"Ms. Jen, you are so mean!"
Talking privilege with three-year-olds
(All names have been changed for confidentiality, and the class was studying the letter 'D,' always seeking ways to embed lessons within lessons, we picked names starting with 'D').
'Derrick,' a three and a half-year-old student, for whom, the half is critical, recently declared 'Ms. Jen, you are so mean!' And the rest of the class certainly agreed.
A few minutes before this declaration, I suggested the class consider whether the four-year-olds should get to use the playset first, and the five-year-olds use the swings before the four-year-olds. After agreeing, I was being mean I went on to explain 'sometimes people get to do things before other people just because they are part of a group. Getting to use the playground first because of being older is one of many examples'. 'Derrick' expanded on his indignation adding 'just because you are older doesn't mean you get the playground first, we should have a rule, you get to use the playground when you get there!' 'Delia' stretched Derrick's thought adding 'And you should check to see if other kids are waiting and make sure everyone gets a turn!' Sensing the class was ready for vocabulary, I explained, 'Privilege is getting something you didn't have to work for, four and five-year-olds using the playground first only because they are four or five is called age privilege.'
'Damion' who had been quietly playing with blocks, lept up and in a loud voice demanded 'Well, privilege is bad and we need to make sure we don't do that because we all should play on the swings!' Other kids nodded their heads. They released a loud chorus of 'yeah!' 'Denis' determinedly declared 'And if you don't see if other people are waiting because you got too excited, you should have friends remind each other that way the three's class won't get left behind just because we are the littlest." Agreeing and hoping to go deeper, I added 'the rules you are considering are examples of social justice. Social justice is breaking down the barriers between groups. Try to imagine there is 'do not play tape' on the playground. The four-year-olds can remove the tape anytime they want to play, but the three-year-olds cannot. Figuring out how to take down that tape for everyone is social justice. So let's think about what you will do when you are four, and you are offered the playground just because you are four.' 'Damion' continued standing and concluded, 'Ms. Jen, you need to write all of this down and remind us when we are four. I know I will be so excited to be on the slides I will forget to be social justice and may forget what it felt like to be three, and that's not a good thing.'
Jen Cort, LCSW-C
Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Justice consultant