pass the class, able to get the job, able to cross the street, etc.

Thanks! As a university professor in the 1990s, I asked this question. It’s not a new concern. Taught a 200 Level Class (sophomores). Yet sometimes a freshman would be in my class, sometimes seniors. 

It was easy for seniors, as they had more general background. Hard for the first year student. Asked my class: the freshman works harder to pass my test; the senior can pass it easily and doesn’t even need to study. 

Do both deserve an A? Or should the person who works the hardest get the highest grade? What do you think?

Ella: They should all get the A, if it was earned. The freshmans may need additional assistance or practice, but that’s okay. They also might not need it and do just fine 🤷 the ultimate goal of schooling is to understand the material and pass the class. It’s not about being better or smarter than others, it’s about being successful for yourself – passing the class.

That was one common response. That is equality. Yet when we consider equity, some are working harder. If we apply this to the work environment, shouldn’t those working harder get more money? 

See how tricky it gets quickly?

Let me also tie this to the illustration above. As the teacher, I have ONE BIKE … one size. Everyone must adjust and learn to ride my bike. Harder for some; easier for others. That is equality. 

As a teacher, I can’t have easier tests for some; harder for others. However equity demands such a system.

Ella: I think we can use both ideas together. Everybody should do well in school and work and be successful, and I think that’s the most important thing. But people should be able to move beyond simple success into some other higher standard, if they are talented enough or work hard enough — scholarships, bonuses, promotions, etc.

I think we should do what we can to ensure people can all achieve a certain standard of living and happiness as a whole society, and then there be bonuses to going above and beyond. But we should all be given the initial steps we need to succeed — tutors, extra practice time, etc.

That is correct, but the students who aren’t doing as well could come to you for additional assistance like tutoring or further reading material, etc. I think that’s the point of this post. Giving people extra help so they can succeed shouldn’t be a negative thing.

I feel more accomplished because I had to study and do assignments. I wasn’t a natural at everything I did. I achieved just as much as everybody else, even if I wasn’t the “smartest.” We still reached the same finish line. I’m grateful for getting the extra help I received from teachers, coaches, employers, etc.

The class I taught was Public Policy and your answer is intelligent and sophisticated. You wrote, “I think we should do what we can to ensure people can all achieve a certain standard of living.” That’s why society provide FREE public education through HS, right?

However some kids get private schooling and this generally provides a stronger base. Fair? Equitable?

You added, “then there be bonuses to going above and beyond.” For the disabled person, maybe just holding a pencil is “above and beyond.” What would be the appropriate reward? For a student who has two PHD-level parents, what do we expect and demand from this student?

And is it fair and equitable to expect more from Simone Biles simply because she has such awesome natural physical talent? If I did just a simple cartwheel, that would be AMAZING for me. If she does this, people yawn and get bored. Many would boo her. 

Finally, you wrote, “we should all be given …” There’s the public policy component. Who gives? Taxpayers??? How much??? What is fair or equitable for them to pay? How much extra help should society provide? 

That’s the trillion dollar discussion in Washington DC, right? You would do well in my class. 💕

Ella: I’m going to be a criminal defense attorney someday, so I’m pretty good at discussing/arguing my stance. I know there isn’t a perfect, concrete answer. It will be different for different people. But if people are simply willing to help others, and maybe go above and beyond, they could really help others.

I didn’t necessarily mean the government regulating it because we all know how ineffective the government can be with many issues, but if individuals made the effort to help others, it’s a start. Helping a struggling student with their homework, putting ramps on buildings, they may not help every individual person, but providing help at all, even if it’s tiny, could change the world of the person receiving that help.

In turn, it makes the world better as a whole because we are making it a happier, more caring place.

Good for you!!! Excellent career choice. Your vision is beautiful. No disagreement from me. 

The challenge is to be equitable with the assistance. If I come from a wealthier community, for example a suburb, they might provide more individual assistance, as people have more to give, know each other more personally, and have stronger community ties.

If I’m in a depressed area, say an inner city, with high density population and lower social-economic status of folks, there is less available assistance. 

We saw some of this last year when schools closed due to the pandemic. Students from wealthier households had wifi access, parents who could assist with classes (parents college educated). Children from poorer homes didn’t have wifi — only cell phone data plans, so they couldn’t Zoom as easily; maybe didn’t have a computer in the home; and parent(s) didn’t have much education background to assist the homework. 

Seems to require some form of government to “level the playing field.” Who pays so all kids have wifi access? Access to tutors? If people would simply help others, this would not be a concern.

But we know many people live in areas where there isn’t such help: Native American reservations, crime-ridden inner cities, poor rural areas far from services. And, this ties back to your illustration about equity. How does every kid get the right size bike for his/her needs?

Ella: I wish I had a better answer! A lot of my ideas would turn this conversation into a political discussion, and I obviously don’t have any influence on how our government handles things anyway (yes, I vote, but there’s only so much voting accomplishes), so I don’t really have an idea which could easily and successfully be implemented 🤷

Neither does our Congress!!! 🤣

Ella: haha agreed

What Are Your Thoughts?

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Ko’olau of Kaua’i. I am the Defiant One
“I Believe We Can”

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