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?