The term “privilege” can be a controversial and challenging subject to discuss, both for those who have it and those who do not. Privilege (in my experience) is often referred to as it pertains to race or class. However, there are many types of privilege and most of us are privileged in some way. Below are some areas of privilege that we have explored as faculty and with students through read alouds (younger grades) and discussions (older grades).
Aesthetic: Do I fit into my society’s definition of beauty? (dependent on the country/culture)
Orientation: Am I able to show affection in public free from fear of ridicule or persecution?
Socio-Economic: Can I afford to see a doctor? Can I afford to live in this neighborhood? Can we afford to shop at a grocery store?
Ability: Do I need to be concerned with handicapped accessible buildings, sidewalks, forms of transportation?
Religious: Is my religion practiced and accepted in my community? Am I able to practice my religion free from persecution?
Gender: Do I identify as the gender I was born? Do I dress/behave as society expects of the gender I identify with?
Racial: Does the color of my skin ever affect the way I am treated or the way I feel in public spaces?
The most important aspect to understanding privilege is examining our own. In order to help our students learn empathy and understanding of those who are marginalized, we must examine our own experience as it relates to privilege.
Below is a questionnaire that NMS staff and faculty had the opportunity to reflect on during a staff meeting. Please, take a moment to see how many of the following statements are true for you, and reflect on the areas in which privilege is a part of your life.
Do I Have Privilege?
My family owns a summer home or second home.
No one in my immediate family has ever been on welfare.
As a student, I was not eligible for need-based financial aid.
I’ve never had to work a paid job on a religious holiday I celebrate.
No one in my immediate family has ever been in jail.
I have never bought anything using a layaway plan.
I have always had health insurance.
I have traveled to a country outside the United States where I have no relatives.
I have a trust fund or stocks or bonds in my name.
I have purchased a pair of shoes that cost more than $150.
I had a credit card that my parents paid for.
I have never shopped with food stamps.
I have never worked a paid job that involved an evening or night shift.
I have never lived in a neighborhood that I considered unsafe.
At some time in my life, I've owned a brand new car.
My parents had professions such as doctors, lawyers, etc.
When I was growing up I never had to skip a meal or go hungry because there was not enough money to buy food.
I attended a private school or private summer camp.
My family has never had to move because they could not afford the rent.
I was encouraged to attend college by my parents.
Both of my parents graduated from high school.
My family owns a house.
I have been offered a good job because of my association or connection with a friend or family member.
I have inherited money or property.
I have never had to rely primarily on public transportation.
I am generally able to avoid places that are dangerous.
My parents told me that I could be anything I wanted to be.
Resources: Children’s Literature
Below is a list of books that can help children understand the perspective and experience of others while recognizing the privileges they may have.
( * indicates available in the NMS library, ( ) indicates age)
*King and King by Linda de Hann (3-6)
The queen decides it is time for the prince to marry a princess, but the prince falls in love with another prince and marries him instead.
Love Is a Family by Roma Downey (3-6)
This book is a great tool for a child-appropriate discussion about families because it doesn’t shy away from the differentness a child might feel when being raised by a single parent.
Two Houses by Claire Masurel (3-6)
Alex explains that the divorce hasn’t changed much in his life since he plays, sleeps and eats at both places—and has loads of fun!
*My New Family: A First Look at Adoption by Pat Thomas (4-6)
Explains how and why some children are adopted in a child-friendly way.
*And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell (4-8)
Two male penguins fall in love and raise a baby named Tango. Based on a true story.
*Molly’s Family by Nancy Garden (4-8)
Molly draws a picture of her family and her friend says that a family can’t have two moms. Molly is sad and confused but learns that families can look all different ways.
*In Our Mother’s House by Patricia Polacco (5-8)
Explores the concentric circles of a multi-racial, multi-generational lesbian family.
Not All Princesses Dress in Pink by Jane Yolan (3-6)
These princesses wear their sparkly crowns while playing soccer, getting muddy, and biking.
My Princess Boy (A Mom’s Story about a Young Boy Who Loves to Dress Up) by Cheryl Kilodavis (3-7)
A non-fiction picture book by a mom about her 4-year-old son, who likes wearing dresses. Tells about the importance of accepting kids for whoever they are and however they wish to look.
I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings (3-8)
This book is about Jazz Jennings, the transkids activist. She explains her own gender-identity issues in a moving and age-appropriate way.
A Fire Engine for Ruthie by Leslea Newman (4-8)
Ruthie and her Nana find they like to play with different things, and Nana discovers that girls can love fire engines and motorcycles as much as girls love dolls and dress-up.
*Oliver Button is a Sissy by Tomie dePaola (4-8)
Oliver is teased because he likes doesn’t like to do things that boys are “supposed” to do.
When Kayla Was Kyle by Amy Fabrikant (4-8)
This book goes deep into the mind of a child who doesn't identify with his gender. Fabrikant does the amazing work of helping kids (and parents) understand the thoughts running through the mind of a kid who doesn't feel "normal.”
Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman (4-8)
Grace loves acting out stories, but when classmates tell her she can’t play Peter Pan because she’s black and a girl, important lessons are learned.
*The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson (5-10)
Clover and Annie live on separate sides of a fence that divides the “black side” and “white side.” Both girls have been told not to cross the fence, but no one said anything about sitting on top of it.
*Let Them Play by Margot Theis Raven (6-9)
True story of the first African American Little League team. No one in the league would play against them; they went to the championships and were only allowed to warm up; but the crowd chanted for them, “let them play.”
