NUMBER 811 • 22 AUGUST • UNFAIRNESS
When teachers and children have different perspectives, children may judge teachers' perspectives as not only wrong but unfair.
The teacher always wrote home to my parents that I would be a good student if I was 'better behaved' and my parents would get very angry, thinking that I created problems in school. But it seemed to me that everything I did got me in trouble. I would answer a question that a friend next to me asked and be kept after school for talking and the person who asked the question would not even be spoken to. I felt like I was always picked on. (Amelia's informant)
Children may recognize favoritism as a particular type of unfairness.
The teacher's niece was in Vivian's class. One day while out in the playground, Vivian had an ice pop. The teacher's niece went up to her and told her she wanted the ice pop. Vivian said no. The girl stood there a minute, then she pushed Vivian into a huge puddle. ...Vivian said she was drenched from head to toe and covered in mud. There was no way she could stay in school and a policeman had to drive her home from school since she lived so far. Vivian told me, 'I still remember that Evangeline, her name was Evangeline, and she didn't even get in trouble. ... She got away with everything because her aunt was the teacher.' (Maida's informant)
In the following story, Larry complains of a reverse sort of 'favoritism,' that directed towards troublemakers.
Larry, a fifth-grader, told me, 'Mom says I have a good teacher, but I don't think so.' When I asked him why, his answer was, 'She doesn't spend enough time with the class. She spends too much time with the troublemakers. She just doesn't do what she should.' (Larry, Ramona's informant)
One strategy that teachers may use when some students 'misbehave' is to punish or deprive all students. From a teacher's perspective such a strategy may seem reasonable; from a child's perspective it may be deemed unfair.
Another hardship that I remember is from the year I was in fourth grade. We were having a Christmas party and the boys started to take the Nerds candy and shoot it through their straws across the room. The teacher finally saw it and got very angry. She yelled at the entire class and we weren't allowed to have Nerds in the classroom for the rest of the year. ... I didn't think this was fair because only certain people were doing it. Why should I be punished if I wasn't doing anything? (Ramona)
It may be very difficult for teachers to know whom to blame when blame is being distributed. For children, especially when as participants they have greater knowledge of what occurred, teachers' mistakes in assigning blame may be viewed as wrong and unfair as well as troubling and consequential.
Belinda recalls her experience with an unfair punishment that occurred when she was in the second grade. The students wrote out their spelling words each week. One of her words happened to be the word 'it.' While she was out of her seat, a boy changed her word into an inappropriate one. When she returned to her seat, she began to laugh at the sight of the word on her paper. This got the teacher's attention. When the teacher saw her paper, she immediately thought the girl was to blame. Without asking any questions, she hit the girl with a ruler. (Belinda, Ruby's informant)
Waksler, F. C., (1996) The Little Trials of Childhood and Children's Strategies for Dealing with Them. London: The Falmer Press. Pp 162-163