Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Differentiation vs. Discrimination

One thing I would like to ask the Grand High Inquisitors when they come here for the Quality Review later this term is: What is the difference, as you see it, between "differentiation" and discrimination? Assuming there is a difference, at what point does the former become the latter? And if there is no difference, then isn't it illegal?

"Differentiation" still strikes me as essentially meaning: Teaching different kids different things different ways, to get them the same grade in the same class for the same credit. If we think of the grade and the academic credit as a "government benefit," i.e., something of value which the child receives from the state in exchange for meeting certain criteria, then having different criteria for different people to receive the same government benefit is illegal; that's textbook discrimination. It is manifestly unfair for me to require one thing of one student, and something entirely different of another, if they are both to receive the same thing in return.

This is true whether the grading standards are objective or subjective. Under an objective standard, the grade each student receives has the same relative value as any other student's grade, in that all grades are based on a comparison between the same objective standard and the work the individual student actually produced. Even if Johnny gets an 85 and Susie gets a 65, if they were evaluated qualitatively relative to a single objective standard (and by extension, relative to each other), then they each received the same value in return for what they produced. If the standards are subjective, i.e., if we 'handicap' the students based on ability, then Johnny and Susie both get an 85 even though Johnny's work is of objectively higher quality. That just makes it more unfair if what Johnny had to do to get that 85 is different from, let alone more difficult than, what Susie had to to to get the same 85.

My job, as I see it, is to differentiate without discriminating. I don't actually plan to ask the Inquisitors the question of if, when, how and why "differentiation" is not discrimination. I'm going to play it close to the vest as I don't want to say or do anything that will hurt the school on this Quality Review or moving forward. I hope the topic doesn't come up. But at the same time, I won't teach or evaluate my students, nor claim that I am doing so or will do so, in a way that is plainly illegal, immoral, and unconstitutional.

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