“That’s not fair!” Parents and teachers hear this often. What children don’t always understand is that treating students fairly does not mean treating them all alike. Even adults sometimes say that fairness means everyone gets the same thing. Following that reasoning, if one person in the family gets a wheelchair, then everyone should get one. That, of course, is ridiculous! Only the one who needs a wheelchair gets one.
If a child in my classroom cannot read a test for herself, then I provide a way for her to have the test read to her. If another cannot write the answers, then I provide a way to have the answers written for him. The child does the thinking for himself, but a skill deficit or physical problem should not keep him from succeeding in my class. This is treating students fairly—giving them what they need.
On the other hand, if a child can read and write for herself, it would not be fair to read and write for her. She would not be getting to practice her reading and writing skills, nor would she continue to be independent.
I always need to teach about fairness versus equal treatment when it relates to accommodations in the classroom. A blog post by Richard Curwin, “Fair Isn’t Equal: Seven Classroom Tips,” discusses the concept as it relates to behavior management. One thing Dr. Curwin says in that blog is that you should teach the concept of fairness before you implement it, which is an excellent idea.
Next time you hear “That’s not fair!” use the opening to have an important talk about fairness. Ask “What would be fair?” and go from there!
More on this topic from Livia McCoy: Fairness Is Not Always What it Seems.