There were a lot of things I hated in high school. I’m sure we could all list a plethora of negative experiences, from lousy friends to lousy teachers to, of course, lousy parents. There were our horrible summer reading books, the painful years of braces, and arguments with our parents over going to the beach for Spring Break with our friends because everyone else was going and OH MY GOD MOM YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND.
But looking back now, how many of these experiences- these disdainful and vilified experiences- were afforded to us all with privilege? We typically associate middle-class privilege with things we enjoy, like cars and cell phones and eating out at restaurants. But what about the experiences we didn’t like? Was there any privilege in those?
Below you will find a list of typically disdained experiences that, as it turns out, we were lucky to have. I have also listed the “Unspoken Privileges” under each one, which are assumed privileges that have to be in place in order for the bigger one to occur.
(For an even more extensive list of these unspoken privileges, visit here: 30+ Examples of Middle-to-Upper Class Privilege)"
1. Getting Grounded
Unspoken privileges: Having one or more parents or guardians; Living in the same home with one or more parents or guardians; Interacting with one or more parents or guardians more than an average 3 days per week; One or more parents or guardians having a working phone numberI got grounded several times in high school, the most memorable occasion being when my parents got a call from a police officer at around 4am because I was playing “Flaming Tennis Ball Of Death” with my friends in a church parking lot. I won’t go into the details of the rules of the game here, but I will say that when the cop asked my father on the phone, “Sir, do you know where your daughter is tonight?” my dad answered, “Evidently not.”
It was probably the most horrified I’d ever been seeing that officer call my dad, but there was one thing I was sure of when I gave him the number: My mother or father would be home, they would answer the phone, and they would come pick me up and take me home. Not that I was looking forward to that exchange, but it was a certainty I could trust.
I have a student who is living with our school’s janitor because he got kicked out of his house. His mom’s new boyfriend moved in and she told him to get out. I have another whose mother is in and out of jail weekly; one only sees his mother every other day because of the three jobs she works; one is an orphan and lives with his uncle who lives on the other side of the house and, as he describes it, “I hope I don’t die in there, because he’ll never know.”
Having one or two parents at home- and I use the word parent here very intentionally- is one of the most significant and unnoticed privileges that exist. You have no idea how much of a difference it makes.
2. Getting Braces
Unspoken privileges: In addition to those mentioned above, One or more modes of transportation available; One or more parents or guardians being employed; Having access to health insuranceOne week at an assembly one of my favorite kids threw his head back and laughed his big, beautiful laugh at something his best friend said. I smiled and laughed along with them, but while his head was reared back, I saw something I didn’t expect: behind his front teeth was an almost complete second row of crooked teeth, poking out in odd angles out of the roof of his mouth. I wondered if he had ever been to a dentist.
Earlier this year, one of my students cried in my classroom because she was supposed to get her braces off one morning, but for the second time this year her medicaid had been denied. This same girl is about to give birth to a little boy in about 14 days, and she’s been using her dead grandmother’s name on her paperwork so that she can get prenatal care and ultrasounds.
There's no way to know how much stress these factors and situations can cause for young people. God knows they are under enough stress as the teen years are probably the most tumultuous that you know, until you turn 25 and decide to become a teacher, but anyway....
Over the past 5 years, the Brookings Institute at Stanford University has been conducting an extensive study on how stress caused by poverty affects children's brain development. By age 11, children who live in extreme poverty already have 25% less gray-matter in their brains, matter that is essential to executive processes (the part of your brain that tells you how to turn pages in a book, and that number 2 on the page may be linked back to number 1). Children also showed signs of total brain atrophy, as some of the brain (specifically, the hippocampus) were rendered almost useless. Right now the question that plagues researchers is not whether or not these effects are real, but can the damage be reversed.
3. Hating A Book You Were Assigned in School
Unspoken privilege: The means to purchase one or more books of your own; Grade-level reading comprehension.Oh God, The Scarlet Letter. The Virginian. Tess of of the D’Urbeville’s. Thank God I didn’t have a Facebook in 2002 because it would have been nothing but hatred for those books. I’m sure you had ones you hated, too. And oh, summer reading! I have to read over the summer? When I should be laying in bed until 2 in the afternoon? Oh hell naw.
But let’s take a look up there at that unspoken list: Grade-level reading comprehension. I believe that one of the most often overlooked and taken-for-granted middle-class, educated privilege is the ability to read. You hated a book because you read it and didn’t like it. You didn’t hate it because you couldn’t read it, because your mom couldn’t read it, and your dad couldn’t read it, and it made you feel stupid and lost and you wanted to give up.
There were so many things we felt forced to do- study, read a book, take home our text book, read off the board- that required us to be able to read at or above our own grade level, and we never even knew how lucky we were to meet the challenge.
How lucky we were to meet the challenge.
My next entry will focus on connecting these ideas- poverty and privilege- with how this affects how students can excel, and what can be expected of them.
Sources consulted:Crossposted The27thteacher.com"