Is equality enough?

Equality is one of the most influential
and powerful words in the development
of what our society is today. It is a word that represents fairness. A word that signifies justice. A concept that people have fought for and that has revolutionized
our global culture in innumerable ways. Today, I challenge you to consider
a different side of equality, one that isn’t always positive. My question today is can this amazing
concept of equality have another side? Can equality ever be unfair? If you were to look
at America about 150 years ago, you would find that it was
radically different from the America we know today. For example, this was a time where
women were expected to wear a large hoop skirt
and a very tight corset. A time when lower-class women were
expected to have a labor-intensive job such as a servant, a factory worker,
domestic help, etc. Middle and upper-class women were
expected to either help with the family business or to become a homemaker. This idea of equality inspired both women
and men alike to start a revolution that would come to completely
change the face of society for the better. Let’s take a look at Mother Teresa. Born August 26, 1910, Saint Teresa of Calcutta was accepted
into the Loreto Convent in Dublin, Ireland at the age of 18. From there, she was sent to India. Although she was not an American,
in 1999, she was voted by Americans as “The Most Admired Person
of the 20th Century.” Her goal in life was to provide help
to the helpless, home to the homeless, love to the lonely. In her words, “Let us always meet
each other with a smile, for a smile is the beginning of love.” Through her work, she advocated
for the rights of the people whom society had deemed unworthy. She dedicated herself entirely to her goal and by doing so, became one of the most
respected and beloved people ever to live. And she was a woman. Amelia Earhart. She was the first female aviator to ever
fly solo over the Atlantic Ocean. Did you know that Earhart was so admired
by the public that people would write her and tell her that they would name things, such as children, lakes, and even
sometimes homing pigeons Amelia after her? Earhart once said, “women must try
to do things as men have tried. And if they fail, their failure
must be a challenge to others.” These amazing women are just two examples
of the many people throughout history who not only broke stereotypes, but demolished them. They completely destroyed the idea
that women weren’t strong enough or qualified enough to change the world. Now women’s rights is no doubt
one of the first things to come to mind when thinking of equality. It rightfully gives us a sense of pride
and accomplishment. This brings us back to the question
of how can equality possibly be unfair? Let’s take a moment to compare the word
Equality with the word Equity. As you can see, both words have
the same prefix that means equal. And at first, you may notice the only
difference between these words is two letters, “a” and “l”. I’m here today to tell you that
those two letters make all the difference. If we break through the layer
that is the “a” and the “l” we realize that equality and equity
have about as much in common as left and right. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that equality
is a bad thing, rather that it’s not the best option
for every situation, such as this one. Personally, this is one of the most
powerful images I’ve ever seen. It beautifully illustrates a concept
so hard to explain. As we can see,
equality represents sameness, which in some situations is a great thing. Equity, on the other hand,
represents fairness, which in all situations is the best thing. When each child gets the same number
of boxes, not everyone can see. But when each child gets the amount
of boxes they need, all three children are able
to see over the fence. My father is a special education
science teacher and has been for the last eleven years. He says that the very first
thing he has to do is determine what the students’ current
levels of educational functioning are, and from that, he can modify their
assignments and their exams to fit their current needs. He says that he views his job
as leveling the playing field to set every student up for success. Leveling the playing field. In my perspective, to level the playing field means to give
every student the opportunities and tools
to compete as equals in the game of life. Now, this not only applies to special
education students, but to gifted students as well. Research shows that roughly 18-25%
of gifted people are underachievers. They simply quit trying because
nothing they do leads to any measurable success
or satisfaction. And in my opinion, this is unacceptable. School is supposed to be a place
to learn and to grow. But not all students grow well
in the same conditions. Oddly enough, neither do plants. A cactus can store water for long
periods of time. It doesn’t need much of any attention,
and it is very large and very strong. An orchid, on the other hand, is a small, delicate flower that needs
the precise temperature and amount of water in order to survive. So, if you were to plant an orchid
in the same environment as a cactus and expect them both to bloom, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Likewise, if you plant students
in the same classroom environment, and expect them all to flourish, you’ll once again be disappointed. Not taking the time to think about
every student as an individual is like telling a flower
that it’s not beautiful and that it doesn’t deserve to bloom because its petals aren’t the exact same
shape or color as all the other flowers. But really, if you think about it, no two children or flowers
are exactly alike. Imagine, instead, if schools were focused
on equity rather than on equality, on providing the students with
what they need rather than teaching everybody
the same way. I strongly believe that the learning
environment should reflect the learning diversity among all students
in all schools. At my school, I’m in a class where we
have the opportunity to learn in whatever way best helps us
to understand. If you could see us on a normal day, you might see some students standing, some sitting alone at a computer
with headphones in, some working in a small group, and maybe even some working
with the teacher who is helping them. Now, to create this situation
in every classroom wouldn’t be easy at all. It would take extra time,
extra effort, and extra manpower, but in the end, leveling the playing field would instill
self-confidence in the students and help them to achieve
their full potential to shine bigger and brighter
than ever. My message for each and every one
of you today is not to overlook those two
seemingly insignificant letters because though they are small, they represent the difference
between equality and equity, between fairness and sameness. And my question is what flower
doesn’t deserve to bloom? Thank you.

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