being a teacher

On the Circle of Privilege

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We woke up to a flight delay.  Not the kind you want to have as we embarked on our 28-hour travel to Bangkok.  Not the kind you want when you already have only a few days to be somewhere. As the morning went on, it quickly became clear that we were not going to make our connecting flight, and numerous phone calls ensued.  Anxious minutes spent waiting to see whether Thailand was within our reach or not.

After 25 minutes of checking every airline, every combination, even surrounding airports, the verdict was in; no, we were not going to make it.  Not on time.  Not tomorrow, perhaps Thursday.  Flights oversold, not their fault, just how it is.  My heart sank, a trip of a lifetime had just turned into a 2-day excursion to the other side of the world.

And then something curious happened.  The representative noticed that we were not flying coach. That we were first class on the first bout of the trip due to a small upgrade fee and all of a sudden within five minutes, we were on a flight.  In fact, we were upgraded to first class the whole way arriving only an hour after our original arrival time.

I have never flown first class across the ocean, there is no way we can afford it on a teacher’s salary, and so we were those people; taking selfies in our sleep pod, taking pictures of the pajamas, the slippers, the amenities, the food.  The everything.  We were less than ten people and yet we had four flight attendants taking care of us.  They even opened up the bathroom door for us when we had to go.  Anything we needed was ours.  All put in place to ensure that not only did we reach our destination, but we reached it well-rested, well-fed and with brains functioning at an optimal level.

And I couldn’t help but think to myself throughout the whole thing this is what privilege looks like.  This is what it means to have a head start simply because of your circumstances.

Had I not been able a long time ago to upgrade that short 1-hour flight to Detroit as a way to surprise my husband, we would not even be here.   Because of that small step up, everything else was given to us.  The guarantee of rest, of proper food, of an exuberance of attention that continues at the hotel we are staying at.

We were given more because we had more to begin with.  

This is what happens to many students in our schools every day, where things outside of their control determine the pathway they take through our learning experiences.

Where because they had access to books at an early age, they become early readers, who later are placed in enriched classes.

Where because they had access to adults who had the luxury of not working long hours, they had someone around to sign them up and take them to extracurriculars leading to more participation in clubs, in events, in everything that makes colleges look at you a little more.

Where because they had access to decent food, to sleep, to calm, they were able to come to school and do well, meaning they were given opportunities for those who knew how to do school.  Who didn’t have to work through trauma or hunger, or homelessness, or anything else that can completely change your experience as a learner, as a human being?

And yet, none of that is decided by our students, the very kids the experiences happen to.

All of that is a life set in motion by things outside of their control which then leads to further privilege, to more opportunities, to better lives.

So what can we do once we realize the pathway our students are put on?

We can go beyond tests to measure their capabilities, after all, we all know there is nothing standardized about test results even when we sign forms to proctor them all the same because that would mean that our students had standardized lives to begin with.

We can go beyond data points and truly look at how we compare kids, look at how we determine who gets which opportunities.

We can see the whole child and their circumstances, ask more questions rather than assume and make that information a part of our decision-making when it comes to the opportunities presented to kids.

We can confront and dismantle the very perceptions we carry about the students we teach and the capabilities they have based upon their circumstances.

We can increase the opportunities for all instead of limiting it to a few.

We can offer more support through family advocates, guidance counselors, tutors, and other point people to those who need it to even the playing field.

We can recognize and actively work to change the part we play in the oppression and perpetuation of a stereotype of kids and their destinies who come from backgrounds that are not similar to what society would like us to believe is the norm (heteronormative, white, financially secure etc).

But we can’t do that if we don’t look at all we have been given and realize that while we may have worked hard for some of it, some of it was also just handed to us.  Was put in place before we even came along so we didn’t even have to ask for it.  Was given to us not because of who we are but because of a group we belong to.

