How do you talk to a kid about fairness, about the idea that despite what might seem fair, sometimes things just don’t work out? When I deal with my students, I try to think about this. I often wonder if my grading is fair. I wonder if that boy was more polite and less aggressive, or if that girl didn’t have a pretty smile and kind demeanor, would I still give them the same scores? And how do you tell an athlete that despite hard work and obvious ability, that he or she won’t get much of an opportunity or much of the credit because of the way he or she is built. This is what drove Kobe Bryant crazy when he played with Shaq.
I know that sometimes, the idea of “fairness” is just a mirage. That it’s all about point-of-view. Could I read an essay and give the student an “A” and another teacher read the essay and give it a “C” and could both of us have been fair? Absolutely, but more likely than not, certain immeasurables related to the student’s personality play a large part. (The solution to this is easy: use ID numbers, but I don’t want to have to look up students’ names after the fact to put them in the gradebook.)
As a society, we want everything to be fair. Politicians speak of it all the time: those on the right saying it’s not fair to tax the wealthy more and those on the left saying it’s not fair to let the poor starve. We cry about it when we find that a co-worker who comes in later and leaves earlier earns the same amount as us. I think about it when I think about USC’s football team and their sanctions. I think about it when I grade. I think about it in my private life and ask if people are being fair to me.
I don’t think I have a romantic sense of justice, just an idea of what the world should be like—effort, obstacles and dedication outweighing talent when it comes to competition and a blind judgment based off production and quality when it comes to work.