Presentation: Justice and Equality

Justice and equality among students, teachers, and school administrators should not be questioned. In Quebec, our schools have been suffering from a teacher shortage “pénurie d’enseignants”, and the recent COVID pandemic only amplified the situation. Is this shortage an accurate representation of a true problem or are some members of our workforce excluded from obtaining teaching positions? It makes me wonder if we give immigrant teachers equal opportunity to access jobs in our schools. In Whom Must We Treat Equally for Educational Opportunity to Be Equal? Christopher Jencks states that we not only define equal opportunity in different ways, but we do not realize how profound these differences are. He presents five common conceptions of equal opportunity, labeling them as democratic equality, moralistic justice, weak humane justice, strong humane justice, and utilitarianism.  To help us understand these conceptions, he gives the example of a grade three teacher (Ms. Higgins), who like most teachers believes in equal opportunity but struggles with a fair distribution of her time and attention. Jencks hints that only one conception should be selected, but I found myself selecting elements from more than one thus agreeing more with Lazenby (2016) that “the correct conception might be a compromise between more than one value” (p.70).

The recent COVID pandemic amplified the issue of “pénurie d’enseignants” in Quebec and this may play in favor of our immigrant teachers. Jencks rightly mentions that discussions around equal opportunity raise additional questions, but unlike him, I believe that these questions are necessary. Further questioning allows progress and education is a domain in which progress should always be encouraged. Immigrant teachers have long been set aside in our schools, and COVID may just open some doors to them that should have been opened quite some time ago.  Just like Ms. Higgins, school administrators will certainly be struggling with the fair distribution of their resources (teacher training, monetary) and will find it hard to justify amounts allocated to facilitate the integration of immigrant teachers over their “regular” native teachers. Debatably, we can invoke that immigrant teachers may have different training than us and we need to ensure the quality of our educational services to somewhat make this “unequal access” acceptable. Just like we can fairly accept that administrators must carefully distribute school resources among ALL teachers to excuse the lack of support provided to immigrant teachers, but I argue that this uneven access to teaching positions and resources is in part nurtured by fear and should not be justified.

Democratic equality is easy to relate to, the application of this concept would ask Ms. Higgins to give equal time and attention to each of her students. As Jencks notes, school boards do not require that she does so, even considering that constitutionally we all have the right to equal treatment. In the context of an actual classroom or school context, it may become less obvious. School administrators should, in theory, distribute resources equally among their teachers, but would it be wrong if additional help were to be provided to teachers in need of more support? Among the reasons immigrant teachers fail in feeling accomplished is that they do not feel well integrated in their environment (Schmidt, 2010). Allocating help in terms of need reminds me of the difference between equality and equity. While the first offers each person identical support, the second offers only the support they need. In this perspective, the immigrant teacher would have access to greater resources than a “regular” native teacher. Of course, in my opinion, immigrant teachers should not have to integrate our system but rather be included. True inclusion demands that we not only acknowledge differences but welcome them. It would entail the removal of the systemic barrier, which for immigrant teachers are the rules and regulations surrounding the recognition of their credentials.

The moralistic theory of justice as mentioned by Jencks implies that we should reward virtue and punish vice. Virtue, he claims should be defined by effort and not achievement. This view is easily matched with equal opportunity because, as he notes, students all have an equal opportunity to provide effort and if they offer equal effort, they will get equal treatment. If we were to apply this concept to immigrant teachers, it would not only allow them to access teaching positions, but I dare say it would advantage them. It took only a few minutes and a visit to the Quebec site for immigrant-teachers[1] to realize how difficult it is for immigrant teachers to access our school system. Our government only recognizes credentials that come from eleven countries in the world, representing less than 1% of the countries. Even with this recognition, the immigrant teacher must still complete 15 university credits and anywhere from 600 to 900 hours of internship. Teachers that are qualified in countries that are not recognized by our government must completely redo their studies. The effort provided by immigrant teachers is undoubtedly greater than that of a “regular” native teacher.

