Saturday, November 29, 2008

When Fair Isn't

On Orthonomics, a poster named tesyaa posted the following quote:

There is no way I would let any of my children even apply to a private college. Even if we could somehow manage to send a deserving older child, the precedent we'd be setting with regards to the younger ones -- and the hard feelings we would cause by saying no to them -- would basically be ruinous.
I've been turning this over in my head. I'm one of five kids. I don't remember my parents telling us where we could and couldn't apply to college. They asked us, and we decided where to go. I'm certain that they (and their wallets) heaved a sigh of relief when 4 out of 5 chose to go to college in Israel.

However, one of my siblings went to Yeshiva University. He was number three, so he could have started a trend, and my parents didn't raise any objection. My brother was the sort of person who was very socially active. In his time at YU, he ran camps in the Former Soviet Union. He worked with a group called Yachad, which provides activities for developmentally disabled Jewish teens, he worked as a mashgiach (the guy who makes sure the kitchen is Kosher at a commercial establishment.) He simply wouldn't have had these opportunities at Bar Ilan or Hebrew University (where the rest of us went).

For the rest of us, being in Israel was paramount. We weren't willing to give up life in Israel for any of those opportunities. Should my parents have forced him to go where we went, us to go where he went? It wouldn't have been right.

To bring the point home further, my sister and I both live within walking distance of my parents. My mom sometimes takes me to doctor's appointments or even grocery shopping, because I don't have a car. Should she have to pick up my sister for her doctor's appointments and grocery shopping to be "fair"? My sister has a car and would be more inconvenienced by shopping on my mom's schedule than she is by driving herself. On the other hand, my mom took my sister's oldest daughter to Beijing in 2007. Should I complain that she didn't take Kinneret? The idea is laughable.

While I see that it's important for parents to not favor one child over another, it's also important for equality to be less important than giving the children what they need.

For example, suppose you have a child with dyslexia who needs tutoring. Should you make each of your other children also have a tutor? Should you withdraw other children from advanced reading programs so that the child with dyslexia doesn't get jealous?

Equality is nice in theory, but it ends up not being to anyone's advantage when it's over-applied.


Ben-Yehudah said...


My choice of college was made before my birth - not kidding.

I went to my parents' alma matter, as did my brother, UCLA.

California residents' tuition was, and still may be, one of the lowest in the U. S. So, I was able to pay for more than a third with my summer job, part time job during school, and living the dorms three of the four years.

Tuition was only 1300 dollars/year. Now, I think it may be like 6000, which is still less than a lot of schools.

My parents would've have let me go elsewhere, but I eventually chose UCLA on my own.

Let them apply. See if they get in first and get scholarship money, before holding your kids back. That's what I would say.

Bethami said...

Agreed. Kids going to college really should be grown up enough to understand the significance of loans they may need to take, or scholarships they might be able to receive. Both of these require responsibility, something not all high school graduates have very much of. Unfortunately this is often because parents don't often instill it in their teenagers. "Hover-Mothers" indeed.
I read this post on Orthonomics, and some of the comments have some great suggestions as to how to make college cheaper. Also our very own triLcat's comment, about how tuition in Israel is still low.
News - its getting higher. No matter how much the students strike every year, it will eventually rise about 70%. Still not Ivy League, but not easy for Israeli incomes. We'll need some of those creative solutions here for our own kids.
BUT - tuition is still free to new immigrants :)

Mrs. S. said...

Great post!

it's also important for equality to be less important than giving the children what they need.
This is exactly what being a parent of more than one child is all about. Parents must understand that each child is different and that each one needs different things. It has absolutely nothing to do with favoritism. Rather, it has everything to do with being there for one's children when - and how - they need you.

RaggedyMom said...

You're right - sometimes when things are skewed, that's the only way it is fair. And different kids need different things. It is an absolute minefield, however, because people tend to compare themselves and their lot in life to that of others, and inevitably things can lead to resentment. If we feel like, and remind ourselves often that all we have is all we need, we have a chance at being content with the hand we're dealt!

Anonymous said...

I can't say I have much to add, as this was very well said. Equality was - and remains - a huge issue between my brother and I. Not only might parents need to spend differently to accommodate the needs of two different children, but financial circumstances can change drastically over the time it takes to raise a whole family. What might have been feasible for a first child may not be for the rest - or vice versa - through no fault of the parents.
I guess that's why the adults are supposed to control the checkbook. :)

Alissa Altman said...

Put me down in the financial differences category. When I went to university, it was in the Reagan '80s, when my parents made "too much" to qualify for student aid, but not enough to afford to pay themselves, so I wound up at a NY State University.

By the time my sister was going to university, my parents had just sold (or were about to sell) a successful business, and my sister was able to go to a New England private university.

If she had been forced to go to state uni just to keep things "equal" she would have lost out on huge opportunities, amazing friendships and wonderful experiences. What's the point of that?

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post. I have just been advised to read it by Mrs.S. as I wrote a post on a similar topic.
You have provided me with more arguments.