Privilege is something that can be hard to see especially for those who are privileged. One way it can be concretely demonstrated is through a mobile making activity from Lawrence (1998). I was able to be a participant in this activity at a workshop held by Dr. Viji Sathy (If you’re ever able to attend one of her workshops, I highly recommend!). The activity goes something like this: Each group (4 or 5 people max) gets a bag with supplies and they are tasked with creating a mobile surrounding some theme. The catch is that not all the groups have the same supplies creating different social classes or privilege statuses.
From this activity there were two main take-aways highlighted in the article.
1.The privileged groups are unaware of their status (Lawrence, 1998). This is true at least at first. At the end of the activity, each group shows their creation to the rest of the class followed by a discussion. This is the first time that these groups are aware of their elevated status. I will admit this was absolutely true of my experience.
a.Some members of the privileged groups even felt ashamed when they reflected on their thoughts about their classmates’ abilities (Lawrence, 1998). They thought their classmates were unmotivated, unfocused, or unorganized instead of recognizing the inequality of resources (Lawrence, 1998). This is the ultimate example of the fundamental attribution error.
2.The unprivileged groups are very aware of their status (Lawrence, 1998). Fairly early on in the construction phase, these groups get frustrated by the limitations of their resources, which prompts them to look around and see how the other groups are coping to realize they have more resources. Students reflected that it was unfair or they felt cheated (Lawrence, 1998).
This activity was insightful, and in my opinion, a wonderful way to demonstrate privilege. I like to think before this activity I was aware that my students came to my classroom with different experiences and tools in their toolbelt, but making that mobile seemed to give me a heightened sense of awareness that I’ve done my best to channel into my courses this year.
Now more than ever we need to be aware of the privilege that our students do or (more importantly) don’t have. If students came to your face-to-face classroom unprivileged, they are probably even more disadvantaged now that everything is online. There are even more forms of privilege to consider now such as living environment, work situation, financial stability, food availability, internet and technology accessibility, etc. And these are on top of the usual factors we consider like SES, first generation status, prior education, etc.
I wrote this post to serve a reminder to be kind to your students and also to yourself. This is the first time that the education system is navigating a situation like this, and it’s been tough on everyone involved.
Stay safe. Stay home. Be kind.
written by Jen Blush