I said in this space last week that we need a serious discussion about “diversity, equity and inclusion,” the concepts driving the high school mascot issue and another made-up flap. That flap was called “critical race theory,” and I’d prefer to drop that term now because it’s worse than useless.

Everybody believes in “diversity, equity and inclusion,” at least on the surface. Nobody is going to say they believe in exclusion, privilege and bigotry.

The question is: What are we agreeing on? We have to carefully define our terms.

Let’s start with equity, which is probably the easiest.

Equity is not the same as equality. I had an intelligent person argue that I had bollixed up the definitions last week, and so I want to be as clear as possible here: Equity really refers to fairness. And that means equality of opportunity. It means that everybody gets a fair shot. Everybody plays by the same rules.

It does NOT mean equality of outcome. And that’s where things get tricky, because most measurements are about outcomes.

Indeed, how do you measure equity?

Very difficult to do. To say that minority student test scores or graduation rates are below those of white kids is not to say that there’s no equity. That is to say that there are unequal outcomes, and that’s not the same thing.

If you can’t measure it, then it’s hard to know whether you’re succeeding.

Test scores and graduation-rate gaps are certainly an indication of a problem, and that’s where we are now. How to solve that problem? Is it a school problem? Is it a societal problem, a cultural problem? Is it a historical problem?

Yes to all of the above. But does that mean you need to change the high school mascot? Will that solve the problem? That’s a fair question. Everybody can also agree with that.

White people like me also have to recognize that, just because the rules do not say “Black and brown people have to use separate drinking fountains” does not mean that there’s equity. We have to recognize that our system of education comes with certain cultural presumptions that give advantages to white kids. We have to recognize that there aren’t many minority teachers, and so that tends to create some barriers. That’s not to say that you or I are racist, or that teachers are racists or the system is racist. But it IS to say that there’s not true equality of opportunity. Seems to me everybody can understand and agree on that, too.

Minority students certainly can and do succeed in the current system. We cannot have a system that purposely disadvantages white kids in order to lift up minority kids, because we already have a system that’s pretty good. That’s a principle everybody can agree on as well.

I’m not arguing here for or against any particular program or proposal. I just think we need to carefully define our terms. I’d be happy to entertain letters arguing with me on this.

Next up, “diversity.” Hang on. Could get bumpy.

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