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the Dilemma of Difference

et502's picture

In Access, Identity, and Education – a course taught by Jody Cohen – we read an article by Martha Minow.  This reading discussed the “Dilemma of Difference” (I couldn’t find the entire reading online, but here’s a quote: “The dilemma of difference may be posed as a choice between integration and separation, as a choice between similar treatment and special treatment, or as a choice between neutrality and accommodation”). From what I remember, Minow pointed out two problems with “difference” in the classroom: if teachers recognize that students are different, and meet their different needs differently, they run the risk of isolating some students. They might create a “different from” mentality – a separation between normal and different studdents. However, if teachers DON’T accommodate needs, some students may not get the treatment they require for learning.

So what should educators do to avoid such negative outcomes? Adichie stated: “The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.” So here, I think she finds a middle ground that could be successful in classrooms: Ensure that we recognize every student’s equal humanity by acknowledging their many stories (especially those that do not come up in school). Use this foundation to strengthen connections and similarities between ourselves and students. 


alesnick's picture

similar treatment v. special treatment

Appreciating these connections across writers and semesters :)  A question: could we collapse this similar/special binary and just think of everyone as special?  Must schooling rest on norming for what is normal, and accommodating what is not?  What if instead we considered every human life as a tacking between integration and distinction?