154. Beyond Equality
Here is a little story. This winter and spring we did a multiage program called Wild and Free in a Santa Fe School. It explores endangered species and their habitats, ecosystems and biomes, biodiversity and sustainability. The story involves the fourth grade class.
We were into our fourth session with the fourth graders working on a newly arriving song about Biomes and Biodiversity. It was cool. We feel incredibly honored to introduce such vital concepts through the arts.
There was a wonderful creative atmosphere in the room. It always comes with a certain look in the eyes. Something spontaneous, new and green was appearing. First there was the rhythmic rap to the words – “Biosphere, Biomes, Biodiversity”. Then an accompanying line showed up – “The earth is a place of variety. Variety is the spice of life.”
Everybody was into it. Here they were expressing values and concepts they cared about. Especially ‘biodiversity’ – the fact that bio diverse systems thrive.
Now we needed something to describe each of the earth’s major biomes, and then the breakthrough moment came.
One of the girls got up and did a spontaneous rap about the Arctic Tundra biome. It was awesome, funny, witty, rhythmic…and totally fitting.
Then a boy got up and did another rap for the Ocean Aquatic biome; and same thing – it was beautiful and totally on-the-spot spontaneous verse making.
This is how we do it ‘Talking Hands Talking Feet style’. The creative juices were flowing. Another girl raised her hand, then decided she wanted to think about some more. So we asked, who’s got the next one? And the same girl from the first one started piping in. The whole class was present, each one joining in by keeping the rhythm or working on verses in their heads, or doing beatbox, or simply enjoying and witnessing the process. This was core creative intelligence sparking and arcing with electricity.
And then…then…this beautiful creative atmosphere came crashing to a sudden halt. All the marvelous thought bubbles popped. The creative momentum, rhythm and flow vanished. Suddenly, everyone became self conscious, stilted and awkward.
Well, with the best of intentions, the teacher intervened with a vehement and heartfelt protest: “I want everybody involved equally in making these verses. We can’t just have a few who shine. Everybody is going to do this, no exceptions. In my class, everything is equitable!”
Ok. That’s the gist of the story.
‘Equitable’ comes from the word ‘equity’ sharing the same root with the word ‘equality’. It basically means fair and just, unbiased symmetry. This, for much of the world and much of world history is a summit to reach for.
Equality in our time carries potent and profound meaning and persuasion. Compared to American/European post industrial culture of even 50 years ago, we have made monumental strides. No person should be denied opportunity based on gender, color or socio-economic status. We know this to be true, and yet…can we elevate the dialogue, can we go a step further?
After all, the article is entitled: “Beyond Equality”.
In the name of equality, or in this instance, “being equitable”, actual creative intelligence was shut down. The spontaneous flow state had to yield to something else.
We don’t mind. We understand the cultural landscape we are working in. Half our job is about igniting natural creative intelligence in young lives. The other half is inspiring, educating and training teachers how to facilitate creative learning processes – when and how to spark and nudge and when to simply get out of the way.
Creative intelligence involves perception and sensitivity. In this case, every student was engaged, each finding their way inside a fertile and encouraging atmosphere. That’s our job – creating ecologies and frameworks for creative learning to happen.
The irony in this circumstance was – here we were, exploring biodiversity and the various dynamic functions which support thriving ecosystems in contrast to a one size fits all mono cultural, industrial mindset. The latter destroys natural ecosystems, the former helps mother nature’s creativity thrive in reciprocal partnership.
The teacher intervened with a passionate belief that every child can shine. Yes! How can you argue with that?
But how we encourage and challenge children to shine is everything. We are not equal in our development, in our timings, in our natural inclinations, in our skills and abilities, in the way we learn and perceive things…not at all.
Here’s the challenge:
Equal opportunity in education requires dynamic and versatile multi-modal creative learning ecologies. It is finding the balance between planning and spontaneity. It’s creating structures that encourage and liberate creative genius across a broad spectrum.
To include every life in ways they can naturally grow and develop into is more important than having them all do the same thing.
We’re talking about educational biodiversity!
This requires honest self reflection. “Know thyself”, means knowing your own biases, even unconscious ones. Color, age, ethnic and gender “blindness” are fundamental to providing equal opportunity. But not as biases in themselves that give sway to a subtler kind of moral tyranny.
Here’s the greater challenge:
Can we rise above the volatile political morality of equality (which actually censures differentiation and diversity)?
Can we rise to “multiple and dynamic, versatile, enhanced opportunity” caringly provided for every single student across a broad spectrum of needs, modes, styles and inclinations?