The humane theory of justice is also easy to relate to, its implication that we deserve equal rights because we are all equally humans is comforting. Jencks added variation to human justice following the spectrum of strong to weak. The strong variant demands equal outcomes rather than equal opportunity and implies that society must offer students an equal chance of meeting the requirements it sets out for them.  If we follow this concept, our immigrant teachers with questioned credentials are not given equal opportunity to meet the requirements, therefore they are disadvantaged. The weak variant of humane justice demands that all students have equal lifetime claim on educational resources. With this variant, Ms. Higgins should have to offer extra help to students that have received prior poor schooling. If this were to be applied to immigrant teachers, administrators would have to provide them with more support than a “regular” native teacher, who would then be disadvantaged.

Finally, Jencks explains that the utilitarianism conception aims to level human well-being in the society rather than ensure equal treatment of individuals. I think this concept is one I would keep, especially the notion of “fair contest”. I think that many immigrant teachers are not allowed to participate in a fair contest. Jenks states that fair contest implies that the competition should be open to all, the prize distribution based on performance, and participants should have a reasonable chance of winning. Can we justly say that we offer a fair contest to immigrant teachers? Schmidt (2010) notes that “the process of immigrant integration remains fraught with complexity as exemplified by numerous barriers to credential recognition, inadequate bridging support for workers trained in international contexts, and employment discrimination” (p. 235).  How can we justify this intentional discrimination?

When considering equal opportunity, I would not only choose one conception among the five, but more likely a combination of values found in many of them. Jencks rightly states that most of us believe in equal opportunity and that we have different interpretations of it, but unlike him, I believe that discussions surrounding these interpretations are beneficial.  Whichever conception one chooses, equal opportunity must be seen positively even if as noted by Riva (2015), “equality of opportunity does not require perfect homogeneity” (p.301).  So, if most positively believe in equal opportunity how can we justify the unequal treatment of immigrant teachers? I think that fear feeds this inequality just as it does racism, sexism, homophobia, and many more. I believe it is almost an instinct to fear and reject the unknown. Are we afraid that immigrant teachers take all our jobs? Are school administrators afraid that the over-representation of immigrant teachers in their school diminishes their “value”? Are legislators afraid that immigrant teachers impose their views in our school systems? Fear cannot and should not justify that we do not give every single qualified teacher equal treatment.

 [1] Enseignant à la formation générale des jeunes, à la formation professionnelle et à l'éducation aux adultes 


Jencks, Christopher. “Whom Must We Treat Equally for Educational Opportunity to be Equal?” Ethics vol. 98, no. 3, April 1998, pp. 518-533.

Lazenby, H. (2016). What is equality of opportunity in education? Theory and Research in Education, 14(1), 65-76.

Riva, N. (2015). Equal Chances and Equal Options: Two Conceptions of Equality of Opportunity. Ratio Juris, 28(2), 293–306.

Schmidt, C. (2010). Systemic discrimination as a barrier for immigrant teachers. Diaspora, indigenous, and minority education, 4(4), 235-252.


Pierre jules Tangueu ngounou July 7, 2020, 1:25 PM

Bonjour Maria, J’ai beaucoup apprécié ta présentation surtout que ton sujet est d’actualité, car je suis un exemple d’injustice et de manque d’équité dans la communauté des enseignantes et enseignant de l’Ontario et au Québec. « Pénurie d’enseignants » cette pénurie ne sévi pas seulement au Québec mais aussi en Ontario, j’ai adoré ce mot que tu utilises « justice humaine » au 21e siècle qui est vide de toute sens, mais alors il faudrait associer à cette pénurie le problème de tribalisme et racisme particulièrement des enseignant issu de l’Afrique subsaharienne. Pour soutenir cette idée d’injuste et de racisme que subi les enseignant d’Afrique subsaharienne, une plainte a été dépose dans les locaux du premier ministre en ce sens, juste pour que vous comprenniez la teneur du problème que vive les noirs dans cette communauté. Je ne suis pas du même avis, la pandémie du covid-19 frappe tout le monde, il y a absence de juste si les enseignantes et enseignants issu de l’immigrant doivent compter sur les pandémies ou des catastrophes pour faire surface, pourtant ils sont qualifiés et compétentes Mais la question est comme change cette situation, si les politiques ont leur conception de l’équité et de justice vide de tout contenu.

