Last spring, I read an article in which a young, Caucasian boy cuts his hair to look exactly like his best friend—his African-American classmate. With his new, short hair, the young boy believes that no one, not even their teacher, can tell the two friends apart. While this article highlights many important lessons, one of its most significant is humanity over hues. In other words, children don’t see labels such as Caucasian or African-American; what they see are fellow human beings. Yet, as those same children get older and enter adulthood, the tones of tension that were once hidden from sight suddenly appear in the most disturbing of ways. Therein lies the dilemma of equity, defined as “fairness and justice in the way people are treated” (Merriam-Webster, 2018, equity): How can we treat each other equitably if we can’t see beyond our differences?
In my opinion, the issue is that seeing beyond our differences is often equated with ignoring our differences. Equity, however, is not born out of willful blindness, and perceiving diversity as a threat and promoting assimilation are not answers. Rather, as a society, we must embrace diversity through pluralism—defined as “an ethic of respect for diversity. Whereas diversity is a fact, pluralism is a choice.” (The Global Centre for Pluralism, 2017, What is pluralism?). Yet, it is only through this choice that true equity is born.
As part of my doctoral study, I will be looking at the inclusion of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CLD) learners in the Ontario French Immersion program. Historically, CLD learners have been excluded from French Immersion out of concern for their English language development. Although this concern has been disproven and CLD learners are now physically included in the program, research to date shows that many teachers continue to struggle with using the diversity of their learners as a resource for teaching and learning. In effect, rather than viewing inclusion as the creation of a new space, open to diverse student identities and practices of teaching and learning, teachers maintain their conformity to the traditional French Immersion classroom—a space in which English and French are prioritized over other languages. Consequently, much like the best friend in the article I noted above, CLD learners are viewed as the other. If teachers and students alike make a genuine effort to understand and value diversity, I believe that the end result will not only be a more inclusive classroom but also a more equitable one.
An oft-quoted statement is that equity is not necessarily equality. While there is certainly truth to that statement, we must also recognize that true equity comes from treating one another as equally valued human beings. After all, it is only then that humanity will reflect its most beautiful hue: equity through pluralism.
Faculty of Education
University of Ottawa