"It's an issue of equity, Tom," explains the district office representative.
"I'm not seeing where you are coming from."
"You allow students to bring in pencils from home. Students who have inferior pencils will feel inferior. We need everyone on the same page," he adds.
"On the same page. I'm curious, do you use that reasoning with all learning items or just pencils? I mean, you said the same page and it had me thinking about reading. My students aren't on the same page. They're not even on the same book. And get this, some of them actually bring in books from home."
"That's different. You don't require them to bring in books from home."
"But I do require them to read and some of them use the library, others borrow from friends and still others bring in books from home. To me, that's the real issue of equity. Does every child have access to books?"
"Yes, but pencils are used in the same learning activity. So, really, it is not the same thing."
"Can I ask a question?"
"You just did," he adds with a chuckle. Oh, the hilarity of the district office! Why, I'm hoping they start an improv group soon. Really, I am.
"Do you require all students to eat the cafeteria food?"
"No, many of them bring lunch from home."
"And it's not all the same food? What if Charles gets jealous of Gertrude's lunch?"
He says nothing. "What about slide rules? Not every child brings the same slide rule. Is that an issue of equity, too?"
"Kids will pick on other students who have cheap pencils. It's a reality you can't see, Mr. Johnson."
"When I walk on campus, I see students tease one another about the clothes they wear. That seems to be a bigger status symbol. Yet, parents would be up in arms if we required every child to wear the same brand of clothes."
"Look, we'll look into it. Right now we don't have a procedure for assessing this issue, so I'm going to have to stick with the rule about banning pencils. We just don't know all of the liability involved."
So, we're left with rules over reason, uniformity over equality and liability management over leadership. Take note of this, politicians and pundits and parents: the real issue isn't the access to pencils. The real issue is the lack of access to innovation.