The Cost of Equality

There’s a question burning in my heart that I need to ask you…that I need to ask myself.  My little CT town is reeling, and rightly so, from a new budget proposal by our own Governor Malloy.  At first I was caught off guard by the budget’s drastic decrease in funds to our town’s public school- an alleged $1.63 million decrease, to be exact.  (Not to mention another $1.5 million that our town would have to come up with for teacher pensions.)  It didn’t sit well with me…I mean, it certainly seemed like something to be enraged about.

But I read in my local paper a mere one-sentence blip, as though an irrelevant factual concession, which informed me that there was a piece to the story I was missing; part of the reason for the proposed reduction for our budget is to increase the spending for underfunded schools where the greatest poverty exists.

And I’ll be honest, that stung me.  Because I desperately want to live in an America where there’s not an educational disparity between two neighboring towns because of income level.  I desperately want to live in an America where I would gladly enroll my kids in any school, in any town.

But I don’t.  I live in an America where my kids have chromebooks and amazing teachers and resources, but other students less than a half hour drive from me are lacking.  (Do I even care to know the conditions of “their” education?)  I live in an America where poverty in certain places is systemic and suffocating and dictates the kind of education a child can hope to receive.

And there’s the phrase going around “There’s no such thing as other people’s children.”  We’re all in this together, right?  But what does it mean to embrace that idea as more than mere theory?

So I simply have to ask…as we lament possible budget cuts to our own kids, where is our lament for our neighbor’s kids who would only dream of the resources we possess?  Where is our joy for “our kids” in other towns who could perhaps enjoy new success?  Is equality something we can seek without sacrifice?  How far are we willing to go to see “liberty and justice for all”?

Because I guarantee you this:  Equality will not come without cost.  And the cost of equality, though we don’t want to see it, will be greatest for those who have “more than”.  Though individuals who’ve been dealt “less” have certainly overcome their poverty, equality will never come if we sit around hoping the masses of under-resourced will miraculously leap over the hurdles of cyclical poverty and broken systems, to arrive level with the advantages many of us have enjoyed without realizing.

I’ve had my share of “more than”- of privilege, wealth, freedom…the chance to dream.  And I’m learning lately that I’m hugely complicit in this larger issue of inequality because, quite frankly, I’d rather not be uncomfortable.  I’d rather not give up what I have.

But, God help me, I need to change.  I need to be willing to bleed, to encounter rough places, to accept less in order to see others rise.  In order to see our nation, our states, our neighborhoods…made one.

I realize the issue is much larger than dollars- I understand that the budget cut could mean job loss, lesser education, and a giant step backwards for PTO and others who have worked tirelessly to raise funds for our schools.  I thank those of you who have given so much of your lives to improve and support our schools and our children.  I don’t want to minimize the potential hardship to our town.  And I’m sure this budget proposal is hardly the end-all answer to leveling the educational playing field and squashing rampant poverty.  Maybe it’s not a great answer period.

But it certainly makes for a good mirror to turn at ourselves.

I’m trying to educate myself on the social justice issues that plague our world, but I admit my own limitations of knowledge and awareness.  In fact, I’m so aware of my faults that I feel the hypocrite even as I pose these questions.  But as much for myself as for you…and our nation…I have to start the dialogue.  The answers aren’t simple, but I welcome your thoughts as I try to process my own growing uneasiness of heart over the disparity between what I say I believe and the way that I live.

Suggested Reading:

Good School, Rich School; Bad School, Poor School The inequality at the heart of America’s education system

4 comments

  1. The other factor that many might not realize is the enormous parent support that you have in your town adds to the quality of education and resources the children receive. In areas of poverty, there are many moms and dads working many hours to pay the bills or one parent may be absent , or they don’t have adequate transportation, etc. This can create a climate that is not only under-resourced financially but under-resourced in volunteer involvement as well– making the load for the teachers and staff much harder. While there are other reasons for that as well, the bottom line is –we want all children to have the opportunity to grow and learn no matter where they live or what situation they’re in. Thanks for stepping out and wrestling with this, Carrye! We have to start the conversation and look at how things affect others as well as ourselves. Keep walking it out!

    1. What an important piece of the story to highlight! The sad truth is, I often sit back and let others take the lead in supporting education for the kids in my OWN town because I know that dedicated others ARE putting time and effort into improving/supporting schools for my kids. I take that for granted too often, not acknowledging how much my children would lose out on if not for the kind of community involvement we have. Thank you for adding to the conversation and bringing up a non-financial aspect of the inequality we face.

  2. You ask some painful, but vital questions. In our area, plans were announced to develop nice lower-income housing in a prosperous community, which would allow the kids of some lower income families to go to an excellent school system. A groundswell of protest (some quite harsh) surfaced: we’ll have more crime, larger classroom sizes, lower property values. Perhaps one or more of these will occur, but you are absolutely right that equality (and love) always have a price tag, sometimes substantial. Blessing or benefiting others will always cost you something. Our indictment may well be that we were unconcerned with the class sizes and funding for “other people’s kid’s” schools. Thanks for challenging us.

    1. That is a sobering example of our deep seated reluctance to change that may cost us, even if there’s a benefit to others involved. Fear, founded or not, plays a huge role in our struggle to bridge gaps of injustice. I appreciate your comment as it continues to add to the dialogue!

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