“As a foundation to talk about uncomfortable subject matter, how do we introduce the topic of white privilege in a predominantly white classroom?”
During my practicum, I was provided with an opportunity to teach and tackle my inquiry question. In my unit Power, Justice, and Freedom in English 10, I was able to introduce the concepts of privilege through various exercises.
In this unit, they had a choice of three novels: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Hate U Give, and The Memoirs of a Geisha. All three novels discuss themes of feminism, racism, ageism, and classism. Each student was responsible for discussion in literature circle meetings, writing an essay, and participating in multiple activities in class that tackle these themes and topics.
Here are some activities that I found useful:
- Lesson on class, power, and influence:
The students had to take these cards that had items, people, races, cultures, etc. and they would have to sort them through piles of low class, high class, middle class. The kids would go through various rounds of sorting through different categories, that revolved around class, power, and influence on our society. The message behind this lesson was that the items placed in the low-class society had very little chance to have high power or influence in the next round of sorting. It also allowed some conversation within their group to ask “why does this person/culture/item have high influence? are we sure?”
*Note: In this lesson, I introduced the activity with a warning. This warning consisted of telling the students that some people might feel uncomfortable with these topics and that we need to create a safe, respectful and open space for everyone to speak, as they needed to argue and then agree with their peers on which category to sort these cards.*
- Lesson on privilege and power
The students had to fill in a worksheet that was a diagram of a flower. Each petal had a category like “race, class, ability” etc. They had to fill in each petal with a + sign to indicate they have privilege, and – sign to indicate that they have a lack of privilege in comparison the rest of society. The lesson behind this was on tackling one’s own privilege and discussing why they feel they have more privilege. It was to acknowledge their personal experiences.
- Final Project and Presentation
The students had individual presentations on what the most important thing they learned in the unit, a symbol or object that represents this, and what their social justice action is moving forward. The presentation lasted about two minutes for each person.
I was honestly quite nervous in introducing these topics to my Grade 10 students. Having already had a unit about the Civil Rights Movement, the students were already prepared to talk about the issue of race which helped with the lessons and activities above. They already had some background information about the history and why we are talking about this topic again. My focus in this unit was to show the students the types of privilege that exists in our society and how their novels and topics can relate to their own lives.
When I created and collaborated on this inquiry question, I kept in mind the sensitivity that I would have to handle carefully in my classroom because it consisted predominantly of white, high-class and male students. I think my biggest fear was that my students would think I was using my authority as a teacher to push my own beliefs on them, especially as a person of colour. However, I found that most of the privilege topics we discussed, the students already knew and were accepting of. What I had to do next was challenge their ideas about diving deeper than the concept of “racism is bad” and how they can be aware of the things that are happening daily within our own Canadian society. What I found difficult was to teach students to be aware of our own privilege. What I started to do, was to put myself in the situation where I talked about my own privilege and then express my own oppression. This way, the main message was that we ALL have privileges that we need to be aware of. I found this to be really effective in providing that sensitivity towards my students, especially in regards to race.
Overall, I think the unit went well and that most of the students understood the point and purpose of the lessons. In the future, I would love to dive deeper and tackle their discomfort and why it might make them uncomfortable. Or even, argue the other side of it, and prepare the students on how to have a disagreement with someone but still maintain respect.
I was really thankful for this experience in tackling this inquiry question during practicum. My sponsor teacher was really helpful in providing resources and support throughout the whole experience.