Where’s *my* washing machine?

One of the commitments of modern education is equality.  We strive to provide the same high-quality education for every child. We do it by trying to give every child the same things.

My mom likes to tell the story of the year her parents bought washing machines for their two other grown daughters but not for her. My aunts had seven young children between them at the time.  My mom was single and moving around a lot.  On Christmas morning when the gifts were revealed, my mom said, hoping to get a laugh, “Where’s mine?”

I was thinking about how it would be perfectly reasonable for kids who are fascinated with and committed to things that don’t make it into the school curriculum to ask a similar question, though not in jest.  “How come the kids who love math get to spend 45 minutes of the day doing a thing they love, but the kids who love climbing trees don’t?”  “How come the kids who love to write get to spend 45 minutes of the day doing the thing they love while the kids who love fixing machines don’t?”

Of course our adult answer is that we’ve concluded that writing and math are the things that everyone’s going to need.  We’ve also decided that everyone has to get them at the same time.  But to kids, it’s just as uncomfortable and awkward to try to learn a thing it isn’t time for (even if it might be helpful later on) as it would have been for my mom to have a washing machine to contend with that year it was a tremendous help for her sisters.

I’m reminded, as I write, of the distinction between equality and and equitability.  Equal means the same; everyone gets the same.  It’s mathematical.  Equitable means “dealing fairly and equally with all concerned.” In those words, there’s maybe more room for each actual person to get what he or she actually needs.