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What Lincoln and Ellen Can Teach Us About Equity

Educational Support Services

Valerie Kraskey

Administrative Manager

Ellen accepting People’s Choice Humanitarian Award

“You have to do your own growing no matter how tall your grandfather was.” ~Abraham Lincoln

It’s a typical day in Mrs. Mack’s seventh grade classroom. Kids are bustling around, laughing, talking. Someone makes a funny noise; everyone laughs. The teacher tells the class to settle down and starts handing out folders.

“That’s not fair!” thinks Evan, “Bella always gets the purple one, and I wanted the purple one! Why does Mrs. Mack always treat her better than me??? I really hate this class!!!”

From across the room, Bella thinks, “Geez, why does Mrs. Mack keep giving me the purple one? She doesn’t understand me, I don’t even like purple!  Plus, Evan reeaally likes purple. I wish Evan would like me…”

We all want to be treated with equity – with fairness. Truth is, treating everyone fairly turns out to be a really, really hard thing to do. Why? Because we can’t possibly know what everyone wants and needs. Some strategies tell us to level the playing field. In other words, make everything equal. The problem is, everyone is different, with different wants and needs. (See “The problem with that equity vs equality graphic you’re using”)  

Sure, we can try to make everything exactly the same – the same color, the same shape, the same size – but that creates a classroom of “meh” (and we all know the last thing we need is a room full of uninterested, unengaged students). So, how can we answer this problem of equity and equality?

One solution is to embrace the fact that we are all unique individuals and be more intentional in truly seeing each other. By being intentional in our interactions, and making note that Evan seems to really like purple, and Bella seems to really like Evan, we are acknowledging the individual.

Take a few minutes in the day to ask someone something specific about themselves. Or incorporate a weekly, “Did You Know?” activity where everyone shares something about themselves. As we share parts of ourselves, we are learning to understand our own self better.

By taking the time to learn about ourselves and one another, we will discover that we can embrace our differences, appreciate one another, and find that equity and equality begin with us. In the immortal words of Ellen DeGeneres, “We must embrace individual differences and be kind to one another.” (Watch “Ellen Wins the People’s Choice Humanitarian Award!”)

Joanna Wemple
Communications Coordinator
San Luis Obispo County Office of Education

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