Equal doesn’t always mean equal.


One of my favorite things about my kids–and I truly think mine are better about this than most–is their intuitive understanding of what each needs, and their recognition that Mommy’s job is to try to do that, instead of making sure that everyone gets exactly the same.

This does not apply to Sprite or ice cream, it must be said.

But, when it comes to the most precious commodity in our house, Mommy’s time, they are very gracious about how a sibling might need more, or different, attention from Mommy at a particular time.

They see this as fair.

Because ‘equal’ doesn’t always have to mean the same.

And, sometimes, the same wouldn’t be equal at all.

That means that no one really bats an eye when Ben gets to go to Wendy’s with just Mom a couple of times a month. They know that my sensitive and quieter youngest son needs that 1:1 time, and that that is a comforting place for him to connect with me.

The twins have long understood that Sam will get to go places and do things they don’t, not just because he’s older, but because he is interested in things that they just are not. And that Evie needs extra help, as the youngest, and also extra forgiveness, as she learns.

If only our public policy structures got this as well.

I think about my kids every time I hear someone complaining about how people get XYZ public benefit. I want to say, ‘but you don’t really want that, do you? I mean, you don’t want to be in their shoes, so that you could get it. Do you?’

My kids will be ineligible for means-tested financial aid because we make too much money.

And the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that they will be at a distinct advantage precisely because they come to post-secondary education equipped with these resources.

There are other examples–Affirmative Action, certainly, but also provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and other accommodations for those with disabilities.

When we reduce ‘equality’ to a base understanding of sheer numerical or even face-valid ‘identicality’, we miss the far more important question about whether a given policy or program is delivering to each an equal measure of opportunity, an equal chance at getting his/her needs met.

What my kids are essentially saying, with actions that speak much more clearly than I can here, is this: Why would I begrudge someone else the assistance they need, just because I don’t get it, even if I wouldn’t wish to need it, if I am getting what I need?


I know it sounds simplistic, but I can’t help but think that, if we weren’t so concerned with what others are getting, and with these false metrics of what ‘equal’ should look like, we would have a better chance at building a policy system that can deliver what we each need.

Even if that doesn’t seem ‘equal’.

Ask my kids.

2 responses to “Equal doesn’t always mean equal.

  1. I like how you use the ADA as an example. However, I think with the ADA, it’s kind of a double edged sword – my experience with disability activism is that, we often don’t want people to think having a clinical diagnosis is undesirable. While there are sometimes drawbacks to having a disability, some people would argue that sometimes having the diagnosis comes with traits that are desirable (example: with my autism, I tend to be short, to the point, have the ability to learn something well and then teach it to others, which will make me great at what I do in advocacy — additionally, I also think about things intellectually, a lot of people with mild autism do, and it displays in my writing skills, I tend to be a good writer and have always been a good student since I started college).

    However, I do need that extra boost with the ADA to get up to speed with the rest of the world – the ability to type things in lieu of handwriting to make up for the poor handwriting skills, the ability to memorize and complete tasks far in advance to make up for poor short term memory skills, and surrounding myself with colleagues and friends who are understanding enough to hold me accountable when I have an autism moment, yet also treat it as a learning experience.

    • That is an excellent point, Adele. My oldest son and I were actually having this conversation last night; he was asking about efforts to use genetic intervention to essentially eliminate chromosomal disorders like Down’s Syndrome, and then we were talking about the advantages of such therapies as well as the losses to society if those individuals did not develop as people with Down’s Syndrome. It’s absolutely a mixed bag, and your experience reflects that as well. I do think that the ADA is still a critically important policy, in that it facilitates the full participation of individuals with disabilities in society, precisely so that more people have opportunities to know and interact with them, thus being exposed to the advantages as well as the challenges of their disabilities. But self-advocacy will always be important in this context, since our default is to emphasize the ‘problems’ of having a disability, instead of the inherent assets different conditions can present. Thanks for all you do, here and in other venues, to share that message.

      On Tue, Feb 4, 2014 at 12:47 AM, Classroom to Capitol wrote:


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