At lunch yesterday I had a debate with a colleague and friend of mine about fairness. We were first talking about students doing group projects. I said I always hated them in school because I ended up doing the work while others loafed, and that I thought of them as inherently unfair. That’s one reason I never assign them to my students. My friend said that’s one reason he does assign them. He felt that students needed to learn now that the world is unfair. In other words, that’s just the way it is.
Damn but that phrase and that argument bother me. Any reasonably intelligent and experienced person knows the world isn’t fair. But the fact remains that the world should be fair, and it’s important—I think—to say so. It’s important to strive for fairness in our dealings with the world, and people who work toward fairness can make a difference in that world, sometimes small ones, sometimes big ones.
Although I’m sure that not everyone who has supported equal rights for women, minorities, and gays over the years has done so without ulterior motives, I firmly believe that many have done so out of a sense of fairness. It’s simply not right for women to be paid less than men for equal work. It’s not fair for African Americans or gay couples to be discriminated against because of their skin color or sexual orientation. Yet, there have been times (and sometimes those times are now) when such discrimination has happened. Did the fact that women once lacked the right to vote mean people should have accepted it because that was “just the way it was?”
I don’t typically think of myself as an idealist, or even a liberal. I’m certainly no saint. And I don’t really care if my friend assigns his classes group projects. What I do reject, though, is the attitude of that’s just the way it is. I refuse to accept it.