Why is it the job of a teacher to promote equality?

I think if I were to ask the question “Do you promote equality?” of a random selection of let’s say… accountants, surveyors, engineers, dentists, even doctors and nurses, I think they would look at me rather quizzically, not being quite sure of the relevance of the question. They all might promote equality even actively, in their personal lives. But that would be their prerogative rather than their responsibility.

Talking to a lawyer about this recently confirmed my supposition. She answered right away, “It’s my job to uphold equality under the law for every citizen, but as for promoting it… you mean as a ‘social good’? No, I don’t think that’s the job of a lawyer, at least not in my professional capacity”.

In my travels, meeting thousands of new teachers up and down the country every year, when I ask them that question I have yet to encounter a single negative response. No teacher I have met has ever doubted that it is their responsibility.

So why do teachers think it is their job, almost uniquely among professions, to promote equality?

The comparison with other professions reveals something interesting and important about teaching. That it is – at its heart – a political activity.

Do our clients, the students and parents we serve, accept this as part of the role of a teacher? Do they accept the implications of promoting equality for the ‘gifted and talented’ as well as those with ‘special needs’? Does the equality of white children need promoting in the same way as black? Is the promotion of equality weighted equally for the boy and the girl? And if the answer differs from one to the other, is that actually promoting equality?

Every teacher knows almost from the moment they start teaching that they allocate the most precious resource of all – their time – unequally. We all know we might have to spend much longer explaining and demonstrating something to one child than another in order to achieve a similar outcome.

That’s not equal. But is it fair?

And if it’s not equal, is it promoting equality?

Discrimination sounds like a negative concept, but it’s actually about exercising good judgment.

What do you think?

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4 thoughts on “Why is it the job of a teacher to promote equality?

  1. I don’t think it is political. I think it is simply that we (teachers) are required to act in loco parentis to the students in our care. Just as parents would, we want our children to treat others with respect, and to be treated with respect themselves. Above all we want equality of opportunity for those in our care.

    Therefore we are not pushing an agenda at all. Quite the reverse, we are simply reinforcing the clear principle of equality, and rejecting the influence of bigots. Special interest groups may try to tell us that we need to over-emphasise one group’s rights in order to level the playing field, but it is our job as teachers (or indeed parents) to challenge all preconceptions, misconceptions, and untruths.

    Identifying your own prejudice and dealing with it is uncomfortable (due to cognitive dissonance), and this leads to people justifying inequality and prejudice. But education should be the great leveller. Engineers, bankers, lawyers, etc, have no direct statutory duty of care to these children, hence they are not required to actively encourage equality.

    Your final point is about responding to needs. Equality of opportunity does not imply equality of need. Every one of us has different strengths and weaknesses, be they physical or mental/emotional. Some children will need more help to get on to the path of self-sufficiency than others. This is not inequality, this is recognising and celebrating differences.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking article!

    1. Hi David, there’s an awful lot there to think about – thanks very much for the post. I’ve got some questions… and some challenges for you: first, you say, teaching is not political but then go on to say: “it is our job as teachers to challenge all preconceptions, misconceptions, and untruths”. Similarly, “education is a great leveller”. Are they not ‘political’ acts? You don’t see a bit of ‘cognitive dissonance’ in your argument there..?

      Second, while I agree that engineers etc do not have a ‘duty of care’ to people as part of their responsibilities; social workers, nurses, doctors do – do they therefore have a responsibility to “actively encourage equality”?

      And finally – I agree with you about the distinction between “equality of opportunity” and “needs” – but I’d like to hear more about that from you (or other tweeters).

      Thanks for a great post.

  2. this overlooks the socialization role played by teachers. We would not expect a student that pays more fees to secure more attention from a teacher, buy a better seat in the classroom. oddly enough we share something in our craft to that used in a military first aid post or hospital casualty room with the principle of triage in respect to attention and resource alloction. Whislt this is not equality, it is certainly not competition.

    Whilst schools are governed by a form of benevolent dictatorship, they are still cultural reproducers with important social goals.

    1. Thanks for that excellent post Roland. The analogy with a casualty with casualty triage is fascinating – and I completely agree that while it is not equality, nor is it competition – but it is fair. Thanks again.

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