And we can be so grateful that our paths were easy and within that gratitude realize that it is our job to pull others up, not as saviors, but as connectors, as people who need to make room for others to do better than us.  Because frankly if we say as educators that we want to change the world then that change does, indeed, start with ourselves.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

 

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102 thoughts on “On the Circle of Privilege”

  1. This. Is. Important. I wish people (are politicians people?) would realize that the lower classes are our bread and butter, the skeleton on our society. They hold EVERYTHING up, the janitors, the cooks, the workers, they make sure we all can live in a clean and stable environment. There was a janitorial strike in a hospital somewhere, and the first day the were forced to raise pay and were begging janitors to come back because it was MAYHEM. Utensils were not being cleaned after surgeries. Biohazards were not being disposed of from the bins. Trash and litter was not being cleaned. The hospital was no longer a sterile environment. If you work at Walmart, what would happen if the people at the registers went on strike, collectively? The stores would be bedlam. We need workers, and we need to treat them BETTER. The way we see retail and consumer service workers being treated is absolutely disgraceful. The way lower class people are being pushed out of homes because of gentrification is disgraceful. The way the there are goddamn ROBOTS meant to drive away the HOMELESS

  2. This. Is. Important. I wish people (are politicians people?) would realize that the lower classes are our bread and butter, the skeleton on our society. They hold EVERYTHING up, the janitors, the cooks, the workers, they make sure we all can live in a clean and stable environment. There was a janitorial strike in a hospital somewhere, and the first day the were forced to raise pay and were begging janitors to come back because it was MAYHEM. Utensils were not being cleaned after surgeries. Biohazards were not being disposed of from the bins. Trash and litter was not being cleaned. The hospital was no longer a sterile environment. If you work at Walmart, what would happen if the people at the registers went on strike, collectively? The stores would be bedlam. We need workers, and we need to treat them BETTER. The way we see retail and consumer service workers being treated is absolutely disgraceful. The way lower class people are being pushed out of homes because of gentrification is disgraceful. The way the there are goddamn ROBOTS meant to drive away the HOMELESS is disgraceful. We need to fix our shit. Props and kudos to the author, by the way, for bringing up an issue in an entertaining and well written manner. Thanks.

  3. Circle of privilege is straight on. I have to admit that the logic behind your argument is so straightforward and obvious-sounding that is almost painful to realize that it’s not a fact.

    1. Oh it is definitely a fact. When you have more to begin with, more is offered. I have experienced it myself. The less you have, the less you are offered, the less people care at all. It could be as simple as an upgrade on your hotel room. Suddenly you are offered free valet, free meals, free spa visits, etc. But, on the flip side, be in the least expensive room in the hotel and get a mint on your pillow, that is it. No free amenities are offered to those who had to save several pay checks for that special trip and hotel room. If you can’t see it, maybe you are in the “circle of privilege”.

  4. This is so true!! People who are put in empowered positions often are raised in privilege and don’t take time to acknowledge the systematic behavior used to keep those with less down. Even from something small you saw the bigger picture!

  5. Explain to me, then, the meaning of Jesus’ statement that “For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.” (Matthew 13:12)

    And please spare me the “He’s talking about faith” routine. Do you think maybe that Jesus was explaining something important, something you might be overlooking in your dismissal of privilege, some reason that one person (or group) might have better things and opportunities than another??

    Ponder this at length.

      1. Your interpretation is your interpretation. And how can anyone take what little “love” you have away, then? I’m afraid I don’t share your view concerning this passage.

  6. Thank you for sharing this, it’s so important. Being someone who has experienced many of the situations you described growing up, I can’t tell you how much it means to have teachers who notice and care. That love sparks in kids and helps them to defy their odds rather than fall into an easy trap of reproducing the structures they are born into. Thanks for being a teacher. Much love

  7. Very powerful! I live on an Indian Reservation in South Dakota. People have no idea what has been done and what they are continuing to do to these people. (It is NOT in the history books!) The children here are like children everywhere and just want to learn how to have a better life Thank you for your dedication!

  8. Reblogged this on Everything Matters and commented:
    Pernille Ripp is an incredibly talented and insightful educator and author. Her blog is full of wonderful insights in to teaching and learning.

  9. I teach in a school that has students of great privilege mixed those if great need. Trying to bridge that gap means sometimes breaking the habit of entitlement that the wealthy kids have developed. Your post about phone free classrooms is a good partner piece to this post. I am currently finishing completely tech free year, and it was a wonderful equalizer.

  10. Your compassion is obvious, but it’s selective. I am not heteronormative, but I am heterosexual, is that a crime these days? I am white (you are disparaging about white people. Why is that?) Do you assume all white people are financially secure? I’m reasonably secure, but not wealthy. It’s not because I’m white, it’s because my husband and I worked hard for decades to get to this place. I have never flown first class . My husband was upgraded to first class once, because he is phobic about plane travel but it was vital we both be somewhere fast and the poor man had no choice but to fly. Someone was kind. I don’t resent people who get better treatment because they have more money than I do. I assume that it’s a business tactic. Not against business, are you?

