Before I was diagnosed with ADHD, I heard someone say, "Fair is not equal." I think it was something a teacher said to one of my children in school. I didn't think about it much, however it obviously stuck in my head. Now I'd like to turn that around and say, "Equal is not fair."
What do I mean by that? I think a story is the easiest way to explain.
A high school has a rule that says that when a student hits another, they get detention. In that school, Mike is talking to a Amy, girl he likes. A group of boys walks by and John says, "Hey looser, did mommy stop buying you clothes? Guess there's not many tricks to be had for an old ho!" Mike turns and punches John. A teacher happened to be walking down the hall behind Mike and saw Mike hit John, so Mike gets detention.
John wants to settle the score with Mike, so he's waiting for his opportunity. A few days later Mike is running down the hall, late for class. John comes around the corner, sees the hall is empty but for Mike, and sucker punches him in the gut. Mike drops his books and falls to the floor unable to breathe. John says, "Payback's a bitch." and walks away with a big smile on his face.
I think most people can recognize the unfairness, and how a rule intending to treat offenders equally contributes to the unfairness (especially if Mike has ADHD). Where I think most people go off track is the next question they ask is "How do we fix the rule then?" When you ask the wrong question you aren't going to solve the problem. See, we want to fix the problem, not the rule. Removing the rule helps fix the problem since Mike wouldn't get punished twice. I agree it's not good to let kids get away with hitting others, but society already has a way of dealing with that: assault. And our system of law has already considered the dilemma of John and Mike. The courts consider the intent of the offender. School rules don't.
"So we do nothing?" No, the school can refer assault cases to the police, who in turn can decide to lay charges under the same rules the kids are subject to outside school. And the schools could start demonstrating compassion. Make the goal helping instead of punishing. So if you are the vice-principal who walks around the corner and sees Mike on the floor, don't ask, "Who punched you?" Say, "Here, let me help you up."