Equity is a topic that has been on everyone’s minds and lips lately and it has caused quite a lot of debate about what the term actually means. Here is the prevailing definition:
Equity is the purposeful unequal distribution of resources in order to obtain equal outcomes.
At first glance, that statement seems unfair. When I read that definition for the first time, I was similarly indignant, “How could anything other than equal be okay?” Here in the United States, we are socialized to believe that “All men are created equal” and are thus just as capable of achieving their goals as the next person. This is of course, not a reflection of the truth of systematic racism, but it is the shiny image we like to cling to.
Despite the way the wording of that definition offends us, it is something we employ daily without a second thought. For example, three people go to an emergency room, one with a broken leg, one with a minor cut needing stitches, and one having a heart attack. The medical staff in this scenario use equity mindsets to determine who needs more attention and who needs less. It would be outrageous to spend the same amount of time with a patient who needs a few stitches as one having a heart attack requiring bypass surgery. But in the end, the goal is the same, to make sure the patient goes home healthy.
In classrooms we teachers do the same thing. If I give a lecture on a topic but one student doesn’t understand, I don’t spend my time rehashing the entire lecture for the entire class. I go sit with the student and dedicate more time to their understanding. I distribute my resource of time in an unequal manner. It would be absurd if I used my finite time an energy to re-teach the whole class when only one student needs the assistance.
What both of the scenarios have in common is that they are both outcome aligned. It isn’t about who is getting more resources, it’s about achieving similar outcomes. Yet, when framed in this way, no one complains. In fact, it’s hard to argue with this view of equity because we all do this all the time. It is virtually impossible to imagine a situation in which a completely equal distribution of resources would result in equal outcomes.