"Equality" can be a dangerous idea.
My title might have startled some, alarmed others. However, its meaning is not immediately apparent. I agree, in principle, with equality of a kind – it is just equality of another kind, that I disagree, rather fundamentally, with. I shall, of course, explain and you would do well to wait until that explanation is over, before concluding what I mean by “Equality can be a dangerous idea”.
On Monday, I met a Professor in education, who had some rather unexpected beliefs. Though these were not religious beliefs, he clearly held them as strongly as any worshipper could.
He had asked me what I did.
“I am doing psychology research. One of my primary interests is giftedness.”
My last word seemed as a goad to him. He became immediately energized.
“ALL people should be EQUAL,” he expounded vehemently, his face filled with a somewhat disquieting fervor. “There should be no separate group of SUPERBEINGS. You know, “NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND” and all that”.
This was a very odd thing to say, considering that we stood in a conference room in which the question of how to education gifted science students had been addressed, all morning. Here was a man who didn’t even believe in giftedness…so why was he here?
His eyes scrutinized me, in challenge.
“Is there a lot of research into giftedness?”, he said, with the hint of a sneer at the thought.
“There is now.”, I said, confidently, which seemed to bother him somewhat.
“Don’t you encounter skepticism?”, he pursued, with a little smile that was a lot like something else.
“Scepticism?”, I asked, puzzled, for I was genuinely so. “Why should I encounter skepticism? I never encounter it.” Except, of course, for today, at this very minute, from this man and his silent, female colleague, who clearly agreed with him.
That thought was clearly in his doubting eyes.
It was obvious to me that this “Professor” didn’t understand gifted children at all. It was a mystery to me how he had endured so long in education, and yet managed to remain in denial about them. I resolved to enlighten him…simply, for I did not detect, before me, much evidence of any “giftedness” of his own.
“Imagine that a child has a ratio IQ of 200, and yet they are 9 years old and are placed in a classroom of agemates. Mentally, the child is an adult, even if physically he or she is a 9 year old. That is just like placing an adult in a classroom with young kids. Can you understand how bored they would be?”
He smirked, the smirk of the incorrigibly ignorant.
“It seems we have different views.”
His body language indicated that the conversation was at an end.
Later, I reflected on the enigma, to me, of how a man could hold such views, lifelong, in his field. He was not a young man: his hair was grey, his face was lined. He could not be any younger than late fifties and was probably in his sixties. He was an educator, yet did not grasp one of the most important issues in education: the realization of the gifted.
It was clear that he had misunderstood what true equality was all about. For him, equality was “equality of outcome”. He wanted all people to achieve the same results. He wanted all people to have the same ability. He had not, however, seen the essential contradiction of this. Equality of outcome is not possible unless there is inequality of opportunity. For outcomes to be equal, then two things must happen: the lower a child’s native ability, the more educational help, they must receive. So, too, the higher the child’s native ability, the less help and the more HINDRANCE they must receive. The only way to achieve equal outcomes is to facilitate the naturally dull and oppose the naturally bright. So, the only way to achieve equality of outcome, is through INEQUALITY of opportunity. The brighter a student, the less opportunity for growth they must receive, in a nation that seeks equality of outcome. This “Professor” was too dim, himself, to see the essential injustice, indeed, madness of such an approach. The very notion cast aside all ideals of fairness and human rights.
For him, “No child left behind”, meant “No child must get ahead.” They are not the same intention at all. The former is meant to raise up the performance of the lowest ability – but the latter, which he was espousing, was that no one bright should flourish. It is the most toxic idea, I have ever heard expressed by a educator, in all my years. If widely held, this idea has the power to destroy a nation, indeed, the world. Were it universally held, that equality of outcome should be the goal, then all that was great about mankind would never get the chance to become…we would become a static, stagnant, unprogressive culture, without new ideas, new technologies, new art. Nothing great would be allowed to be. That is the inevitable consequence of the wholesale application of this Professor’s poisonous outlook.
Equality of opportunity should be the goal. That is all should have equal chances to maximize their abilities. That means that gifted education should be given as much weight, in all societies, as “special education” for the mentally disabled. Only then will there be true educational equality, in the world.
(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, 10, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, 6 and Tiarnan, 4, this month, please go to:
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