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Teaching with Privilege

Think back to when you took your education program and you were asked time and again to write "reflection papers" for your courses. I remember looking around the room and seeing the avalanche of eye rolls work themselves around the room much like "the wave" at a sporting event.

Even though this task required us to reflect upon our roles as educators and how our experiences shape how we view education and learning, there were never many of us who enjoyed this practice. However, even though I didn't always love writing these papers, they were an essential task that forced us to evaluate our practice and behaviour as an educator and learner.

In both my personal and professional life, I have made a point to be constantly reflecting on how my role in society has impacted the way I teach and conduct myself as a person. There is no doubt that my white male privilege has benefited me economically, socially and politically. To get a deeper understanding on this issue I suggest checking out this blog post and then research how oppression can permeate our society.

Since the majority of the teaching population in Alberta, and to a larger extent Canada, is made up of white middle-class folks, we need to be able to confront how our privilege perpetuates our interactions with students and our pedagogy. This requires us reflecting and confronting issues that could conjure up some uncomfortable feelings, confusion, and and even guilt.

Schools are often places where the dominant ideologies and characteristics of a society are perpetuated, which can leave students who don't fit into those dominant groups feeling less than or not represented in their educational environments. It is absolutely necessary that teachers not only understand how privilege can benefit them, but also how it can shape their classroom rules and what they deem as "good behaviour" from students.

The development of my consciousness has led me down an incredibly rewarding path. Now don't get me wrong, coming to terms with my privilege led me through an array of emotions. I often felt that I was living through white privilege and guilt at the same time. However, I quickly learned that as a white male of privilege, I have a responsibility to not only understand how my privilege operates, but to also be a part of the solution in ending a system that perpetuates oppression through race, gender, sexuality, class and many other categories. The understanding and combating of my privileged world view has not ended. It is a daily routine of reflection and dialogue with others to learn how to support and be in solidarity with folks from more oppressed backgrounds. I have a lot of work to do in order to combat my privilege distorting how I view issues within our world and within my classroom. However, it is a life long task that I think is most important in my development as a teacher and person.

What I'm asking teachers to do with this blog, is to not just understand your own individual privileges as a teacher and a citizen, but to also confront and work towards systemic changes within society that will end privilege for some groups and oppression for others. That is why teaching is absolutely necessary towards the common good. We have the choice to perpetuate the dominant ideology within our classroom or to engage with students in a dialogue of possibility for what a different world could look like. Students never cease to amaze me when they start to discuss new ways that humans could take care of each other a little bit better.

Teachers not only have the opportunity but also the responsibility to model for their students the type of conduct and dialogue that it will take to start having these tough conversations. We need to make sure we create environments that ensure students feel safe and comfortable to have these conversations. We need to ensure that all students have a voice in the classroom to be able to share their experiences around privilege and oppression. After all, It is our responsibility to prepare students to be able to make the world a better place and not just be passive observers in the society in which they live.

This circle of oppression image is a good way to start your own reflection and hopefully conversations with family, friends, colleagues and even your students. But don't begin to think that your privilege ends within these social categories. Today was the historic People's Climate March in New York City. We need to be teaching and learning with our students about how climate change impacts not only the environmental but also social, economic, and political aspects of our lives. For those of us who live in wealthier countries who have committed most of the pollution in the world, we will be less likely to face the extreme calamities of climate change unlike the global south. Therefore, our privilege is not just based on social constructs, but environmental ones as well.

 It is too easy to turn our heads the other way when we benefit from the way things are going. Just because you have made individual changes to combat your social, economic, and environmental privilege doesn't mean that you've necessarily done your part (though it's a good start). If we are not part of a solution that creates a more equitable and environmentally safe world for all people, then what exactly are we doing in the classroom?


  1. Hi Dan,

    A great message for teachers (and one that is unfortunately not as widespread as it should be).

    Privilege is definitely something that must be discussed in the classroom. Knowing how I initially struggled with the concept of privileges (despite identifying as part of an oppressed group), I've found it very difficult to introduce the idea to my students in a simple manner. The circle of oppression that you shared is a nice visual though, and I think that it would make the idea more intelligible to students. Thanks for sharing it, and thanks for the post!

    - Will


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