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Fairness - remove it from your vocab

...fairness isn't an objective feature of the universe. It's a concept that was invented so children and idiots can participate in arguments. Scott (Dilbert) Adams

As with most districts, our technology needs and wants outstrip our technology budget. And too often the question of "fairness" comes up when allocating funds. Is such an allocation fair to the elementary program? fair to the kids at ___________ high school? fair to ________ teacher or _________ department?

Like Adams, I don't believe fairness should be a factor in making budgeting decisions. The concept of fairness is so situationally dependent, it really has no meaning at all. 

Is it fair when the slow running zebra is caught and eaten by the lion? Seems fair to the lion; not so much to the zebra.

If two classroom computers are given to a teacher who uses them well and no classroom computers are given to a teacher who does not normally use them at all, should the term fairness even enter the conversation?

Instead of asking if an allocation decision is fair, what if we asked if it:

  • Creates equity of opportunity?
  • Advances district-wide goals and proven learning strategies?
  • Supports a proven best practice?
  • Enables an experiment with a high chance of success?
  • Provides children with special needs a means of success?

Remove the term fairness from your vocabulary - even if it doesn't seem fair.

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Reader Comments (3)

I have tried the fairness card in two situations - both have failed miserably.
First - high school football vs. high school swimming...why don't we spend the same money and effort on both?
Second - freshman technology class vs. chemistry class...chemicals and beakers and scales vs. iPads?

I figure if I work as a teacher long enough there is an outside chance that even a slight change will happen...

May 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

I think fairness discussions with and between building staff tend to be the nastiest exchanges because everyone feels they are making the case for "their kids." Perhaps my experiences have helped me understand - they are ALL our kids no matter what building you're in. Sometimes unfortunately, sometimes the fairness card is played as just a way to get more stuff for their building, with no idea of how it should be used. My friends who have been in district longer than I have told stories of pulling out stacks of old Clam Shell Mac laptops from closets. How long had they sat there? Who knows...but they got "their share..."

Another thing I've observed is how people hold the words of past tech directors over current tech director's heads - also claiming fairness. Budgets have been slashed, positions cut...but it's not fair that you're not replacing these computers that _____ said he would. That's not fair. Well, neither is stocking up one school based on an old promise and giving another nothing. I think I've realized that you just provide what you can today and when people ask about what next, tell them we have a basic plan, but when nuts come to bolts we'll figure that out when we get there. Might not be a good management strategy, but neither is making promises about what you'll replace things 5 years down the road.

May 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNathan Mielke

Hi Kenn,

Yeah, I'm not sure the fairness card would work in either situation. Expanded opportunity might be a better rationale. I've found that you eventually have to get more general about a problem until everyone agrees, then work back to the details. And even that doesn't always work.


HI Nathan,

Your comment made me think about how fairness is often equated with equity - and that all not all factors are considered when trying to make things equal. You can provide all the same types and numbers of devices to schools as you want, but as long as the skills and motivation of the teachers differ, there will be no equity.


May 26, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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