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June 27, 2018

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Listening to the Teacher: Talking with Kids About Privilege

February 8, 2018

Ellen and I stumbled upon this powerful video not too long ago. The Life of Privilege Explained in a $100 Race packs an important punch, clarifying a loaded issue that some struggle to effectively explain on paper or from the front of a room. 



I know that many teachers have shared this video widely. Some are showing it in class. Others are replicating the activity themselves.


And while I appreciate the intention, there's something about this that troubles me.


You see, I wasn’t always proud of what my family had and did not have growing up. I’m sure that some of you can relate. If a teacher asked me to come clean about my privilege or lack of it in front of peers? I think I would have withered on the spot. Well, I would have wanted to, anyway. What I really would have done was exactly what I was told, in order to please the teacher, go along, and earn a passing grade.


And that’s a problem.


What if there were a way to start courageous classroom conversations about privilege without shaming anyone?


A Different Approach


Here’s something I’ve tried: Invite students to reflect on a wide variety of questions that help them understand privilege--their own, and others’ as well. Questions like these are helpful:



Then, let them write their stories, but find a way to do this anonymously. Don’t require names. Don’t allow handwritten works. Detach each teller from his or her story, and then, post them up where people can read them.


Invite analysis. Prompt reflection. Keep the process free of judgment, and make sure that students know this is critical.


You’re welcome to use, adapt, and share the prompts above. 


I have to warn you, though: discussing privilege stirs kids up, and when kids get stirred up, parent phone calls often follow.


Should you let this reality prevent you from exploring this loaded topic?


Deepening the Conversation and Seeking Diverse Perspectives


Ellen and I are well acquainted with parents who think that it should. Maybe you are, too. She’ll share some different perspectives in her next post, and if you have a different perspective to offer on this subject, contact us. We might be interested in having you guest post. 

Worried you’ll miss these replies? Subscribe to our blog on the home page.


Want to deepen your learning on this topic? The Association of American Colleges and Universities offers this great resource.


Interested in pushing back on my thinking or this process? I’d be grateful for your time.  Just come find me on Facebook or Twitter.


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