There is a Difference between Fairness and Equality

Besides writing, directing drama, and coaching softball, I also teach American Government. I purposefully stay away from politics on this blog because that’s not what this blog is about.

But I do state at the top of the page that this blog is about “life” and so from time to time I might slightly dip my finger into the murky sludge of political matter that surrounds the internet on a daily basis. Here’s the issue I want to comment on:

According to WJBK-TV in Detroit, a Michigan high school has been ordered to remove a new set of baseball seats because it was deemed that the new seats were superior to the bleachers that the softball field has. It is not fair that the boys’ baseball team has better seating than girls’ softball, so the seating has to go.

Before I comment, let me digress for a minute. One of the things I teach in American Government is that the constitution requires fairness. The government cannot favor one person over another. It’s a simple supposition that quickly gets muddied in the daily blogosphere of our modern life.

Two of the items we discuss in class is the concept of equality of opportunity vs. the equality of outcome. Equality of opportunity means just that. Every person or group should have the same opportunities to succeed as anyone else. Equality of outcome is very different. It’s the view that, at the end of the day, everyone should have the same things or the same level of achievement.

I have views, but I never insist that any of my students believe what I believe. I want them to think for themselves. I want them to approach issues and look at the facts, weigh the pros and cons and decide for themselves what they believe about it. I love to play devil’s advocate on a variety of issues just to confuse them, and I try to force them to articulate their points of view. They had better back them up with logic and have some good sources of support. I think this is the correct way to teach politics. Robust debate while tipping your cap in respect to the person who disagrees with you.

How many of you would really argue with me that these skills are sorely lacking in modern political discourse which polarizes everything to the extreme? By the sound of the crickets, I think I understand your reply.

Now certainly I digressed, but I wanted to explain where I was coming from before delving a little deeper into the incident at hand.

I’m just going to say it. This is beyond idiotic, and, unfortunately, it illustrates a painful misunderstanding of the words fairness and equality. Let’s look at a few facts first:

1. The baseball seats were purchased by the booster club.

2. The baseball boosters raised money through a variety of events in order to have seating in which they wouldn’t have to watch the games through the chain link fence.

3. There is no prohibition on the parents and boosters of the softball team from doing the same thing. Heck, I bet the baseball boosters would be glad to give you a few pointers or even help you run a fund-raiser.

4. Government doesn’t know the difference between equality and fairness. And frankly that’s scary.

The logic behind this ruling is basically ridiculous. Under the government’s logic, any upgrade of any facility would necessitate an upgrade of everyone’s facility. If the glee club paints their rehearsal room, shouldn’t the band then be given the money to paint their room? If the football team needs a new scoreboard, I guess then every team on campus should petition the government that they too deserve a new scoreboard. It’s not fair! If a student studies for a final exam for 10 hours and gets an “A” but another student studies for 2 hours and gets a “C”, shouldn’t the “C” student be entitled to some of student “A”s grade? This can get absurd extremely quickly.

Let’s talk about the fairness and unfairness of this situation. Here’s what is fair: a group of parents and players spent their Saturdays and evening working hard, washing cars, selling baked goods, and doing of myriad of other tasks in order to raise money for the benefit of their constituency. When they reached their goal, they purchased the seats which made the viewing of the games they love more enjoyable.

It would be UNFAIR if the softball team raised the money and the baseball team benefited. But that’s not what happened. But in the government’s view, the softball team has been treated unfairly because the baseball teamed worked hard to achieve something, and then didn’t share the benefit with the softball team. I know. There is no logic there.

I am a firm believer in equality of opportunity. Everyone should have the right to work hard and better themselves, but when we begrudge the success of someone who has worked hard for their achievement, we are then being UNFAIR to the process which made America great.

I played baseball for many years. I’ve coached girls’ softball for the past seven years. If I was the softball coach at that Michigan school, I’d be the first one to send around a petition, insisting that the school re-installs the baseball seats at the baseball field. I would then challenge the person who complained to the government to stop COMPLAINING and start doing something about it. I’d be happy to meet with them to wash cars on Saturday to help raise money for the softball field. In fact, I bet the baseball team would help out as well.

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