The Things I Will Never Have To Do

Today, I read this post from a teacher that I admire so much; Jess Lifshitz.  And while my post is nowhere as eloquent as hers, I cannot help but echo her statement as I reflect upon my own privilege.

I was born a white child to an almost single mother.  We were not middle class but we were not poor either.  I never went hungry, nor did I have a tough childhood.  I never had to worry about where we would sleep or whether or not we would have heat.  The closest I come to having any type of experience where I was the different one was when I was taught English as a first grader in an inner city school in San Francisco.  And even those memories are fleeting.  I was a perfectly ordinary child with a proud mother that taught me to fight fiercely for what I believe in.

I moved to America when I was 18 not because we had to flee our country, or because we needed a new start, but because opportunity knocked and we took it.  I have lived a lucky life so far and I know it because there are so many things I have never had to do.

I have never had to teach my children about the prejudice they will face because of their skin color.

I have never had to tell my children to act less of what they are because others may judge them.

I have never had to wonder whether I am being judged for who I am or what I look like.  Now when it really counts.

I have hardly ever been in the minority.

I have never had to be afraid to hold the hand of my husband or worry how others may judge our love.

I have never had to worry about having a bad day because an entire subset of people may be judged on my actions.

I have never had to be afraid for how my students’ parents will react to me, my background, or my culture.

I have never had to be scared to lose my house, feed my children, or somehow lose the stability we call our life because we have resources available to us that I sometimes take for granted.

There are so many things I could list for what I have never had to do, that are a daily part of so many lives, but in all honesty, it is really messed up to have that much privilege and be unaware of it in our daily life.

And so I have learned to keep my mouth shut when others share about their experiences.  To not say that I understand when I don’t, to not pretend I know what it feels like to be poor, a different skin color, live a different life, or any of the things that I have never had to experience.  I don’t know and I will never know.  And I have to embrace that.  We all do.

But today I was reminded of what I can do, and that is to listen, to learn, to try to understand how I can make a difference even though I will never share those experiences.  To figure out where I fit into the problem and then fix my part as much as I can.  Sometimes we get caught up in the minutia of life that we forget to see the inherent privilege so many of us have.   Yet, that privilege is the very thing we should remember.  And then realize that we play a part in all of this even when we don’t see it.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children.  The second edition of my first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

One thought on “The Things I Will Never Have To Do

  1. Pernille I share your thinking. I was blessed to have had a privileged childhood. However as an adult, being a single mother of 3 in a new country was daunting and eye opening. In Australia we are privileged to have a social security system that benefits those in need. My children never went hungry and always had a safe roof over their heads. Fortunately, I was blessed to remarry a kind and wonderful man. As caring, independent adults, I like to believe my children have empathy for those who have not been as lucky in life. For those who struggle on a daily basis – financially, physically, mentally etc.
    I have always tried to teach them and my students about compassion and real life issues. I believe as educators, it is our duty to balance teaching the 3 Rs while exposing our students constantly to the world outside our classrooms walls. In my books, focusing on attitudes of genuine caring, empathy, compassion and kindness is even more important than learning literacy and numeracy. I have a white T- shirt displayed on our classroom wall that says: SO WHAT!
    Another wall reads: ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’. When they ‘make mountains out of mole hills’ I simply point to these statements and they nod and move on.

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