I want to teach my daughter that fairness and equity don’t mean that everyone gets the same thing

missnelsonismissingby Sachi Feris

My daughter and I have been reading the book, “Miss Nelson is Missing,” which features an infamously mischievous class. We read about students throwing paper planes in the air, and that they were “the worst behaved class in the school.” My daughter noted that they behaved “like Lizzie” who is a child in one of her toddler classes.

“Oh,” I responded, “Does Lizzie sometimes have a hard time listening and following the rules?”

My daughter concurred.

“Yeah,” I continued. “Sometimes it’s hard to listen and follow the rules. That’s hard for you sometimes, too, right? Like the other day when you threw a block?”

My daughter agreed that following the rules could be hard for her, too.

“And you know what? Some children need different things than others so they can learn and be happy and successful—do your teachers help Lizzie when she is having a hard time following the rules so she can be happy and successful?”

“Sí!” she responded.

“What do they do?” I asked.

“Sit in the teacher’s lap.”

“Oh,” I replied. “Does that help her listen so she can learn and be successful in your class?”

“Sí!” my daughter acquiesced.

“Good. I’m glad she is getting what she needs so she can learn.”

At Community Roots, an incredible, diverse charter school where I had the privilege of working over four-year period, an inclusion model exists in every classroom. Each class pairs two teachers, one with certification in general education and the other with certification in special education, and at least 20% of the students in every classroom with IEPs (Individualized Education Program). The school’s philosophy is that every student will get what they need to learn. This philosophy serves not only to meet the learning needs of students with IEPs, but is part of building a classroom culture where every student in the class understands this maxim. In this way, giving students “what they need to be successful” is in no way seen as a deficit. Ultimately, this culture benefits all students.

In a world where Black students, especially boys, are referred to special education programs in over-representative numbers, this is a philosophy I need to communicate to my daughter. (To learn more about this phenomenon and positive steps educators can take to challenge it, see this research from the National Education Association.)

I want my daughter to understand that everyone learns in different ways and has different learning needs—and I want her to know that structures can and should support the learning needs of all students. I do not want her consider any individual student through the lens of “less than.”


Sachi Feris is a blogger at Raising Race Conscious Children, an online a resource to support adults who are trying to talk about race with young children. Sachi also co-facilitates interactive workshops/webinars and small group workshop series on how to talk about race with young children. Sachi currently teaches Spanish to Kindergarten and 1st grade at an independent school in Brooklyn.