Maria Matani July 7, 2020, 1:25 PM
Replying to Pierre jules Tangueu ngounou

Bonjour Pierre-Jules, Je suis absolument d’accord avec toi qu’il n’est PAS juste qu’on doit attendre un événement aussi grand que la pandémie pour que vous ayez accès aux postes dans le domaine éducatif. Ce n’est pas du tout ce que j’ai voulu faire sous-entendre, mais plutôt que cette pandémie vous donnera peut-être accès à ce dont vous devriez DÉJÀ avoir accès. Ce n’est simplement qu’humain tout comme de croire que “BLACK LIVES MATTER”. Ceci étant dit, je rêve d’un monde ou ce genre de questionnement (la validité d’une vie) n’a PAS de place. Pour répondre à ta question, que devons nous faire pour contrer ses politiques injustes? Nous devons collectivement prendre position CONTRE tout genre de discrimination. Ne plus fermer les yeux, ni d’y participer de façon consciente ou non. Nous devons dénoncer ces injustices et forcer le changement et non accepter l’injustifiable. L’image que j’ai sélectionné comme entête le dit bien il ne faut pas reproduire mais bien CHANGER l’histoire. Merci pour ton commentaire et je suis de tout coeur avec vous. Maria

Pierre jules Tangueu ngounou July 8, 2020, 1:25 PM
Replying to Maria Matani

Merci encore, c'est en discutant qu'on se fait des amies ce fut un plaisir de te lire!!!!

Konstantinos Zafiridis July 10, 2020, 4:36 AM

Dear Maria, Thank you for your excellent presentation on the theme of Justice and Equality. Since I am not a commentator, I will keep my response brief; hopefully it can help spur some conversation on this well-written and interesting (and relevant) post. Your point that there is benefit in defining and interpreting equal opportunity is interesting; to me, this exemplifies the importance of discussion surrounding the purpose of inclusion. Indeed, we must ask if we are being inclusive for the sake of inclusion or, rather, for the sake of actually advocating for something we believe can make a difference; this is a significant difference in purpose to consider, especially in regards to the way it shapes our understanding of achievement (and whether or not this should be supplemented with effort, as you also note). In your opinion, what implications would an effort-based recognition system for immigrant teachers have on the way the public may perceive the qualifications of teachers? Does it begin within the education system, or should we start with societal perceptions? Regards, Kosta

Maria Matani July 10, 2020, 4:36 AM
Replying to Konstantinos Zafiridis

Hello Kosta, Let me begin by thanking you for your response and appreciation of my presentation. To your questions, I will humbly try to offer some possible answers. I believe we cannot ONLY use effort to recognize immigrant teachers' qualifications. The idea is not to simply recognize that they have the credentials and allow them to access the workforce, but more that if we welcome them in our country, we MUST allow them to access our schools. I would see, and I doubt immigrant teachers would oppose, a situation in which they are given the opportunity to show their merit through a probationary period. Of course, this will not ensure that there would be no discrimination but it’s a start. True inclusion would entail that we not only give them access but we set them up for success (give them the support they need). As for your second question, inclusion should be a norm for our society as a whole, and education should serve as an example. I cannot conceive that in the 21st century, surrounded by people who claim to be educated, we still haven’t changed our story to understand that true inclusion is the only option. Regards, Maria

Arantxa Larsen July 13, 2020, 4:36 AM
Replying to Konstantinos Zafiridis

Well said, Kosta. Are we being inclusive for the sake of it and because it is the right thing to say, or because we really want to advocate for something we believe in? I know many parents that advocate fro inclusion, but when it comes to the real deal and their children have to share classroom space with difficult children, parents change their opinion rather quickly. The same would apply to teachers. I have heard parents when my daughter was in school complaining about the teacher from eastern Europe with the strong accent, and wondering and complaining why the school board could not have hired someone from Canada.

