"Send privilege down the water fountain" talking privilege with middle schoolers

 

‘You want to see privilege?  Go to the water fountain,’ declared a 7th grader. ‘Think about it, the biggest, fastest kids get water first’ added another student ‘AND the most popular kids get to cut in line.’ I have always believed all employees of the school are part of the educational system for the students, and that all spaces associated with the school are classrooms, including hallways, buses, away games, and every area not traditionally recognized as a ‘classroom’ including the water fountain. 

 

When discussing privilege (defined as receiving an unearned right or advantage because of membership in a group) with a seventh-grade class, we talked about where privilege shows up outside of the classroom including locker rooms, bathrooms, hallways.  Some of the spaces mentioned I could not enter, such as the locker rooms and bathrooms, but I had plenty of water fountains to observe. Over a couple of days, I took particular notice of water fountains in the elementary, middle, and upper school. While not the only place, water fountains are indeed a place where privilege plays out. Below are the observations and interruptions of privilege exertion at the water fountain.  

 

Activity

Teachers and students discussed privilege by definition, by prevalence, and by developing strategies for interventions.  Students were asked to ‘look for the presence of privilege’ throughout the week, to write observations, and to bring them to a classroom discussion presenting them with “I noticed” sentence stems.  Teachers and students then brainstormed and implemented interventions offered below.  

 

Ability privilege:  Students running to the water fountain 

Intervention:

Teachers asked students to consider am I thirsty on a scale of one to three:

One: I would like a drink, but it’s not urgent 

Two: I am thirsty and would like a drink before going to class

Three: it’s urgent!.  

Teachers then advised ‘we are lining up by three, two, one’ adding the explanation ‘we should all be in different places throughout the day and throughout the week.’ 

 

Social privilege:  Students consistently asking, “Can I cut in?” and being allowed to cut ahead:

Intervention:

Teachers focused on developing self-advocacy skills with students who were consistently cut in front of, and self-awareness skills with students who were asking to go ahead of others.  

 

Age privilege:  “Eighth-graders go first!”

Intervention:
Teachers and students focus on how privileges are handed from one age group 

to the next using the example of how it felt when students were in seventh grade, and eighth-graders asserted the eighth-grade privilege.

 

The purposes of sharing these ideas are to expand our thinking of what makes a classroom, to demonstrate student engagement in recognizing and responding to privilege, and to offer examples of implementation of interventions.  

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