By Alan Stock
There are many different ways to get a message across. It kind of all depends on how you want that message to be interpreted. Take the case of Las Vegas’ Desert Oasis High School.
A unit in Sociology addressing social stratification was to discuss the various social classes in society. The stated purpose of an included activity was to focus on class disparities and for participants to recognize the privileges that they have been granted. As stated, “…participants will be able to recognize the inequalities that exist in society, especially relating to social class.” The ultimate point was to help participants…”acknowledge their privileges, contextualize their own experiences, and learn about their peers.” The goal was to have students “…apply this activity to their lives to support social awareness.”
The exercise instructed students to form a single line, standing shoulder to shoulder and to listen to statements being read. If statements were true, they should take a step forward or backward depending on the instruction; if the statement is not relevant, they may stand still.
Some of the statements included: If your ancestors came to the United States by force, take one step back; if English is your first language, take one step forward; if you have a foreign accent, take one step backward; if you are a female take 2 steps back. There were many more statements that sought to polarize the students. And that is the point.
This “exercise” was meant to show the differences between the various students. If you had certain opportunities, perhaps you should feel some pangs of guilt. If you had fewer opportunities, perhaps you should feel somewhat cheated. There was nothing in this exercise that gave any serious insight of how to raise up those who felt less than “privileged.” Some might refer to this as “class warfare.”
One option for a positive outcome might have been for students to talk about the challenges they faced. They could have sought input from the other students about alternatives to change their plight. Together they could have explored productive avenues that might not have been considered. Students who were not “privileged” might have left with a glimmer of hope they did not have when they entered the classroom that morning. It could have been a positive, productive experience.
Instead, the exercise promoted guilt, shame, under-achievement, differentiation and polarization. They missed the boat by not promoting unity when it came to solving the challenges some of the students faced.
For the interview with the parent who brought this to my attention, click here.