Arantxa Larsen July 13, 2020, 1:43 AM

Hello Maria, Your presentation is exceptionally well done and easy to read. I was not aware of the situation of teachers in Quebec. I, too, find myself choosing different elements from more than one of the definitions of equal opportunity by Jencks. I agree that the askew access to teaching positions and resources is, in part, justified by fear. Also by racism. It is no proper, and it is not politically correct to say so, but the truth is this is at the bottom of it all. There is this fear of “losing our jobs and our country to all those immigrants that come here and take everything away from us.” We are “othering” the ones who are different from us out of fear and resentment. I like that you mention integration versus inclusion. In one of my classes for another course, we discussed the difference. Integration is when others study or learn alongside the rest of the class, while in inclusion all of the students are a part of the class and share the same curriculum. The same should be applied to the teachers, as you well say. A similar situation with the teachers in Quebec happens with nurses that come from another country that have a different skin colour of different facial features, e.g. Philippine descendant or dark skin colour nurses. For some reason, some patients believe that they are not nurses but personal support workers, or that their skills are substandard as they often ask where they got their nursing training. Worse, even, they may ask to be switch to a “white” nurse. Like you say, Maria, fear should not justify unequal treatment. Arantxa

Maria Matani July 13, 2020, 1:43 AM
Replying to Arantxa Larsen

Hello Arantxa, Thank you for sharing your experience in the medical field. It is sad to realize that these exclusions and acts of racism are spread in so many different domains. My husband worked in aviation and he told me he witnessed it too. Let us hope for more people who are brave enough to change history. Maria

