Equity. When you hear the word, what comes to mind? For most of my life, the word made me think of a home equity line of credit. Next, I’d consider it a synonym for equality.
Over the past year, I have heard this word used in a new way. It appears in school documents, government statements, and workplace policies. This usage isn’t a synonym to equality but the opposite. Searching the web to better understand this usage, I found this article. Its graphic often appears online to explain the new difference between equality and equity.
Merriam-Webster defines equity in this manner: “justice according to Natural Law or right; specifically: freedom from bias or favoritism.” This defines equity as being impartial and free from favoritism. This is how the word has been use throughout time.
Today, the philosophy of Critical Theory (CT) has turned the definition of equity on its head. Instead of being a synonym for equality, equity now means providing special privileges to the “oppressed” to ensure equal outcomes.
Now, many ideas contain both positive and negative elements. Equity in the CT context is one. In some cases, such the literal situation depicted in the illustration above, equity makes sense. Taking the box from the tall person and giving it to the small child doesn’t affect the tall person’s ability to see the game. Most likely, he’d be glad to help an individual in that way.
In a school setting, it can be positive as well. Due to a disability or a deprived background, a student may need extra resources such tutoring to pass a class. Physically disabled students need special access to use a wheelchair. Or a school district may supply more laptops to a school with more low-income students than to a school in a higher income neighborhood because the lower-income school has the greater need.
Reality Upside Down
On the other hand, equity as defined by CT creates inequality. Instead of impartiality, it promotes favoritism. Instead of following Natural Law, it affirms sexual diversity. Instead of God’s law, it rejects the transcendent source of reality.
A concerned parent in the Tumwater, Washington, school district critiqued this version of equity:
“…Equity, on the other hand, seeks to ‘level the playing field,’ by providing advantages (and disadvantages) to people based on someone’s notion of their differing needs. (It is a small step from this concept to the Marxist slogan ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.’)
The Washington State Department of Children, Youth & Families agree with the CT definition:
Equity: Equity is achieved when other aspects of identity cannot be used to predict one’s success and that our systems and structures work for everyone. It is not simply the absence of discrimination,but also the presence of systems and supports that deliberately aim to achieve and sustain equity through proactive and preventative measures. (italics mine)
CT Equity Is Unfair
Unlike critical theorists, children have a strong sense of fairness. How many times have you heard children on the playground yell, “That’s not fair!” when another child is caught breaking a rule? They all want everyone to follow the rules in the same way. God wired us with an innate sense of fairness.
CT adherents work against this instinct by insisting that the rules need to be applied based on a person’s ethnic background or sexual preference. Traditionally, this is called favoritism. To the “woke,” it’s redistributing resources to correct a perceived imbalance of power. Moreover, “…equity is not merely about ‘making up for injustices’ but also often about ‘making up for past injustices,’” according to New Discourses. This can lead to division and resentment from those who are “unfavored.”
In the workforce, this plays out in affirmative action. More than ever, corporations and institutions are actively recruiting racial and sexual minorities to make their organization look diverse. Social Justice Warriors (SJW) despise meritocracy.
Yet, when the rubber hits the road, how many employees will wonder whether a co-worker was hired only for his minority status and not his skills. This practice sows seeds of suspicion and division. More qualified candidates can be passed over for less qualified applicants because they have been labeled the “oppressor.” Critical theorists believe this discrimination is just.
Equity Practiced in Schools
The Washington State School Directors’ Association (WSSDA) published this statement on equity:
Equity is foundational to the work of WSSDA. Educational equity can only exist when a student’s level of opportunity and achievement cannot be predicted based on race, characteristics, or circumstances. Therefore, we must identify and eliminate any discriminatory practices and prejudices within our state’s public education system.
To prevent one’s background from dictating one’s destiny is a noble goal. But is it always achievable? Does CT provide the answer?
I first saw the school version of equity in action a year ago when the pandemic first hit. Many school districts in Washington state stressed the importance of learning equity. Because some children lacked the resources for remote learning, the schools at first followed an all-or-nothing policy. If some students couldn’t access distance learning, then none would receive any. In the name of equity, all were reduced to the lowest common denominator: ignorance.
Another way CT equity hinders learning occurs in the area of discipline. Nationally, black and Hispanic students are disciplined at a higher rate than other students. To attempt to reduce this rate, the Obama Administration demanded racial equity in school discipline. Katherine Kersten in City Journal described the demand:
“Racial equity” has become the all-purpose justification for dubious educational policies. Equity proponents view “disparate impact”—when the same policies yield different outcomes among demographic groups—as conclusive proof of discrimination. On the education front, “equity” does not seek equal treatment for all students. Instead, it demands statistical equivalence in discipline referrals and suspensions for students of every racial group, regardless of those students’ actual conduct.
To avoid a racist appearance, several schools defaulted to quota systems, which violated the Civil Rights law. If too many children of color were disciplined, a school would simply stop punishing that demographic for misbehavior. In result, “Obama’s race-based policy fueled a four-year rise in school violence.”
Even though the Trump administration ended Obama’s directive, several schools maintain this practice in the spirit of being “anti-racist.”
In my local school district’s “Equity and Inclusion” policy, the schools have committed to monitoring “the rate of disciplinary action related to issues of race, gender, orientation, or presence of disability at the building level.”
The “woke” claim uneven rates of discipline are due to systemic racism. They fail to consider other factors because they explain all social ills through the lenses of racism. The website New Discourses on its “Equity” page describes this.
That is, in practice, an equity approach is almost wholly unconcerned with the root causes of disparate outcomes and merely seeks to identify where they occur and then artificially “correct” them, perhaps through preferential hiring, grading, promotion, pay, etc., by eliminating measurements that reveal disparities like standardized testing, by open, secret, or tacit discrimination against “dominant” group members, or even by installing quotas and specific guidelines for how outcomes must come out, regardless of what leads to them.
In truth, the disparities are often rooted in cultural and familial backgrounds. The “Great Society” has nearly destroyed the black family. The welfare state discourages marriage by making it easy for unwed mothers to raise children without fathers. Now generations of children have grown up without fathers, uncles, and grandfathers. The absence of responsible adult males in the family system has created broken children.
Fatherless children are more likely to live in poverty and participate in antisocial behaviors than their counterparts who are raised by both their moms and dads. Today, 72 percent of black children are born into a fatherless home. Lacking paternal guidance, these children, particularly the boys, go out into the world rudderless and are blown by the winds of their fatherless neighborhoods. They join gangs to fill the fatherlessness hole in their hearts. Then they repeat the cycle modeled to them and abandon their own children.
Thus, schools attempting to improve the plight of BIPOC students with Critical Race Theory’s idea of equity will not succeed. By misdiagnosing the problem, they offer the wrong cure.
In my next post, I’ll discuss biblical equity as a way to help cure society’s ills.