    I sent my children to a public school. My husband and I made sure they got as much support as we could give them. For example, I got them a library card. I may have been tired when I came home from work, but I found time to look over their homework and ask them about their day. Half an hour out of my day. Maybe not as much as I’d like, but I tried.

    Libraries are a terrific introduction to learning and a lifelong love of literature. And the books are free. I made friends with my children’s teacher and made sure they weren’t falling through the cracks. I didn’t wait until parent / teacher interview times. Teachers hardly have more than ten minutes at a time to spare a parent on those occasions. Teachers are hard working people who want all the children in their care to succeed. They believe, as I do, that all, not just a select few, are entitled to a good education. They like it if parents show they understand that.
    I’m stopping here, because I sense you won’t post this comment. Hope I’m wrong.

    1. Not every parent has the time to go to the school. Plus if your kids is not magnet, enriched, honors, AP, or grifted; alot of teachers will not make time to even call you back. My mom is currently seeing the different between general kids and others. My mom and my brother’s dad work. They rarely have anyway to take off work. When I was younger, mom and my dad had a lot time to take off. They were always at the school. They had time to take me to the library. My brother does not have that privilege. Plus, he is general which means he is in normal classes which mean the school does not bother to return my mom’s calls. She can’t just show up either to his class to see how he is in class because of laws even if she had the time. So she can’t make an appointment to just the classroom. My dad tries to help out my mom and my brother’s father but he has to work and take care of his parents. I can’t go because I am at college in another state.

      I was a magnet kid who took higher level classes. Before I was magnet, I was teaching myself mostly with some help from my parents. After I became magnet, teachers would bend overbackward to keep me at the school and doing great because my score brought money. They keep pushing higher level classes at me . They keep telling me not to be like the general kids who in their eye may as well been criminals. Criminals because they could not handle a class that was supposed to be college while they were only in the 9th grade.
      Maybe this was just northern louisiana. Also let me know if I made any major errors because I typing this after a long day.

      1. Apart from a couple of typos, you haven’t made any errors at all. You’ve just reminded me that I can’t generalise, and that everyone’s situation is different.

        Thanks for the fantastick response, TayTae. Is it Northern Louisiana, or a disgraceful school policy, or those teachers who are also a disgrace,? I don’t know. I’m not aware that it’s like that in Australia where I live. Things aren’t perfect here, but most teachers are really caring. They do try and make sure that the children in their care don’t slip through the cracks.

        I do hope things work out for your family.

      2. It just means that you have must take all four core very year and you get an easier grading scale. Example being in a magnet class, a 90 is an a but for general that is a b. Plus, you are allow to talk to your other peers and have access to your phone.

  11. This is such a well written post. You had me thinking beyond the classroom to how privilege affects us everyday, all because of that step that was out of our control really. Thanks!

  12. This is such an eye opening post and one that put a lot into perspective, you don’t realise what you have until you stop to see what others don’t have. Thank you

  13. Recognizing privilege is so important! And you are right, it is a viscous cycle. In addition to recognizing each child as his or her own, I think it’s also important to approach each family in a way they are most familiar and comfortable with to ensure that the child has an upward trajectory.

  14. This quote here: “But we can’t do that if we don’t look at all we have been given and realize that while we may have worked hard for some of it, some of it was also just handed to us” says so much. Just recognize that some of us were given a head start. As an English teacher I strive to make privilege a part of the conversation in class on a regular basis. Privilege in itself is not bad, only when we don’t see it, or worse, choose to ignore it’s plain fat nose poking us in the eye. Thanks for the insightfulness in this post.

  15. Great post! I am so glad I read it. I am also very glad that you can now see the differences in how the haves and the have nots are treated. Choosing to make a change in the lives of your students is honorable, Thank you!
    Follow me at marriageeasyneverthat.wordpress.com

  16. Wonderful post. The comments that seem a bit hostile made me wonder if looking at all of the opportunities that some of us have earned vs the ones we were given due to factors outside of our control makes people uncomfortable. If it has folks looking at where they are at in life and how they got there, I think its a good thing. The harder part is looking to see if those opportunities or mentors or programs are available to all students today or have even more doors been shut for the less fortunate? Having time to sit and contemplate this instead of getting ready to go work a second job means we are privileged.

  17. As a woman and first generation immigrant, I have thought about privilege (or lack thereof) often. But being a white enough Hispanic (green eyes) and soon to marry into a German last name sheds new light on my life experiences. It’s interesting to read your perspective on privilege, great read!

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