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Equity and Equality; or Why I Hate Participation Trophies

Lately, everyone is throwing around a bunch of terms about inclusion, cultural appropriation, equity, and equality… I’ve noticed sometimes these words get used in the wrong context, or users don’t really understand the nuances of each different word or phrase. A few of our writers have already started tackling these ‘hot topics,’ like cultural appropriation and gender stereotypes.

Today, I’m going to focus on some of my favorite words: equity and equality.

The way I’ve been hearing equity and equality flung about turns me into Inigo Montoya (and if you didn’t get the Princess Bride reference, go watch it. It’s on Netflix. You’re welcome):

You keep using that word; I do not think it means what you think it means.

equality socioeconomic success

Equity and Equality are not synonyms.

Equality means everyone gets the same thing in the same quantity for the same amount of time. This is great when we’re talking about pay scales, respect, rights, and so on, but equity is where everyone gets the resources and supports based on their need so that they all can succeed at the same thing. It’s not that everybody gets a trophy, it means everyone gets a chance to play with the proper equipment and preparation (i.e. training, uniforms, meals, healthy sleep, etc.) Not everyone wins, but everyone is given every opportunity and support they need to participate on the same footing.

 Let’s look at it in the frame of education and sports:

Equality:

  • Same textbook/same gear
  • Same quiz/same scoring
  • Same expectations
  • Same classroom/field

Equity:

  • Same text, but it’s differentiated (or altered for reading comprehension) so all can understand it/ the gear is fitted for the child– the proper size, fit, or type of gear based on position or need (so not everyone is wearing the goalie outfit while playing hockey)
  • Same quiz content, but kids can take it in a controlled environment, they can take more time to finish it if they need/ same scoring, but keeping in mind any disabilities or ‘handicaps’ (like in golf)
  • Same expectations or standards for graduation/same standards or rules for the game
  • Same classroom/field– no “special” teams for kids who need extra support (Inclusion)

And because I love them so much, check out how Zeno Mountain Farm implements equity in their annual Sports Camp down in Florida with their movie, “Quest for the Cup.” (Go ahead and check them out on Facebook, too!)

As a future teacher, current mom, and someone who works with people who have a wide range of abilities, equity is extremely important to me.

In the classroom, it’s not that some kids get the ‘easy’ test, it’s that each test or lesson is presented in a way that all kids can understand. If one child needs extra help or definitions or whatever, they’re given the help and support they need, but still look toward that same end goal: learning, and eventually graduating with a degree. And it doesn’t just stop at helping them read the material, it’s noticing what they’re struggling with and helping them get the resources they need to get better– to succeed without help (if possible.) This article from Everyday Feminism explains the classroom dynamics of equity and equality in way more detail than I’m getting into, if you’re interested.

Let’s say you have twins. One of them learns to get her own cereal without help, but the other still needs mom or dad to do it for them. Would you say, “To be equal, I won’t help either of them” or, “So-and-so can get her own so I won’t help her, but I’ll help whats-her-face because otherwise, she would starve.” Both girls get fed and you’re still working toward helping whats-her-face get her own cereal, but the point is, they have different, not equal, needs.

Equity, friends, means that both girls get breakfast.

The point here is that not everyone needs the exact same, equal thing. Some people need a little help. Sometimes people need extra support at work or home to do their job. But everyone is capable of succeeding. Their needs and differences don’t make them inferior, and it also doesn’t mean they should be coddled and ‘succeed’ without doing the work.

Teaching equity and equality to kids (and sometimes other adults) is incredibly difficult, especially when most of us think in terms of things being “fair.” The most important thing to instill in our kids is the idea that fair is not always equal. It’s fair that the student with a learning disability in class gets extra help. It’s fair that everyone gets the same consideration for a job based on skill level, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. It’s fair that the winning team gets a trophy, but the losing team doesn’t. But it’s not fair that someone who didn’t study or do the homework gets the same grade as someone who busted their butt the whole year. It’s not fair that someone who doesn’t have the right skills gets the job over another person because they look a certain way or their daddy knows the boss.trophy win

I don’t want my daughter to get a trophy for just showing up. I want her to be rewarded when she puts in her best effort and succeeds. But it’s not about winning or losing at life, it’s about doing your best and being recognized for what you can do and what you can bring to the team. Instead of my daughter being expected to share an equal part of the housework, she is expected to do what she can (or more realistically, what mom and dad know she’s capable of doing…) And when it comes to rewards, she doesn’t get any if she’s brow-beaten into putting her cereal bowl in the sink– she gets rewarded when she consciously puts in an effort to keep the house clean and does it with a good attitude.  

We also don’t get her everything she asks for. We’re pretty up front with her about the workings of our household. She understands that we can’t afford to get everything we want. And to her, sometimes, that’s “not fair.” She sees her friends getting millions of fidget spinners (don’t even get me started on that…) and toys and candy, but we explain to her that just like she’s expected to help keep the house clean, she’s also expected to sometimes give up the things she wants so that everyone in our family can have the things we need. And because she puts in the effort and doesn’t throw a fit over not getting whatever catches her eye, she gets rewarded every once in awhile with something she really wanted.

Do I have any brilliant insights into how to teach kids about equity, equality, and fairness? Not really. Is there one right way to instill the concept of equity and equality in our kids? Nope.

But through all the little things we do, how we act and talk to other people, and our own conviction to both equity and equality, we can model good habits and mindsets for our kids.

diversity equity and equality

Remember: we’re not just different colored pencils, there are some crayons and felt tips pens among us. We all color— we just do it in different ways!

The first step here is to make sure that we understand our own ideas and habits so we can accurately teach and model them to our children. So, the next time equity and equality come up in one of your conversations, stop and think what each word really means and how we can push the shift of mentality around these words to better understand not only the words themselves but the concepts they represent.

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