Steve Hawkins teacher July 17, 2020, 8:27 PM

Hi Maria, You chose a great image to launch the presentation! It brings a variety of issues into clear focus. The spirit of the image is very attractive, but there are interesting things to notice here, too, when we take the image very literally – indeed, more literally than anyone would intend it. This will be a bit tedious, I suspect, like someone taking a joke too seriously and sitting down to dissect it! But I think this can be a fruitful exercise, all the same, so bear with me - if you dare! - The middle image in the triptych is intuitively appealing, because we are making an adjustment there that gives everyone on opportunity, and its only ‘cost’ would be a few wooden boxes. But the third image will strike us as more problematic. The liberation of the audience is going to have an impact on the unfolding of the game there, because the wall keeps a live ball in play, and it also keeps the crowd from encroaching into the playing field. It is worth wondering what the analogue for this change would really be in ordinary classrooms. Here’s one example, but you could perhaps think of others: we might have a child who has difficulty sitting still. In line with the middle image, we might give that child special rights (e.g. to distract herself, to sit near the door and exit the room temporarily). This would be comparable to supplying a box. Is the analogue for removing the wall to permit all children to have these special accommodations, or roam freely in the classroom? The general lesson of this is that the fruitful completion of an activity depends a great deal on exclusion – of certain kinds of activities, and indeed even of people. We take it for granted, but it is crucial to the success of teaching that random people not be free to wander in and out of classrooms. We had a good illustration of that in online learning in the spring, when teachers had to deal with Zoom-bombing. Boundaries can be conditions for the success of the activity in question, and this is one reason why the aim of inclusion is so tricky in education. (I wonder if there is not ambiguity in this ideal comparable to the ambiguity Jencks finds in the ideal of equality of opportunity.) The idea of ‘liberation’ in the third image suggests that we liberate by removing rules or other boundaries, but this is a problematic picture of liberty (not attractive, for instance, to Rousseau or Dewey). - The appeal of the whole sequence comes in part from its clarity and simplicity, and there certainly are cases in which we can achieve equal outcomes by making some small, cheap, and obvious adjustments. Comparable cases in education might be things like giving children eye tests and supplying them with eyeglasses, or letting children with hearing difficulties sit closer to the teacher. It is difficult to imagine teachers refusing to make adjustments like this one. How many of the difficulties we face in achieving equity resemble this relatively straightforward case? I suspect that the ideal is widely shared, but that there are challenges to identifying the nature of the disadvantage and also to resolving it, and that the box-analogy may not get us very far here. - As with every image, we are looking at a very few details arranged to evoke a certain response. The intuitive response does depend, though, on certain assumptions. For instance, is it unfair for one child to see the game, and the others not to see it? Possibly, but compare this to the case where a younger sibling wants the same bedtime as the older sibling. ‘He goes to bed at 9, but I have to go to bed at 8. It’s unfair!’ Well, that depends. If the older kid used to go to bed at 8, and if the younger kid will eventually be allowed to go to bed at 9, there’s no unequal treatment here in the big picture. And this holds, too, for the baseball game. If the shorter children will eventually be tall and get their chance to see as many baseball games as the older child will see in his lifetime, then there’s no unfairness. Of course, you might say, we could supply boxes to every kid when they’re small, and that way achieve two aims: equal outcomes and more baseball games. This is certainly true, and will require us to think about how many baseball games we want kids to see, how costly it is to supply boxes, etc. But the point is that we can’t immediately conclude that there is unfairness from the snapshot view that the image provides. An analogue for this at the social level might be a scenario of this kind: one child comes from an economically privileged family, but performs poorly at school; another child comes from an economically underprivileged family, but performs well at school. Is it obvious that it would be unfair for the teacher to divide time evenly between these two children (comparable to the first image in the sequence)? If the first child can look forward to economic opportunities created through networking, but the second child’s family has no connections, then perhaps the school advantage enjoyed by the second child is balanced out by the connections advantage that the first child has. If as teachers we aim to correct a temporary inequality by supplying a ‘box’ (in the form of additional attention) to the first child, this aggravates rather than corrects equality in the ‘big picture.’ - What is also hidden by this example is the fact that the resources we must distribute could potentially be advantageous to all of the children. In the example, the child who already sees over the fence has no use for the box. In reality, there is a ‘zero-sum’ aspect to these choices, because additional attention and support would benefit the student who is already succeeding. To capture this, we might imagine that in the first image, the tall kid has binoculars, and that these need to be taken from him, sold, and used to supply boxes for the other children. If intuitively that feels like a fair thing to do, we might imagine that the tall child had saved up his money from working a paper route in order to buy the binoculars so that he could see the game. - The reference here to the child’s labour begins to push the discussion in the direction of ‘moralistic’ justice that Jencks addresses. In the image, unequal outcomes are the product of factors that are beyond the control of the children in the image: height, like vision or hearing, is not something one can change by an act of will. But those who are drawn to a ‘moralistic’ conception of justice will not find that our intuitions about this image carry over to the case of children in school, precisely because one can decide to study harder, or practice more, in a way that one cannot decide to ‘be taller.’ As I was saying above, none of this to deny the interest or significance of this great image that Maria found. On the contrary, it’s quite useful both for clarifying our ideals and for highlighting some of the practical challenges involved in carrying those ideals over into practice.

