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I have spent sixteen out of my twenty years on this planet, in school. At age four I entered preschool and now at age twenty, as I embark upon my third year in college, school has become second nature to me. Besides my family and friends, school has been the one aspect of my life that has remained constant. In a general sense I hardly ever give it a second thought. Yet on a more specific level, I am constantly buried under an exam for one class, or a difficult lesson in another. It is only when I do begin to reflect upon my formal education in a broader sense, that the topic of equality arises. And in thinking about it as a theme that has run throughout my years as a student, I have come to only one conclusion: Equality is a concept that is supposedly taught to us as an early age, but ironically can never be achieved within the very schools we attend.
On my very first day of elementary school, my Kindergarten teacher introduced herself to the class and shared with us what her aspirations were for the upcoming school year. She listed such things as counting, painting, and she even mentioned reading. Her assumption was that everything that she had to teach us had not already been learned by some of the children, and furthermore she assumed that everyone would have the ability to succeed in all that she had planned. Although I can trust that all of her intentions were innocent and that she meant well, she allowed our entire class to begin its education on unequal ground. This was nothing that I thought about at the time, yet I do remember feeling anxious about reading while my best friend had already been doing so for a couple of years.
This leads me to the argument that equal opportunity does not lead to equal results (a question which arises in E.D. Hirsch¹s book, The Schools We Need and Why We Don¹t Have Them). My best friend and I both had the equal opportunity to learn how to read, yet she already knew how to, where as I had barely begun. At the end of that year, when I did eventually begin to read very simple readers, she was already on to chapter books. Yes we had equal opportunity, but she ended up being a more advanced student with a very different set of results.
My point is that equal opportunity needs to be assessed from the start. Obviously every individual grows up differently. They experience individual circumstances and form their own points of view. What I am saying is that one can not assume equality from the beginning of school, when inequality is something that stems from the moment we are born.
Thinking about inequality in this manner can seem very pessimistic and cynical. That however, is not my intention. Inequality is a word that drags along with it many negative connotations. It brings to mind ideas of perhaps racial inequality, gender inequality, and so on. In the context of education however, I speak of it simply as a given. That everyone is unequal for the sole reason that everyone is individual – every person in this world is different from everybody else. In my opinion this uniqueness needs to be more recognized if our schools are going to produce better results.
Looking back over all of my years of United Stated History, I can not recount the number of times our class would focus on the very subject of equality. We must have read the beginning of the Declaration of Independence fifty times. It is the ideal that our whole nation is supposedly based upon, ³We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among there are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness² (Thomas Jefferson, 1776). Perhaps this is completely true and everyone is granted these rights, yet everyone can have the same rights and still be unequal. For example I had just as much of a ³right² to enter this world as any other newborn, yet we were not created equal if equal means ³the same.²
We do not live in a communist nation. Equality is truly an unrealistic goal. Certain facets of the concept of equality are important to have, but if everyone was created equal, the world would be both very inefficiently run and extremely boring. I believe that schools should teach equality in the sense that all people, while very different, have a much more general set of rights. For example we need to teach that what makes people unequal is not their race, religion, or handicap, it is there life experience and how they got to where they are as a whole person. If everyone started out with the infamous ³blank slate,² and the same genetic buildup, the world would be a pretty scary place. I know that I was not born a genius like Albert Einstein, and therefore we are unequal. He is not a better or worse person than I am, we are simple different.
This leads me to the subject of testing. Our country uses standardized tests as means to measure the achievement or level of students. The results are used to basically assess how well or how poorly the schools in this country are doing. The results of these tests are not only compared internally, to schools in other states and regions, but they are also put in rank among other countries of the world. The problem with this is, is that the assumption is that again, everyone is created equal, and that if they presumably receive the same education, that they should all end up on a balanced academic level.
Yet why are the assessments of Boston students compared to those of students in Kansas City. Our country¹s school systems are run individually by state, not nationally. Kids in Oklahoma do not have the same curriculum as kids in Massachusetts. And kids in Boston do not even have the same curriculum as kids in Worcester. Where is the equality in that? How can any variations lead to equal opportunity? Yet at the same time one must realize that perhaps children in the south should not be learning the same exact things as children in the north. We function in two very different societies where learning the same exact things would be pointless. An important lesson for a preschooler in California is not going to be learning how to zip up her winter coat, while it is a relevant subject for children in Chicago. Why would we want one centralized or ³equal² educational system when it is simply not sensible or realistically doable.
I agree with many, when I state that education in America could be improved upon. My main reason behind wanting to teach, other than loving to work with children, is a desire to make sure every child gets the most out of school. Whether a child is special-needs or a genius, she must receive a more individualized set of opportunities. Children should not all be clustered together for most of their time in school. I believe that there needs to be an increase in the assessment of individual children, so that when they are placed in the group setting of the classroom, the teacher can recognize each individual child¹s pros and cons. It would be nearly impossible difficult to teach one- on- one all the time, but that does not mean that a teacher has to assume complete equality. Yes the concept of equality is brought many times from the very beginning of education, but ironically enough, it is something that students will never experience much of both in and out of school.
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