We talk about equality of opportunity, but do we really demand it?

In February, I wrote a blog post about the difference between social justice and socialism.

In it, I defined social justice as the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities.”

One skeptical reader responded:

“There is literally NO ONE that disagrees with that definition of social justice. Everyone wants equality of opportunity.”

Really? I have to say — I don’t think so.

I think the college admissions scandal of the past few weeks has laid bare the truth about “equality of opportunity” in this country.

I agree that no one would publicly, verbally disagree with equality of opportunity. It sounds nice and palatable, and advocating for inequality of opportunity is just too horrific, even for our current political discourse.

But actually working for equality of opportunity? Supporting it? Demanding it? Funding it? That’s a different story.

I know it’s tempting to write off the deplorable behavior of celebrities like Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin and a host of other wealthy parents as exceptions. Of course most parents don’t cheat for their children. Of course most parents don’t blatantly manipulate the system this way to advantage their children — and disadvantage everyone else.

But anyone inside our education system today knows that affluent parents find ways create advantages for their children all the time.

When we let them use our system to do so, we are also culpable of perpetuating systemic inequality.

Some of the advantages are obvious, like hiring SAT/ACT tutors, buying AP review books, sending children to academically enriching summer camps — and of course, sending children to schools with higher budgets, reliable internet, smaller class sizes, better arts programs and more experienced teachers.

But many advantages are acquired behind the scenes, and we don’t acknowledge them. I’ve seen affluent, white parents use threats of expensive lawsuits to get disciplinary charges against their children dropped. I’ve seen them successfully demand grade changes, appealing right up to the top school administration. I’ve seen them fight for their children to be named team captains, student council presidents, even student newspaper editors — all so that their children will have better college applications. I know I’m not alone in this.

And whenever they win, fairness loses. Equality of opportunity loses. The kids who already have a lot get more, and the kids whose parents didn’t go to college, who don’t even know what’s required to get into college, who wouldn’t have the means to call a lawyer, are quietly denied opportunity.

From a parent perspective, seeking advantages for your children is easy to justify. I’ve done it myself — buying the review books, paying for a college counselor, sending a kid to academic camps. We all want to do the best for our children, even if we don’t cross the line to being “snowplow” parents.

But if we know something creates a leg up — especially something as fundamental as changing a grade — and we do it for some parents and not others, then we are the architects of unequal opportunity.

If “everyone agrees with equality of opportunity,” as my reader stated, then our leaders, administrators and teachers need to support it, demand it, fund it — and defend it against incursions, no matter how much pressure they face.

Our students’ disciplinary records, GPAs, playing time and leadership experiences must be free from the taint of privilege. And we all need to publicly support the kind of free, public educational experiences we demand for our own children.

Martha Rush is a teacher, blogger, author and speaker. Visit NeverBore.org or like the NeverBore LLC Facebook group for more information. @MarthaSRush #beatboredom

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