Teaching the Difference Between Equality, Equity, and Justice in Preschool - Paper Pinecone Blog

Teaching the Difference Between Equality, Equity, and Justice in Preschool

Published Date: 06/04/20

Equality versus equity versus justice.

Sometimes those words are used interchangeably but they have very different meanings and implications. All are important concepts to teach preschoolers and to practice in your classroom.

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What’s the difference between equality and equity?

The difference between equality and equity is straightforward. With equality, everyone has exactly the same thing. With equity, everyone has what they need.

You’re probably doing a good job of teaching equality at your preschool right now. You might give everyone the same number of crackers at snack time or set a timer for how long each child plays with a specific toy. And in some cases, equality works just fine and is appropriate. But in others, we need to take a more equitable approach.

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We can think of it in terms of food. When ordering pizza for a large group, you’ll probably assume some people will eat one slice, some people will eat two, and some will eat three or even four. You’ll account for those differences when ordering - maybe you have several hulking athletes or small children in your group. You won’t police who eats how many slices, you’ll just assume that everyone got what they needed, be it once slice or more.

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The pizza isn’t shared equally, it is shared equitably.

It’s easy to demonstrate visually. In the image below you see two scenarios depicted. The first show equality - everyone has the exact same platform to stand on to watch the baseball game. However, we see that the man doesn’t actually need a platform - he can see the game just fine. The taller child is able to see with the platform, but the smaller child still cannot see.


The second picture depicts equity. The man has no platform, as he can see over the fence without one. The taller child has one platform allowing him to see the baseball game, and the shorter child has two platforms now permitting him to see as well.

Everyone has what they need, which is equity.

equality vs equity

Image courtesy of Interaction Institute for Social Change - Artist Angus Maguire

How does justice differ from equality and equity?

Justice taken outside of a legal construct of crime and punishment, involves removing the barriers that prevent equality and equity.

In the cartoon below we see it demonstrated with use of an apple tree (seemingly with reference to Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, which is not without controversy).

The first image shows inequality. One person has access to the apples falling from the tree and one person does not.

The second represents equality. While both people are given ladders of equal height, the tree leans to the left, making the apples accessible for one person but not the other.

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The third represents equity. The person on the right side of the tree is given a taller ladder to access the apples while the person on the left has a shorter one that allows her access.

Finally, there’s justice. In this we see that the tree is straightened, thus removing the barrier for the person on the right. He no longer needs a taller ladder to access the apples.


Image credit: Tony Ruth for Design in Tech Report

But life’s not fair.

No, life isn’t fair. We can’t straighten trees and make the world just. There are situations each of us are placed in that prove this. Situations of inequality, situations of inequity, and unjust situations.

And preschoolers need to begin to learn that. Sometimes things will be equal, sometimes things will be equitable, sometimes things will be just, but at other times they simply won’t be fair. All people must learn to navigate those situations and being placed in them occasionally probably builds resilience and problem-solving skills, though I don’t have data to back that.

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However, as one would expect, being placed in them continuously may lead to resentment and anger.

As early childhood educators we have a responsibility to begin the framework of life lessons and working toward equitability and justice, whenever possible, is an important component. Not everyone is given the same tools in life. Some are given none. When we teach children with tools to use them to remove barriers for those that don’t, we lay the groundwork for a better future.

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