Thursday, October 27, 2016

izzit, 2081 and the Meaning of Equality from Rachel Colsman

One teacher’s Story of How an izzit.org DVD Changed the Life of a Struggling Student


Irving Kristol once said, “Democracy does not guarantee equality of conditions – it only guarantees equality of opportunity.”

This concept has always been a challenge to teach in my government classes.  This past year was no exception.  I teach in northwestern New Mexico, in a district that serves the Navajo Reservation.  My particular school is over 80 percent Navajo.  Their history makes it hard for many students to understand individual rights when, for many years, their rights had been ignored.  

My classes had just finished studying the Bill of Rights. We read the document, broke it down into terminology, and looked at Supreme Court cases.  They were still struggling with the idea of equality. I had to find a way to teach them that equality does not mean everyone should earn the same amount, or live in the same size house.  Enter izzit.org.


I have used izzit.org for a couple of years for a variety of topics.  I just happened to order the video “2081.” It was sitting on my desk waiting to be watched.  I took the video home to preview.  My first reaction was awe… followed very closely by apprehension.  There were guns. The production was dark. It was filled with powerful symbolism.  I knew that it would be a major risk to show it, but I felt that the benefits of using it would outweigh the risks.  

I went to my principal for guidance. He told me to go for it. So I did. I could not have anticipated the results.  


I had one particular student that was struggling to finish his senior year. He rarely came to class. He seemed disconnected. I thought we were going to lose him. But after I got hold of the 2081 DVD, I asked him please to come to class the next day, as I had a great lesson on equality, and would really like him be there. He looked skeptical. But to my surprise, he actually showed up.


I began class by writing “equality” up on the board.  I asked each student to write down their definition of the word.  We had a brief class discussion and developed a class definition of “equality,” and wrote it on the board.  I handed out the video questions and began the movie.  The students were giggling and whispering through the introduction, but when the movie started, things got dead silent.  

The students were mesmerized.  At the conclusion, you could hear a pin drop. I asked the students to revisit their definition of equality for homework, and to bring it in for class discussion the following day.  I could have never predicted the response. Students had been discussing the idea of “equality of outcome,” versus “equality of opportunity” with other teachers, in the lunchroom, and at home.  The next day, every student was in their seat ready for discussion before the tardy bell had even rung – including our struggling young man. The classroom was abuzz with ideas and meaningful exchange.


After class, the young man who’d been missing class came up and asked if he could borrow “2081” to show his parents. I allowed him to take it, and the revolving door of checking out the video began. Over 50 students took “2081” home to share. Parent-teacher conferences four weeks later revolved a lot around my lesson on equality.  


Helping students understand the difference of equality of outcome, versus equality of opportunity has always been a challenge.  Many of my students believed that government has a responsibility to ensure that everyone has exactly the same things. But this lesson helped them understand the fundamental principle of a democratic republic: equality before the law. 

My young man continued to come to class, rarely missing a day.  I asked him what made him want to come. He informed me that the video and the lesson really touched him. He realized that hating the system would do nothing to fix his problems: “Democracy doesn’t mean that everyone ends up the same.  It means that everyone can make choices, and whether they succeed or fail is up to them.  It might not be fair, but at least we each have ownership of our individual journey in life.” 



(Note from izzit.org - Please be advised that 2081 is not streaming on our site but you are able to select it as your free DVD for the year! It's a powerful video, and we highly recommend it for high school students.)