Let’s Clear This Up: Equity and Equality are Not the Same Thing
April 18, 2023
April 18, 2023
By CheRee Wiley
There is a gross misunderstanding about equity and equality—many people think they mean the same thing. They don’t: Equity is about meeting individual needs.
As Baruti Kafele, author of The Equity and Social Justice 50: Critical Questions for Improving Opportunities and Outcomes for Black Students, puts it, equity is “meeting young people where they are, as they are.”
What this means is that equity is tailored to the unique needs of the populations we serve. In education, that requires getting to know staff and students in order to understand what their unique needs are.
Cookie-cutter education has never been adequate, and I believe that educational institutions can become transformative spaces that staff and students want to come to each day—but it will require work. The toxicity, in business, in education, and in life, that comes from asking people to conform, rather than embracing their contributions and perspectives, needs to end. Equity inherently makes room for differences, embracing diversity, and creating inclusive spaces.
Meeting unique needs as an educator is about sharing your culture but not expecting students who are English language learners to fully assimilate to achieve academic success. Individualized learning is about acknowledging that a student who never learned to read adequately needs a different reading plan than some of your more accomplished readers—and more of your attention. It also means that the student who is tired every day due to factors they don’t control needs you to provide a different plan as well. Equity is about not making comments about what parents should be doing and then making the student pay because of your judgments. It is about acknowledging that not all parents are home due to various situations, some of them have their own educational struggles, and you are there to help young people in any way that you can.
I understand all too well the challenges educators face year after year. I have spent the last 11 years creating equitable classroom environments in the midst of scheduling changes, overpopulated classrooms, and limited support. I will be the first to say that creating spaces that meet the needs of all students can be a daunting task—but it is worth it. The reward comes from the joy that students have when they come into educational spaces they can take ownership of: When they want to learn because they can relate. These are the rewards that make it all worthwhile, and every student and staff member deserves to experience environments like these.
As leaders, managers, and educators, we have the power to create such spaces, but it is about a mindset, a passion, and a commitment to equity, to diversity, to inclusion, to people finally finding spaces where they are welcome and their differences are celebrated. We are given the unique opportunity to create such spaces. We have the keys to help generate the kind of change that will positively impact generations. The question is, are we up to the task?
Together, let’s create a world where equity leads the way: a better world for us all.
CheRee Wiley, a member of the Hopewell Education Association and of the VEA’s Fitz Turner Commission for Human Relations and Civil Rights, is the Supervisor of Equity, Culture, & History for Hopewell City Public Schools.