Scale weighing fair and unfair“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Who hasn’t heard that expression before? We all know what it means. What one person sees as beautiful is not what another person sees as beautiful. In other words, our idea of beauty is subjective. While few people would disagree with the idea that beauty is subjective, they don’t always agree on other concepts being subjective. Take the word “fair.” That word is tossed around a lot, but for some reason the people doing the tossing think everyone sees fairness the same way. They don’t.

“Mom! That’s not fair!” Either you said that or your child has said that – or, most probably, both have said it. But what does that mean? What does “fair” mean? Checking the dictionary for definitions doesn’t help us. Here are some examples:

  • Merriam-Webster: marked by impartiality and honesty : free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism
  • Dictionary.com: treating people equally without favouritism or discrimination
  • Vocabulary.com: free from favoritism or self-interest or bias or deception; conforming with established standards or rules

On the surface, those definitions make sense. But delve a little deeper. Let’s say that one child is musically talented and wants to take music lessons. Her sibling, however, is more athletic and wants to be involved in sports. Should those children be treated equally? Give them both art lessons so you aren’t showing favoritism to either of them? Of course not. That is downright silly. No one would suggest such a thing. In fact, most rational people would say there is no reason to deprive either child. The “fair” thing to do would be to provide each child with activities that will nurture his or her interests. How would providing each child with what he or she wants – and needs – be discriminatory?

Now let’s take a look at another situation: gifted kids in school. How often do we hear that it’s not “fair” for schools to provide services for gifted kids when other kids don’t get “special” treatment? We don’t hear the same thing about special needs kids – and we shouldn’t. What we hear is that gifted kids already “have it made,” so why should they get anything extra? It’s not fair to the other kids. But wait a minute… look again at the definitions of of “fair.” Being “fair” means being free from bias, right? But when people dismiss the needs of gifted kids, they are definitely showing a bias, and are therefore being UNfair.

Think again about the two kids, one musical and one athletic. Each is different, so why would treating them as though they were the identical be fair treatment? The fair treatment is providing each with what they need. The fairness is in providing each with what they need, not in depriving one in order to provide for the other. Choosing one over the other is discriminatory and shows a bias. Most people understand that. So why can’t they understand that providing gifted kids with the services they need is not unfair to other kids. It is actually the only fair treatment of gifted kids.

This brings me back to where I began. Some people believe it is fair to provide services for other kids but not gifted kids because *in their minds* gifted kids already have an advantage over the other kids. But that attitude itself is a bias. And that means that the concept of what is fair can be just as subjective as the concept of beauty. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but “fairness” is in the mind of the speaker.

Carol BainbridgeEducationRants and ResponsesDefinitions,Gifted Programs
'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.' Who hasn't heard that expression before? We all know what it means. What one person sees as beautiful is not what another person sees as beautiful. In other words, our idea of beauty is subjective. While few people would disagree with...