Is equity an elusive concept? Sometimes, when you search for answers, inspiration comes from unlikely sources. In my case, as a PhD student in curriculum studies, it never occurred to me to seek advice from outside of the field of education, and certainly not from someone with a business background. But desperate times call for desperate measures. I was completely surprised when my ‘aha’ moment came from a passing comment from my husband, an accountant and business owner. When I casually asked what he thought equity meant, his typical, pragmatic, self responded with a reference to the pay equity clause within his workplace policies. But, when I pressed him further, by clarifying that I meant more than a simple pay scale, and that it was an overall policy I was referring to, he responded that that “would be impossible; fair treatment is too subjective”. It was in that moment that I realized why I was having trouble. Subjectivity and judgement!
Although there is a need for guidelines in the form of policy documents on equity in the classroom, I wonder if more attention and discussion is needed to explore how different people come to understand equity differently? And, what might the effects of these differences be within different contexts? Situated within the broad study of early childhood education and the area of social justice and children’s rights in the classroom, I am curious about how equity plays a role in supporting the inclusion of multiple voices within the learning process. In other words, I seek to explore how relationships within the early childhood setting afford an equal and fair opportunity for both children and educators to participate in what is a collaborative co-learning process. But, with that said, how does this transpose into polices for equity? Does the challenge in creating policies reside in the ability/inability to define an elusive concept? I wonder if the challenge is in capturing a clear, “one size fits all,” universal definition? In my opinion, an important component of creating equitable spaces is the understanding that there is always a degree of judgement that is both contextual and subjective. So perhaps the challenge is to create a policy for equity that encompasses the open-ended, contextual space of possibilities.
Judgements and interpretations seem to impact how a concept is understood. For example, after completing some preliminary research that explored the representation of multiple competing perspectives of pedagogical documentation, it appeared to me that the attempt to define abstract concepts required a keen understanding of the potential for multiple interpretations, or misinterpretations, of the same concept within different theoretical and contextual spaces (MacAlpine, 2017). Perhaps this explains why I am struggling to situate equity.
My concerns continue to focus on how policies for equity are able to capture an infinite number of scenarios within a single definition. Even when broad descriptors are used to define equity (“the quality of being fair and impartial,” OxfordDictionaries© Oxford University Press) I would suggest that it is still incomplete. Although this definition has the potential to address my concerns for accommodating multiple scenarios, it fails to include a course or method of action, and it fails to explain how fairness and impartiality create equitability. It seems to me that there is a degree of judgement involved, and it is how such judgements are made that most intrigues me.
It appears, as I near the end of this blogpost, that I have yet to offer up my understanding of what equity means to me. Somehow, ending with a statement such as “it all depends,” is perhaps too flippant, yet from my perspective, it is truthful. It might be more fitting if, rather than positioning equity within my context, I offer up some friendly advice. Although there is, and should be, an important place for equity, I would suggest that when crafting policies, the potential for multiple interpretations and judgments must be attended to.
Kelly-Ann MacAlpine, BA, ECEC
PhD Student, Curriculum Studies
Faculty of Education