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.