By Darius Thornton
Merriam-Webster defines equity as “justice according to natural law or right” and “freedom from bias or favoritism.” This may seem to be a similar definition to equality, but the two terms differ in a few important ways. Equality refers to treating everyone the same way, while equity is more about acknowledging and representing the different backgrounds and circumstances people have, and providing everyone an equal opportunity to obtain a desired outcome no matter their situation. It may seem like a simple ideal on the surface, however it is something the world struggles to reach. Society has many implicit and explicit biases that act as obstacles to reaching true equity. Even society’s cornerstones, such as the education system, are not exempt from these problems. Student demographics are obviously not a monolith, as they bring with them a complex mixture of ethnic backgrounds, religions, genders, sexual orientations, cultures, financial situations, and many other factors that can affect how they learn. It is true that students should have to take responsibility for how they perform in school, it is important to recognize that outside factors may have an impact on their academic performance, rather than them just being “bad students,” who either don’t put in the effort or lack the necessary intelligence. So, it falls on the teachers to find a way to ensure that students from all sets of circumstances have equal opportunity to learn and grow, and that their demographics are adequately represented, so that they don’t feel ostracized. And our own teachers, right here at Heritage, are rising to meet the challenge.
This calendar year is best summed up in one word: unprecedented. I know some people want to kill that word, but, I’m sorry, I had to do it. Never before has our nation, or the world at large, been so profoundly impacted by a global health crisis on such a massive scale that it has touched so many facets of our lives. Of course, school is a part of this, with remote learning being the primary method of education. It brings with it a set of unique challenges and problems that have made for a tumultuous experience for most of all that are involved. But the teachers of HHS are doing everything they can to be accommodating. As a student in Mr. Russell May’s first period, Civics and Economics class, I have witnessed this firsthand. For starters, he began the year by asking every student for their preferred name and pronouns. Not only did he not want to call a student by the wrong name, he took into consideration that they might be part of the LGBTQ+ community, and thus use different pronouns from what the name on their account might suggest. This could create an awkward and uncomfortable situation for a student, so getting out ahead of the issue by asking what a student would like to be called is a great way of making them feel valid and included, particularly at a time where prejudice against those like them unfortunately still very much exists.
Mr. May is also understanding of students being a few minutes late, or even occasionally missing class due to technical difficulties or other duties. It is important to consider that not everyone will be operating under identical or ideal circumstances. While some may consider it to be the “bare minimum” to be able to be logged in by 8:00 AM every day, some students may not have that ability. The internet and technology are great resources to have, but, like all things, they aren’t infallible and are subject to messing up from time to time. One also can’t just assume every student has access to a laptop or reliable internet, even if it may seem like a given in our digital age. Factors such as their living or economic situation, or even location, can mean that they don’t have a consistent way to attend class. To expand on this point, students that come from working class or lower-income families are more likely to have parents that work day-to-day jobs that may be deemed “essential” in the onset of the pandemic. If this is the case, this could mean that one or both of their parents is not home for the duration of the school day, meaning that it would be up to the student to look after a younger sibling or complete household tasks. Perhaps they even have to work themselves to provide further economic support for their family. Attending school may not be their top priority and rightfully so. Mr. May also respects all points of view in class, as long as they are logical and have a justifiable basis in reality. No one is ridiculed or ostracized for their opinion on a given topic, because he makes it clear that these points of discussion are often more complex and nuanced than they may appear. Civics and Economics is by nature an inherently political class that covers aspects of the country that are both good and morally questionable, and Mr. May does not shy away from that, encouraging independent thinking; he embraces it and is not afraid to make the darker realities of our country known, while also drawing attention to the positive progress America has made. It is an instructive, inclusive and enriching learning environment, which is everything any class should strive to be.
Of course, there are other things teachers around the school are doing to promote equity and to give students the best chance to succeed. At the behest of school leaders, many teachers are adopting a more accommodating late work policy, in that they are either not penalizing students for their work or are modifying instruction as needed. Students may have prior commitments at home or work that are more pressing and that prevent them from finishing or turning in their work on time. The prolonged isolation of online school and the health crisis in general has taken a mental and emotional toll on students. Due dates could end up adding to this stress. This policy acknowledges that and seeks to reduce the amount of excess pressure and stress on students, whose mental health may already be in a tumultuous state. There are also a plethora of resources available to students who may be having a hard time. Online school does bring a new set of barriers and challenges, but even through that, HHS teachers are still doing their best to offer extra help to those who need it. Teachers still have their office hours, virtually through Google Meet of course to address any questions or concerns. Online school makes it that much harder for students to raise those questions and have those crucial one-on-one interactions. While it never will be the same from behind a screen, teachers are making sure those interactions can still happen, since it is often the most effective way of reaching a student in need. Any classroom is made up of a variety of different learning styles and needs. Many teachers take multiple approaches to teaching class for precisely this reason, but online school makes that a lot more difficult.
Equity is something that can be difficult to achieve, even with how fundamental and necessary it should be. There are a lot of variables for teachers to keep in consideration in a normal school year, let alone one like this. But our teachers at HHS are trying, trying to give every student the best possible chance to succeed, no matter their living situation, economic circumstance, or mental or emotional state. It is important to keep in mind that we may not end up with equality of outcome, yet everyone deserves equal opportunity. It doesn’t mean that every student necessarily will, but how can they be expected to if they never received a fair chance?