This image appeared in my 4th grade classroom this week.
The context was a short discussion about why some students get additional resources or different assignments from others. The image is meant to show that our classroom operates on the principle of equity - each student gets what he or she needs in order to engage with the curriculum. The image, however, is really quite problematic.
It seems to me this image visually reinforces several aspects of inequity. You have the color of the spectators and their exclusion from the audience highlighting both their race and class. There's also the complicated factor of making up for naturally occurring biological differences (height) while so much of equity is focused on alleviating artificial constructs of race and class. The image really falls apart in a number of ways but I think it is an excellent example of where discussions of social justice in the classroom (and elsewhere) often fall short. We've become really good at identifying the shortcomings of an equalitarian approach because not everyone starts off at the same spot. Merely giving access to the same resources doesn't alleviate inequality. Giving a 10th grader who reads at a 4th grade level more 10th grade books isn't going help that kid's reading improve.
We are really bad at addressing the deeper causes of inequality. Why can't the 10th grader read at a 10th grade level and what can be done to fix a system which produces too many 10th graders reading below grade level? The short man in the image needs two boxes to see over the fence but what if he had a seat inside the stadium like all those other people? Sadly, these kinds of questions often escape us. It's too easy for us to look at our classrooms or our communities and seek to fix problems on a case by case basis. It's too hard for us to address systemic issues. I think part of the solution is to force ourselves to think critically about everything we do in and out of the classroom. When we explain why equity matters in the classroom, push for plain language and direct acknowledgment of inequality in all its forms. Be critical of how you choose to represent people in visuals and stories. Make an effort not to reinforce problematic depictions of race, class, gender, orientation, etc.
nota bene: As I searched online for a copy of the image to link in this post, I discovered that others had seen and addressed its problems. If you want to read a little about that, check out this post at culturalorganizing.org. It turns out there is more to the image which never made it into my classroom.
Sunday Night Futures
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