Think back to when you took your 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 and how our experiences shape how we view education and learning, there were never many of us who enjoyed this practice. 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 article on male privilege, 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 is to not just understand your own individual privileges as a teacher and a citizen, but to also work towards systemic changes within society to end privilege for some groups and oppression for others. 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.
We 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.
Most importantly, 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 provide young people the ability to make the world a better place and not just be passive observers in the society in which they live.