Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Equality: Outcomes vs. Opportunities by Brian McGarry

Two popular themes often pushed in schools are "celebrating diversity" and "preaching tolerance." At first glance, these ideas sound really nice. However, the roots of these messages stem from an ugly past in which people were judged by the color of their skin (or gender/ethnicity), rather than the content of their character. The battle Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.  and others fought was intended to make these debates obsolete.


Today our schools are filled with children making posters, flying balloons, and drawing colorful rainbow pictures showing the blending of cultures and acceptance of others' beliefs in order to showcase their collective tolerance for one another. This helps create a school environment that discourages discrimination.


"Teachers need to distinguish the important difference between equal outcomes, which inevitably lead to greater government controls, and equal opportunities, which free the individual to succeed and to make mistakes."

Most students have an intrinsic sense of fairness and sharing. When teachers appeal to the idea of equality, students tend to gravitate towards it. Therefore, teachers need to distinguish the important difference between equal outcomes, which inevitably lead to greater government controls, and equal opportunities, which free the individual to succeed and to make mistakes. Simply talking about equality as a global ideal can easily be misinterpreted.

Each year, I do an experiment in my classroom that highlights the problems with forcing equal outcomes. I adjust the grades from a chapter test by rewriting the "new" grade to account for the successes and failures of each student. For example, those who score in the 90s receive an altered grade in the 70s. Those in the 50s jump to the 70s. Seeing the reactions of those who celebrate their sudden fortunes and the anger from those who have seen their intellectual efforts destroyed by a "central authority's" arbitrary decision is quite interesting. Give it a try with your class.

izzit.org's video 2081 presents educators with an entertaining and graphic example of what happens when you force equal outcomes. The students see how equal outcomes drag the successful down, while institutionalizing mediocrity and incompetence. The heavy hand of government is highlighted in this wonderful adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's dystopian short story "Harrison Bergeron."

The production value matches the important message. My kids watch intently and are actively engaged in class discussion after viewing it. I ask them to compare and contrast the video with Lois Lowry's The Giver, which is another dystopian novel we read.

I think I have about 20 videos from izzit.org. Thanks to izzit, I can show students that rugged individualism and free-market economics are not merely about making money. These principles also help people tear down the many barriers that tend to make people judgmental and intolerant, without the government attempting to equalize all outcomes.