Writing Structures – Facts of Life

Have you ever wondered: Is there preferential treatment in schools? Do school board members kids receive preferential treatment? Does the PTA president’s kid receive preferential treatment? Do the kids of parents who volunteer more hours or donate more money to the school receive preferential treatment?

Well, the following video shows how students at Block High School in Jonesville, LA, are still faced with inequality and segregation every day at their school. This is more than fifty years after Martin Luther King Jr! What happened to the civil rights movement?

There is no easy answer to this question, so instead let me pose another one. Is it ever possible to be completely fair to every single person all of the time? And one more question: Would you be surprised if I said it’s nearly humanly impossible to be completely devoid of preferential treatment?

Human nature is what it is. It’s human nature to treat those who treat you well with equal measure. And conversely, it’s human nature to treat those who treat you poorly with equal measure. I am not saying that this is absolute whatsoever; however, I would contend that idioms such as “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” and “tit for tat” have been around forever and are still utilized to this day because they are so true to human nature.

The truth of the matter is, sometimes schools are no different from other organizations. Let’s take, for example, the airline frequent flier miles program, often referred to as a loyalty program. The more one flies and accumulates miles, the higher his/her status level, the more perks, and preferential treatment one receives.

While I don’t like feeling like a second class citizen when flying with an airline for which I am not a status level member, I understand and accept the way it is. They who fly more often, spend more money, and are repeat customers are rewarded for their loyalty. I, who only flies once in a while with whichever carrier is the least expensive, am not rewarded whatsoever. Stinks, but I get it.

School cultures oftentimes tend to be far less defined than an airline frequent flier program; however, there are some clear status levels in schools, even in schools where the leadership may work hard to foster a culture that is otherwise so.

During my second year as a teacher, I had two school board members’ kids in my classroom. They both happened to get into some trouble one day and went home and told their moms (who were school board members). Instead of coming to discuss their concerns with me, they went straight to the superintendent. Not to the principal, who was my direct supervisor, but the superintendent, who I am sure didn’t even know who I was…until then.

Much to my surprise, the superintendent stopped by to see me the following day on the way through our building to meet with our principal. He brought up the matter briefly (albeit a bit dismissively) and said something that I will never forget. “Just remember that you’re damn good at what you do, and don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.” Despite the fact that he was so supportive, I couldn’t help but think about the fact that the two school board members didn’t think to come speak with me or even my principal, but felt entitled to go straight to the superintendent. They expected preferential treatment.

In some schools, it’s the principal (and other administration), school secretary, and/or teachers/staff, who foster a culture of preferential treatment. As a writer and a teacher, this is disgusting to me.

At one school in our old neighborhood, the principal loved the attention and perks that came along with her position. Her school had a waitlist every year which required parents of new incoming kindergartners to camp out (literally in a tent) the night before in order to secure a spot for their child. Parents would bring her cookies, cakes, and all sorts of other goodies in order to persuade her to help them out.

On another occasion, a parent who served on the PTA leadership council was able to find out which class his daughter was placed into BEFORE the class lists were publicly posted for the school community to see because he was chums with the principal. This principal fostered a culture of preferential treatment. The parents knew it, and many of them catered to her in order to receive it.

Schools must be deliberate in fostering a culture of equity and parity because preferential treatment is a product of the school’s culture. It takes the consistent commitment of every stakeholder to ensure that preferential treatment is minimal and better yet, completely absent from a school’s culture. When one sees it happening, it’s necessary to call it out and correct it. While it may be impossible to be rid of preferential treatment 100%, it is very possible to be mindful of it and do everything possible to quash it because otherwise, there is no equity for all.

Have you seen any incidents of preferential treatment? Do you ever witness people who expect preferential treatment? Have you ever done anything about it? I’d love to hear from you. As always, thanks for reading!