I pick up again on a subject I blogged about a while ago, as it’s become topical again.
I don’t know when it was in human history that we decided about fairness or equality but we now hold it as a right, even if it means being unfair. The party conference season is happening as I write and the Government has been talking about Big Society but cannot quite articulate what this means (I assume, obesity?). Suffering together, yet unequally, seems to be the message that’s getting across. The row over the child benefit cut is a case in point. Whether you are for or against it, you cannot help but be taken aback by the way it will be applied so, well, unfairly and the lack of political will to actually make it fair; it is apparently so far outside the usual means-tested flotilla of taxation and benefits that it is just not possible to apply the cut fairly….
The cut won’t be based on family income but on the income of any one of the parents, so you’ll get what the politicians call “anomalies” (that’s code for ‘can’t be bothered to sort it out’, ‘get over it’ or ‘it doesn’t affect me so I don’t really care’). One could argue that it only affects a few million people but if you’re one of them, you have a different perspective. But to be truthful, I am not surprised. Life is unfair.
I turn now to Education, where they use the terms fairness and equality in many contexts. One of those happens to be in terms of access to learning (both starting and during). That is, that people should not be disadvantaged. Sometimes, bizarrely and ironically, this has meant “positively discriminating” (an oxymoron if ever there was one) which, in my opinion, is never right because it sacrifices fairness to others. It’s just discrimination and social engineering by a different name.
It’s a bit like the law of nuisance, where the judge has to weigh up the rights of the individual against the rights of their neighbours. You just have to put up with a certain amount of discomfort because we don’t all live alone in the middle of the countryside, miles from anybody else; nor do we have limitless resources. So, it’s a moving feast, depending on context, culture and time.
Reasonable accommodation though is a different matter – use of language (stereotyping), adjustments for disabilities and so on. Teachers and trainers do much of this on the fly (often called ‘differentiation’ within a lesson, where the different needs and abilities of different students are taken into account). It’s no big deal at all. In fairness, equal opportunities can sometimes be a challenge, especially if you think about it too much.
These days not only do you have to do it, you have to be seen to be doing it, demonstrating it. We have the ubiquitous Equality and diversity policy which sets out in vague terms (lest we forget) something to the effect that somebody, somewhere will do something and, at the very least, we’ll obey the law. We even have various forms of monitoring, the interpretation of which can be contested (the choices people make). Is this just all too much? Doubtless, equality, diversity and inclusion have been issues in some quarters, but where is the sense of proportion? It’s all just so unfair…