This question had never crossed my mind until being recently told that in my workplace we are all equal to the children. I was, to say the least, somewhat dumbfounded by this. I believe the concept of equality can be a very grey area. Also, the context in which I’m supposed to accept this equality is in my mind rather complex and hypocritical.
As a parent, rightly or wrongly, I have never considered my daughter and myself to be equal. I was the adult, she was a child. I set the standards and expectations and basically insisted she did as she was told. I have not been a dictatorial parent but I’ve simply expected my child to behave and follow instructions. As she grew older there were times when a modicum of negotiation was appropriate. I am sure I’m not the only parent on the planet who insists their child does as they ask?
The general consensus amongst medical and psychological research appears to be that brain development in humans continues into the early twenties. We should therefore make a clear distinction between children’s rights and this idea of equality. As a parent, as a teacher and as a decent human being I am absolutely in support of children’s rights. I have great respect for children and young people.
However, whereas fundamental rights need to be adhered to, I struggle to accept that I am equal to a child. As a parent my role is to love, protect and guide my child. My ‘child’ is now an adult but I don’t consider that to be any reason to relinquish my duties. As a teacher my role is primarily to educate and facilitate learning. My role is also to ensure the safety and welfare of my students whilst in my care.
If teachers and parents are to ‘care’ for children, can this possibly be carried out when we are ‘equal’? In my opinion this would contradict the role and duty of an adult. In all animal kingdoms there is a natural hierarchy and I worry that as a society we are in the process of making a rod for our own backs. We have yet to see the consequences of bringing up a generation of children who are told that they are equal to all and subsequently, treated accordingly. Until of course, they leave education!
We have yet to see these ‘equals’ go to work and act like equals to their superiors! Are we really preparing these children for adulthood? Is a corporal in the army equal to a major? Is a shop assistant equal to the store manager? Is a classroom teacher equal to the headteacher? In these contexts the answer is categorically no! Therefore, I am not equal to a child.
Having trawled through the many definitions of equality, a general meaning seems to be; ‘the state of being equal, in status, rights, and opportunities’. I can not argue against this. Nevertheless, I do not think it is totally appropriate in all circumstances and contexts. I certainly do not feel it is appropriate in the classroom. On the contrary it undermines our roles as responsible adults teaching and modelling sociable behaviours and actions which incidentally don’t magically appear in children simply because they’ve been given ‘equality’. There is a learning and developmenal process. How do they learn from us if they are already equal to us?
Am I equal to a child? No I’m not! We all develop from babies onwards and experience various rites of passage into adulthood. We should be treating children as children! They are not ‘little adults’! I fear that too many responsibilities placed upon them; being considered equal to an adult being one of them, is potentially detrimental to their natural development. They are children. They need to be loved, cherished, played with, educated and although it may be rather a contentious subject for some, they need to be disciplined. I don’t mean beaten with a stick, but boundaries made clear and firm but fair sanctions. These are the actions conducive to bringing up well balanced and respectful adults.