What Exactly Is Equality? And What Do We Expect?

This was edited on 7 March 2015 to remove a bad link.

I gave a sermon on Sunday (10 August 2008 ) in which the presentation probably was not one of my better ones. I forgot that I am God’s representative and Christ’s disciple and that the words that I speak have to be His words, not mine. I have been on a roll lately and I was thinking that it was my ability that was doing it. But it wasn’t my ability and I need to remember that.

But the sermon itself was a good one and I felt that it was appropriate for the Scriptures as well as the moment that is this Sunday. It was the responses that I received from some people that prompt me to post these thoughts. These thoughts are accompanied by some other thoughts from two other venues that I believe are related.

Somewhere in hearing what I was saying, the idea of equality became equated with the idea of affirmative action. I said nothing in the sermon about affirmation action and the idea that these two concepts are equivalent pushes the idea behind both.

After the first service a person came to me and said that I should be careful “pushing the envelope” when it comes to equality. This person told me that they had recently lost their job because someone else (a person of a different race) demanded a job with their company and threatened action if it was not given to them. If this is true, then this person’s company was wrong but, like so many other things going on in this country today, not willing to fight for what is right. A person who is already employed should not be fired or released simply because someone threatens a lawsuit in an effort to get a job. I don’t believe that the affirmative action laws were written that way.

But if this first individual’s claim that they lost a job to someone who threatened a lawsuit because of discrimination is correct, then we have a serious problem. Somewhere along the line, we have equated affirmative action with equality. They are not the same thing and we should not even think that they are.

The purpose of affirmative action was and is to say that companies who have two individuals with equal skills are to hire the one who represents a class of individuals who have been discriminated against in the past. It was not meant to mean that such individuals are to be hired regardless of their abilities or skills or to put someone out of a job that he has held for years. Yet, that seems to be what we have done. Through affirmative action, we created quotas saying that we need so many people of one kind and so many people of another, so that our company or organization represents society. That’s fine and dandy, provided the people have the proper skills and abilities. If they don’t, then they shouldn’t be hired.

Another person came to me after the second service and offered something that was somewhat similar, that their company was giving jobs to foreign nationals in preference to American workers. I am not sure if this was outsourcing or a modification of a training program. But if we are supposed to give away jobs in the name of equality, then we have a serious problem.

As a society, we are demanding quality goods at a cheaper price. I don’t believe this is possible. Quality comes with a price; that is not to say that low cost goods are not good quality but more often than not, low cost brings low quality.

The problems of the American automobile industry come, in part, from their belief that cheap Japanese imports were low quality. They once were but the Japanese borrowed our ideas about quality control and improved the quality of their products. But Detroit held onto the belief that Japanese cars were poor quality and kept producing their traditional models until they suddenly realized they were losing business. Now, it may be too late for the traditional auto industry.

In response to the demand for low prices, American industry created outsourcing. Outsourcing is American business’s response to society’s demands for low prices for common goods and it has been taken to extremes. Now, I am not a fan of outsourcing; as I noted in another piece (“Economics 101”) some creditors have outsourced their collection calls to India and other points overseas.

Both of these comments indicated one critical problem with our response in the 70’s to the demand for equality in the 60’s. We never made the playing field equal. Too many of our students come out of schools with diplomas that suggest they are qualified but they are woefully unprepared because their schools are under-equipped to meet the demands of society. I am not alone in this view.

I subscribe to a particular listserv and the recent discussion has been on student self-esteem. The tone of the discussion suggested that students come into college with the expectation that they need not do any more than show up for class and they will get an “A” in that course. They haven’t been pushed to succeed in their prior experiences and they have never experienced any sort of failure. Failure is not acceptable because it will destroy their self-esteem.

I believe Thomas Edison once said that it took him over 100 tries to get it right; in other words, he failed 99 times before he found the right way. But he never looked at 99 attempts as failures; he always said that he found 99 ways that would not work.

Our problem today is that we don’t allow our students to fail; we find some way to pass them, even when they are not ready. Students enter college expecting the same environment that past them through high school. As a result when they enter college they are not ready for the work that is required nor are they willing to learn the things that they need to learn in order to succeed. In other words, we are setting our students up to fail because we do not demand that they learn what is required at the lower levels which will allow them to enter college and perform at college levels.

A colleague of mine indicated that we needed to take students at the level where they are, no matter what their preparation, and help them along. And I agreed, especially because as high school teacher that was my philosophy. I have always held the view that the goal of education should be to give students the skills needed so they can learn more on their own after each class is completed.

I see too many students who come into college who do not have the prerequisite skills that a traditional high school graduate should have in order to enter college. (See “Teach Your Children” for a list of what a high school graduate should be able to do.) I also argued that it was necessary to tell the students if they need to examine their own options and make other plans. I am of the opinion that we should not automatically accept students in our classes without the prerequisite skills. It may be that their prior education was lacking and we have to do something about that, but that has to come from beyond what transpires in my classroom or in my organization.

One outcome of the 60’s and the changes of that time was a call for equality. Affirmative action was the result but it was really a band-aid where major surgery was required. Across the nation, many of our schools do not have the technology necessary to prepare the students for life after graduation and they do not have the funds needed to gain the technology. There is the issue of teacher preparation as well, but we will save that for another day. We have done very little to make our schools equal and, if our schools are not equal, then our students will never be put on an equal footing.

When I call for equality, I am calling for situations where everyone has an equal opportunity. I am not calling for some people to receive consideration when they are not qualified. But if they are not qualified, then we need to work to insure that they do become qualified. And if anyone thinks that because something happened years ago in the long forgotten past they are entitled to special benefits or recognition, they need to think again. What happened in the past is no excuse for not doing their best now.

But what has happened in the past should tell us that we need to do more in the present so that the mistakes of the past are not repeated in the future. Our schools are preparing student who are ill-prepared and under-qualified, yet we do not try to make our schools better. We demand quality products but we are unwilling to pay for the quality. We expect our leaders to represent the best and brightest yet we are willing to let mediocrity rule (for those who can remember, Richard Nixon nominated G. Harrold Carswell to a seat on the Supreme Court in 1970. Against cries that he was mediocre, Senator Roman Hruska stated “Even if he is mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance?” (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,942208,00.html and http://www.washtimes.com/commentary/20051005-092022-5265r.htm) That remark is believed to have backfired and damaged Carswell’s cause.)

There are those today who feel that because of whom they are and, solely because of whom they are, they will receive special consideration when it comes to entering heaven. Such individuals will be sadly mistaken when that day comes. On the other hand, those who fail to seek equality in its basic forms will find that the doors to heaven may very well be barred to them as well.

If we seek equality, let us make sure that equality is what we seek and not some action that only gives lip service to the idea. Let us put thinking back into the process of life and let us think about our actions, not simply respond poorly to injustice and the lack of thinking on the part of others.



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