Grandpa, Is Everything Black Bad? by Sandy Lynne Holman (6-10)
Montsho comes to his grandfather to find out: “Is everything black bad?” Montsho mentions “black cat,” “black sheep,” “black eye,” and black villains on TV as evidence. Montsho’s grandfather shows him why black is “one of the most beautiful colors in the world” by telling him about his African heritage.
*Desmond and the Very Mean Word by Archbishop Desmond Tutu (6-11)
When a group of boys shout “a very mean word” at a young Desmond, he wants to hurt them back. Desmond eventually learns the power of forgiveness.
Socio-Economics / Social Class
Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting (3-8)
A young boy talks about his and his father’s lives living in an airport and has hope for himself when he sees a trapped bird find freedom.
*A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams (4-8)
A family whose house burnt down saves coins in order to buy a new comfy chair.
*Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña (5-8)
Join CJ and his grandmother on their Sunday bus ride across town. CJ notices the differences between a cleaner part of town where other boys his age are playing on their iPods, and the dirtier part of town he's headed toward.
*Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBrier (6-10)
The main character in this story is a young girl who lives in a small African village. Her family is too poor to buy her a uniform and books so that she can attend school. One day, the girl receives a goat as a gift, which gives milk that she can sell and change her future.
*The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes (6-10)
A young Polish girl living in America is made fun of by her classmates because she wears the same dress every day.
*The Can Man by Laura E Williams (7-9)
Tim sees a homeless man collecting cans and decides to do the same to save up for a skateboard, until he realizes that the cans he is collecting is taking money from the Can Man.
*The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson (7-11)
The story of a Parisian man, Armand, who finds a ready-made family to live with him under the bridge.
Susan Laughs by Jeanne Willis (0-4)
We see Susan laughing and singing, splashing and swimming, hiding, and doing all the ordinary, active things children do. It isn’t until the end we see her in a wheelchair.
*Mama Zooms by Jane Cowen-Fletcher (2-5)
A toddler’s depiction of how he zooms when he rides on his mother’s lap in her wheelchair.
*Understanding Sam and Aspergers Syndrome by Liezl Venter (5-8)
Sam has some quirks that need special understanding. This is a good, basic explanation of AS and how it affects not only the child himself, but those around him.
*Emanuel’s Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson and Sean Qualls (5-8)
This book tells the story of a young man overcoming the odds. Born in Ghana with a deformed left leg, Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah experienced stigma as a result of his disability: his father abandoned the family, and many assumed that the boy would be little more than a burden. However, with the encouragement of his mother, Yeboah refused to give up, hopping to school (instead of walking) and even learning to play soccer and cycle, despite receiving no extra help or accommodations.
*Featherless by Juan Felipe Herrera (8-11)
Tomasito is a young Hispanic boy with spina bifida who is attending a new school. Bilingual children will enjoy the two languages in this book, along with the reassurance that moving is not so bad.
*Rules by Cynthia Lord (8-12, chapter book)
Catherine’s younger brother David is autistic. She creates a set of rules for him to live by because “he doesn’t learn by watching other people so she has to teach him.”
*Wonder by R.J. Palacio (8-12, chapter book)
August Pullman was born with a facial deformity and wants nothing more than to be treated like a normal kid when he enters school in 5th grade.
*Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos (10-14, chapter book)
Describes the experience of a child with unsuccessfully medicated ADD.
*Joey Pigza Loses Control by Jack Gantos (10-14, chapter book)
The second book in the Joey Pigza series.
Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper (10 and up, chapter book)
Melody was born with cerebral palsy and can’t walk or talk. She uses her brilliant mind and spirit to be accepted by her middle school classmates.
*The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin (3-6)
The Ugly Vegetables shares timeless themes of community and diversity. A young gardener learns that regardless of appearances, everything has its own beauty and purpose.
*Sumi’s First Day of School Ever by Soyung Pak (3-8)
Sumi doesn’t speak English and goes to a new school. At first she is lonely and scared, but then other kids are nice to her, and she feels better even though she doesn’t understand them.
*The Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania of Jordan (4-8)
Salma, Lily, and all their classmates come together in the true spirit of tolerance and
*The Journey by Francesca Sanna (3-7)
True stories about war and the refugee crisis, shared from a child’s perspective and a mother’s pain. It describes how and why families like the ones depicted here need our understanding and our help.
Is There Really a Human Race? by Jamie Lee Curtis (4-8)
Play on words, this book describes the human race (as in foot race) and shows that the world will be better if we all work together.
*The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi (5-9)
It’s the story of a little girl named Unhei who has just emigrated from Korea. This book relates her difficulties trying fitting in, especially with a name that the American kids can’t pronounce.
Migrant by Maxine Trottier (6-8)
A Mennonite from Mexico. Anna lives a migrant life with her family of farmers. Her story captures what it’s like to feel like a stranger in a strange land, from a child’s perspective.
*Stepping Stones - A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margrite Ruurs (6-11)
A timely story about the Syrian refugee crisis, personalizing it through the story of a girl named Rama. She and her family are forced to flee civil war and walk on foot with their belongings with the hopes of finding safety and freedom in Europe.
*One Green Apple by Eve Bunting (8-11)
Farah is a recent Muslim immigrant who doesn’t speak English and dresses differently than her schoolmates. A class trip helps deliver the lesson that children from different countries and cultures are really more alike than they may have realized.
*A Long Pitch Home By Natalie Dias Lorenzi (9-12)
Bilal is a 10-year-old boy from Pakistan whose father is sent to America to live with his aunt and uncle. When he arrives, we see Bilal’s efforts to assimilate by learning English in his ESL class and trying to fit in with his classmates, and the struggles that ensue.