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University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Fairness vs. Equality in American Education

Ross McGuinn ENGL 1102 014 Carrie Sippy May 1, 2013

Its no secret that the American educational system has its fair share of problems. And this isnt made any easier by the fact that there are so many diverse people and situations involved that finding one single solution that reasonably pleases everyone has become an impossibility. In other words treating our students equally will not necessarily mean that they are treated fairly. With movements like the No Child Left Behind act, it seems that our society is moving in a direction some might call fair. However, think about what this act was doing. All children in public education systems were required to reach the same level of proficiency. All students were held to an equal level of understanding and student performance did not rise in the least, in fact performance in science classes decreased. (Valerie Strauss) This happened because the level of proficiency that schools were required to hold students to was lowered in order to accommodate children who had trouble in school systems. Now certainly all the students across America were held to equal standards, but would you consider these standards fair? Is treating everyone the same all it takes to be fair? Perhaps an answer could be found by first examining the hardships faced by women in the school system.

When you begin to question the fairness of education systems in America, the ways in which women are viewed starts to appear problematic. Less is routinely expected of women in their educational careers and although this problem seems to be decreasing as of late, it is still a classic example of how the current ideals we are dealing with can be harmful to certain groups of people (Hall, Johanna R.). When you look at the ratio of men to women in STEM fields, it becomes apparent that gender plays a key role in what career paths students choose to embark on.

Katerina Zaravigka has done research on this very topic (Equality Of The Genders In
Physical Education: The Students' Perceptions). Her study involved gathering and analyzing the

opinions of two different high school classes about the PE courses they were taking. They were asked questions about how they viewed gender and how it related to physical education classes. According to the questionnaire responses received over the duration of the study, it was clear that young students continue to perpetuate stereotypes while they were in school. This was closely associated with how strongly students would develop their own gender identities and how they would hold the other students to their standards. In addition to this, the adult instructors had different expectations of students based on their gender. It was shown that instructors generally believed that young girls couldnt do as much physical activity as young boys. There is some truth to this in fact, young boys are oft stronger and more physically resilient than young girls. Nonetheless, these expectations have their consequences on how students are viewed based on their gender. Studies dealing with the public perception of gender are becoming more and more common in todays society. This increase in awareness is an indicator of how important these issues are to the people of the country.

Gender inequality is undeniable, but there are some arguments out there against the concept of fairness in general. Stephen T. Asma wrote on this subject in his book, Against Fairness. He suggests that the benefits of favoritism outweigh those of fairness. His claims stem from the thought that favoritism has been around since the dawn of time. In order for early man to survive he was forced to favor certain foods over others. Natural selection was basically just favoritism when you got down to the meat of it. His points bring us back to my original assertion that equality may not be the best way to facilitate fairness. Similarly to what Asma is saying, if

we were to have unparalleled equality, there would be no advancement in society. Without introducing new ideas and picking certain thoughts over others, nothing would change and we would be stuck in the same position forever. A kind of fairness where we treat everything the same and hold all people to the exact same standards isnt really fair at all, it only serves to hinder our progress.

Of course, maybe these issues of equality are really just coming from a failure to communicate properly. The words we use may not be properly defined in all contexts and this could lead to confusion. Although it may sound like little more than semantics, when I refer to equality I choose to mean that everything is literally the same. In an equal world, all students would be offered the exact same scholarships regardless of their race, gender identity, or even GPA (although you might argue in an equal world wed all have the same GPA). Although this scene would still pass as equal in my mind, it certainly isnt fair. If someone works harder than someone else, it would only be fair for them to be rewarded. In my mind, the American dream would be the perfect vision for what an ultimately fair society should look like. Of course we all know this dream is exactly that and is not in heavy practice in the real world. But that doesnt stop the study of such ideals.

Dennis E. Mithaug, author of Equal Opportunity Theory, is an expert on the titular theory. Equal Opportunity Theory is essentially the theory that suggests we should all have an equal opportunity for success and our results should be based solely on how hard we work to achieve them. This idea is similar to the American Dream which I mentioned above and is one of the core beliefs that this country was founded on. It would make sense then that the ideals we

should strive for in our educational system be tied in with these. However, there are certainly issues with applying these beliefs to the real world, as anyone who lived through the great depression could tell you.

The beliefs of the American dream would rely on the fact that each person would get only what he earned. If a citizen were to work harder than everyone else he would have more than anyone else. Perhaps the most obvious problem with this line of thought is that success is measured in physical goods. It is most commonly thought that if you do your part and work every day you could eventually earn yourself a house, family, and have a steady income to satisfy your financial needs. However, when you take into account the desire to create beautiful works of art or ones intense hatred of families or physical property, it becomes less clear how applicable the American dream would be. Since education is already an intangible concept, this might seem like a difficult place to apply these ideals, but we can pretty easily make the analogy between physical rewards and a well-earned education and go from there.

Another major problem with the American dream is that not everybody begins life at the same point on the road to financial success. Often your familys societal standings will determine much about where you will go in life and how much you can receive. In a world truly run by the American dream it would be necessary to disregard family status and instead give only in terms of how much work each individual put into his life. Similarly, if we were to approach education with the Equal Opportunity Theory, each student would get back a wealth of education in direct proportion to how much time he invested. Common sense tells us this would never work due to the fact that some children are more naturally gifted than others and might understand certain

concepts at a faster rate. So perhaps Equal Opportunity Theory shouldnt completely govern how education is facilitated, but I believe that some of its ides are worth noting.

So how do these ideas of a perfect educational environment compare to the reality? Well, I created a small series of questions that was designed to measure how fairly students felt our current school system was treating us and what they would like to see differently. The responses I received suggested that a majority of high school and early level college students believe that gender inequality is a pressing issue in modern schools and that still more needs to be done about it. However, these same students also feel that genders are much more fairly treated now than they were 10+ years ago. Trends suggest that our educational system is slowly but surely getting better about treating students fairly. More and more scholarships for minorities and niche interest groups are being created and raising awareness. It is unlikely that a high school graduate would not be able to find a scholarship that fit his/her desires or cultural background in todays society. There is a growing concern for fairness and it is only getting stronger.

This debate on how to fairly treat all students will likely continue on for some time, but I believe that eventually an agreement will be reached. We should always strive for a system that treats all students with respect and a sense of fairness. Students of all races, ages, genders and levels of ability should be raised in an environment that allows them to maximize their own personal educational gains based on how much time they spend trying to learn. Effort would truly be the marker of growth in an absolutely fair world, and hopefully one day this world will be a reality.

Works Cited

Valerie Strauss, . n.d., n. pag. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/a-decade-of-nochild-left-behind-lessons-from-a-policy-failure/2012/01/05/gIQAeb19gP_blog.html>. Hall, Johanna R. "Gender Equity In Science Education." Online Submission (2011): ERIC. Web. 24 Feb. 2013. Asma, Stephen T. Against Fairness. , 2013. Print. Mithaug, Dennis E. Equal Opportunity Theory. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage Publications, 1996. Print. James, Aaron. Fairness in Practice: A Social Contract for a Global Economy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Print. Zaravigka, Katerina, and Vassilis Pantazis. "Equality Of The Genders In Physical Education: The Students' Perceptions." Journal Of Physical Education & Sport 12.3 (2012): 350357. SPORTDiscus with Full Text. Web. 17 Mar. 2013.