A Lesson About Privilege

Privilege is like an invisible door. You can walk right through it and never realize it’s there until it shuts close for somebody else.

My grandmother never went to school past the age of ten. She’s a little too loud and boisterous at times, is never afraid to speak her mind, and to my family’s embarrassment, can always be found haggling shamelessly with local shopkeepers to maximize savings. To some, her behavior may appear crude, but to me, my grandmother exemplifies the kind of rare and selfless individual who gives so much of herself away to help others that she’s perfectly content with just being happy that others experienced success from her sacrifices. 

 Grandmother never went to school past the age of ten. Being the eldest of three children, she stayed home full-time to look after her younger siblings. Born and raised in a time and place where getting an education was considered a luxury, my grandmother never had the chance at a post-secondary education, but I did. I am afforded so many more opportunities because of the country of my birth and the situation of my upbringing.  It took me a while to realize it, but the success I’ve experienced in my life was as much pure luck as it was hard work. I was born into a privilege that my grandmother did not have and I have the chance to do something about it.  

Inspired by my grandmother, I adopted a simple classroom activity about privilege from an article I found here. ​

I remember talking excitedly with a friend about this activity and the powerful messages it sends about the concepts of privilege, equity, and equality. I was not a teacher yet, but I was keen to start  building the foundations for a classroom environment structured around social justice. My friend considered this for a moment, then said to me, “It’s a great exercise. But the problem with these types of activities is that it can’t just be about awareness. Okay, so we all have privilege to varying degrees, some more than others – so what? The question you need to ask next is: ‘Now what can we do about it?’” I took her suggestion to heart and asked my students exactly that. 

With some help from a colleague, here is the follow-up activity I presented to my students:
1. Draw it- draw a picture to show what you would do to solve this problem.
2. Share it- share your solution with three other students in the class.
​3. Write it- Now that you’ve listened to others’ solutions, write down a few sentences to add to your solution. 

Despite the language barrier, my students surprised me with their many insightful  responses. See their work below:

Instead of sitting in rows, we should aim for a more optimal arrangement.  

Even better, perhaps we should all be equidistant from the bin. 
Sometimes, we need a little help from each other.
Or maybe each person should be given multiple chances.
Or what if… we each had our own bins? 

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