# Math Geek Mom: Equality of Opportunity

We often think of equality in two different ways. On the one hand there is equality of opportunity, where everyone has an equal chance to succeed according to their own efforts and skills. On the other hand (and, of course, we assume that economists all have two hands…), there is equality of outcome, which looks at the results, and not at the opportunities afforded different people. Both measures are flawed in their own way. Just because people have equality of opportunity, does that make it ok for there to be huge discrepancies in outcomes?

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May 26, 2011

We often think of equality in two different ways. On the one hand there is equality of opportunity, where everyone has an equal chance to succeed according to their own efforts and skills. On the other hand (and, of course, we assume that economists all have two hands…), there is equality of outcome, which looks at the results, and not at the opportunities afforded different people. Both measures are flawed in their own way. Just because people have equality of opportunity, does that make it ok for there to be huge discrepancies in outcomes? And what if all outcomes are equal, but some worked twice as hard to get there? I found myself thinking of such things this past week, as I drove home from a meeting about the sports program at my daughter’s school.

This past week, I went to a meeting that my mother would never have gone to. In the flurry of changing schools for my daughter last year, we were not able to have her sign up for any extra-curricular activities at her new school. Now that the school year is winding down, we can think ahead to next year, and so I went to a meeting for parents who want their children to participate in sports next year. As I sat and listened to the opportunities for my daughter, I became aware of how much the world has changed since I was her age, since the passage of Title IX, the law that assured that girls would be able to have access to sports, just as their brothers did.

When I was a child, girls were not expected to participate in sports. However, it was acceptable to participate in gymnastics, figure skating, swimming and perhaps in the “sport” of ballet. Since these were my options, I chose the last two of that list, swimming and ballet, and danced for just over ten years, which I loved and gave up only reluctantly due to an injury. Although it has been over thirty years since I quit, my muscles can still remember the moves they made as I danced to the Waltz of the Flowers, and I have, on occasion, showed them to my daughter (moving with all the grace and beauty you would expect of a mom in her late-40s who’s fitness program consists of occasionally walking around the block.)

However clumsy these presentations may be, the experience of dancing was one that left an important imprint on my brain. Indeed, the experience of dancing is one that I attempt to capture in my (creative) writing, as I try, as I have described it, to get “beyond words” and to help the reader become part of the music of life. It is a goal to which I aspire, and most often fall short of. But it is a goal that I would not even know of if I had not become part of the music playing from (vinyl) records on a (turntable) record player in the hall used as our dance studio.

Unfortunately, while these options for girls might have been made available at that time because they were seen as being safer and appropriate for our gentle daughters, that was far from the truth. As I discovered the hard way, ballet is actually a physically demanding endeavor, one that pushes our bodies to twist and turn in ways that they were not designed to do. My feet are still slightly twisted from years of pointe, which I probably began at too young an age (but then, who is going to tell a ten year old that she can’t have toe shoes?) And, as I twisted and leaped, I discovered that my body was actually too limber and that my joints were too prone to dislocation to safely do so. After dislocating my knee three times, I stopped ballet and began playing the guitar instead. In the end, it was the guitar, and a mutual interest in liturgical music, that led me to my husband. But in the short run, I had surgery on my knee to keep it in place, a surgery that delayed the acquisition of my driver’s licence. I used to jokingly tell people that the crutches and cast were from a “football injury.” Today, my china-doll daughter could probably actually play football, should she desire to (which she just might, someday.)

I wondered, as I drove home from that meeting, which sport my daughter would choose. As she was not excited about dance, I knew it would be something more traditional, such as volleyball or basketball. And I wondered, as I drove home that evening, how society’s thoughts on what girls and women could and could not do would change, by the time she sat in a room and listened to someone talk of opportunities for a granddaughter I can only imagine.

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