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Director, Graduate program in behavior disorder, David Yellin College

Hi Duane, I just came across

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Hi Duane,

I just came across your response to my post on fair is not equal. Your point shows that I left out a very important sentence that would clear up our differences of opinion. I should have added that, "Just because you don't have to be equal to be fair, it also doesn't mean that you can't be equal and fair." Being fair means choosing the best intervention for a particular intervention, which I think we agree, but if it the same intervention makes sense because the circumstances are the same, then being fair means doing the same. I think this added sentence, which I thought I included, but didn't, suggests that our positions are the same. It's our semantics that vary.

Thanks for helping me see an important point that I missed.

Have a great new year.

I agree that students will

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I agree that students will not always be treated exactly the same for various reasons such as the fact that not every student will get caught and because there will be inconsistencies from simple human error. However, I do not agree with the premise that "fair is not equal" and instead believe that educators must strive to achieve equal treatment of students as best as they can. Fair IS equal in most situations--or fair is perceived as equal by most students and parents. Where I think people get on the bandwagon saying that fair really isn't always equal is when we feel the need to treat two different students differently because there are differences in the circumstances. If the circumstances are not the same or similar to begin with then we are already talking about situations that are already not "equal." Responding differently when there are different circumstances may very well be perfectly fair, but this does not mean that fair is not equal.

In #3 above, the contention was made that both students were treated equally because both students were given a warning. However, in the example, they really were NOT treated equally because the WAY each student was given a warning was different--or not at all equal. So, one could say that it was not fair because the methodology was very different.

If a student is tardy because he was messing around and wasting time this is different that if a student was tardy because on the way to school there was an accident that blocked traffic for the bus or a parent. However, if you respond differently to two different students that are tardy and there were no apparent extenuating circumstances, you are setting yourself up for conflict with students and parents and undermining your character and respect if students feel you are acting arbitrary in the way you treat them under similar circumstances. So, fair is equal when you are talking about similar or the same circumstances.

Looking at another example...

If a student wants to turn in work late and the only reason the work is late is because the student simply did not make it a priority, and then you let that student turn the work in late--then you must let every student do the same. However, if you tell that student "no" but let another student that had a death in the family turn in late work, this is fair because of the extenuating circumstances. I think some will say that these examples mean that fair is not equal when in fact, yes, fair is equal. If the other student had a death in the family, you should then also let that student turn work in late. ALL STUDENTS that have a death in the family should then be treated the same and be allowed to turn in late work. Treating students with similar circumstances the same way is what is fair.

Sometimes the circumstances are different and so we make distinctions on how to respond, but this does not mean that fair is not equal.

Science Education Program Developer, Sci-Q Systems

I absolutely agree! I've

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I absolutely agree! I've always told students at the beginning of the year, "If you do something wrong, there will be consequences. But what the consequences are will be different depending on the situation." For example, a missing homework assignment, depending on an individual students' circumstances could range from peer tutor help to a phone call to parents.

I never liked automatic suspension for certain "crimes" in elementary school. So I usually handled "weapons crimes" quietly. The kids would tattle that so-and-so "has a knife." I would ask the perp for the knife. They always gave it to me. Then I'd put it in my desk and say, "It's in my desk. Have your parents come to school to get it." No parents ever did, and kid in question never repeated their crime. They also didn't miss any school. I retired with a lifetime supply of knives and letter openers. (OK, I'll admit that consequence was always the same.)

These are some great tips,

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These are some great tips, especially the pointers on talking with parents at the end. when I was young my parents disciplined my brother and I with a very similar "fair is not equal" philosophy, and it seemed to work well, at least from my perspective.

What I think makes this philosophy potentially problematic in the school setting is that it relies on the teacher to know his or her students well enough to know how to discipline them. I imagine this would be difficult during the first month or two of the school year when teachers and students are still getting to know one another.

Equal is not always fair

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Equal is not always fair holds true for developing preventive discipline programs as well as for consequences. Rewards and behavior modification programs should also be individualized according to students needs. Often these programs are more effective in reaching goals and modifying behavior than negative consequences. We as teachers need to practice fairess by creating an environment where the unique qualities of students are valued and respected. Then maybe we won't have to "teach" fairness because students will understand and trust that we will do what is best for them because we genuinely care about their best interest. Then they can begin to respect the different needs of others as well.

Those are very good and

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Those are very good and useful idaes! I would adopt theses ideas and try to practise them.

Passionate teacher of many subjects!

This article is very insightful

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This article is very insightful. I agree. I have always found progressive discipline systems very frustrating and hard to implement. Consistency is also very difficult. I believe in the argument presented in this post. If you do not mind, I have referenced it in my blogpost about classroom management on my blog: http://reflectionsofeducator.wordpress.com/2012/10/25/to-reward-or-to-pu...
Thank you very much for your perspective.

I believe these tips are

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I believe these tips are essential to use in the classroom. Our nation’s classrooms consist of diverse students. All students learn differently; therefore, they need different learning supports. Additionally, these tips will help teachers to achieve a student-centered classroom climate. Which tip do you find to be most important? I believe #4: teaching students the differences between fair and equal most important. Teaching students the differences between fair and equal will help to create a respectful class of students who realize that all people learn differently and use differently learning tools. Do you agree?

I really agree with this-as a

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I really agree with this-as a teacher of the deaf I always let students know that the signs for fair and equal are not the same. The sign for fair is related to the sign for justice and the sign for equal is related to same. I have used this strategy of natural consequence and restitution with my special education students for 25 years and it has always worked. I am currently teaching the lowest students and even they understand natural consequence and restitution. I very seldom send my students to the Deans office (I teach middle school), I tend to deal with my students with the Administrations support. This takes more work but over time takes less work and increases my parents satisfaction with the fairness of my classroom.

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