Maria Matani July 18, 2020, 8:27 PM
Replying to Steve Hawkins

Hello Steve, Thank you for your comment on my presentation and YES, I dare:) I could understand and even at times agree with some of your observations. The image I chose certainly provokes comments and as much as I love the idea of removing the wall (systemic barrier), I know that it is not as simple as we think. First of all, under the third image I would have written the word INCLUSION and not liberation. Let me explain, I see inclusion as being the inclusion of every single person, not because they would be liberated but because they would be welcomed. Let me try to demonstrate with a few examples. First example I want to share is the “francisation” classes we offer at my school, for non native French speaking students. A small group of 3-4 students are removed (hence excluded) from class in order to get extra help to learn the language. I see this as being the second image on the paper, since we give the student the extra help they may need in order to “fit” better. Following the idea of the third image, the one I would choose, is that EVERY child should be welcomed and included in the classroom, just as they are. I would instead NOT remove the child from being in class with his peers and his homeroom teacher, but bring the extra help IN class. That is inclusion in my mind and it is “fair” because the extra help would not only help the child but probably benefit many other students. Another example I can think about and it reminds me of your example of either being short, having hearing or sight issues is the child that has some type of handicap. I had the honor of mentoring a student-teacher in a wheel-chair and I remember her pointing out all the things she could NOT do, I argued that she COULD do many things. I came up with the word, and she loved it and still uses it, that she was “handy-capable”. Whether physical or emotional we all have some type of issue that we feel makes us less capable. I argue that EVERY person should be given the opportunity to show their value. Imagine a child in a wheel-chair at a school event like “winter outdoor games”. Of course, we could provide the “handy-capable” student with some type of sled that would allow the student to participate in the games (like our second image), but that is not inclusion. Inclusion would be that we ALL would use the sleds, for the student to feel included and welcomed just the way he/she is. What is fair? How “fair” could we possibly be in a world that is “unfair”. Like you mention, we come in different shapes and forms (both physical and mental)and backgrounds. I look at “fair” as being me offering and welcoming every single child (just as they are), the same opportunity to succeed. All this said, I agree that the third image can raise issues, like you mentioned for the baseball game. I agree that the wall could be seen as serving a purpose (safety, game rules, etc) but why does it have to be solid wood? Would a see-through wall not be sufficient? The idea is not to remove every single constraining object, but seeing things differently in order to give every person the same opportunity to “bring something to the table”. Always a pleasure, Maria

Steve Hawkins teacher July 19, 2020, 8:27 PM
Replying to Maria Matani

Hi Maria, Lots of great stuff in your reply. The last point about a glass fence is especially important: sometimes what look like intractable ethical dilemmas can be resolved on the practical plane through some engineering creativity. Of course, as the computer engineers say, sometimes what looks like a 'bug' can be a 'feature' too - or vice versa! Sometimes we want our fences to be see-through, but sometimes opacity is a condition for certain kinds of activities taking place on the 'inside.' We're all aware of this, of course: nobody would say that our homes should be made of glass, or that outsiders can listen in on psychotherapy sessions, legal consultation, or private business strategizing. And of course the reason is that we would say that outsiders have no *right* to be included in cases. When we insist on inclusiveness, what we have in mind, obviously, is that there are activities that people have a *right* to be included in, but where they are being excluded for morally irrelevant reasons. And because there is no shortage of cases like this in education, it's essential to insist as you are doing on the need to remove these irrelevant barries. Of course, this means that a great deal depends upon which sorts of activities people may reasonably claim a *right* to be included in, and what counts as a legitimate reason for excluding someone from participating. Educational institutions set boundaries of this kind all the time, e.g. by establishing a minimum score required for entry into a program. That's a kind of fence that is designed to exclude. Is this denying everyone the 'same opportunity to succeed'? Aristotle would admit that this is 'discrimination' in the non-evaluative sense of drawing a distinction, but he would view it as acceptable because the criterion of selection is tied to the nature of the activity. In such a case, he would think that it was an error to call for inclusion, or to redesign the activity to ensure that anyone is capable of participating. In a world like this one, of course, where there is so much unfair exclusion, we should have a strong presumption in favour of inclusion, and put a heavy burden of proof on anyone arguing that people should be excluded from public activities that others are entitled to enjoy. Creativity is called for, as you rightly insist!

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