A Mini Lesson on Privilege

It’s been a lot of fun having Chi Rho here the same week as CYF. I’ve gotten to pop in a few times, sing and dance to a couple energizers and spend a few minutes telling the kids about the Disciples Peace Fellowship and the internship. Going along with the superhero theme for the week, the Chi Rho directors planned a stations activity for this evening where the kids would learn about different aspects of power, why we have it and what we can do with it AND they were oh so kind to ask the Peace Intern to participate ☺ This was Monday that they asked. It is now Thursday. Of course in the mean time I had forgotten about it and being so absorbed in CYF camp had forgotten to think through my lesson or plan anything particularly insightful.
When I got pulled in this evening to teach the lesson I took a deep breath, grabbed some colored pencils and paper and threw something together, and wow I’m happy with how it turned out!
My station was in the gazebo and every 12 minutes I would have another bouncing group of 10 middle schoolers. Once I was sure the whole group was there and I had their attention I began talking to them quickly in Spanish. I told them we were going to do an activity and I needed them all to put their hands on their knees like so. When all I got was confused looks I began speaking louder and more forcefully asking them why they weren’t doing what I was instructing. When I could tell they were sufficiently confused, I paused and in English asked them to reflect on how they felt. Many said they felt confused, frustrated, not sure what was going on, and that they wished they could understand me.
I asked them if they’d ever thought of what it would be like to live in this country and not speak or understand English. They responded in similar ways, that they would feel confused, frustrated, scared, and vulnerable.
I used this little exercise to introduce the concept of privilege. For many of us, English is something that has been ingrained in our lives since birth. We didn’t have to do anything to earn this – it is a privilege many of us are born with, a privilege that we often don’t recognize we have until we’re put in a situation that makes it visible. Briefly experiencing what many in our communities encounter on a daily basis can help to change our frame of reference.
I continued to explain the concept of privilege by asking everyone to swing their arms as if they were running. I asked them what it feels like to be running with the wind at your back. Many said it’s easy, it makes you run faster, it blows you forward, it’s something that helps you but you don’t always realize it’s there. Then I asked them what it feels like to run into the wind. It’s hard, they said, you can’t get very far, it takes a lot more energy and makes you tired more quickly. When you run into the wind you always notice it’s there.
I explained that privilege is much the same way. We often don’t realize the privileges we have in life that are pushing us along and providing us with opportunities. However, many people in our communities continually struggle to run against the wind because of circumstances they were born into.
To further illustrate the concept, I gave the kids each a colored pencil and a piece of paper and instructed them to write their full name. The only catch was they had to grasp the pencil between their wrists and write like so. After I went around the circle guessing each kid’s name by their attempted writings, we circled back up to reflect.
What was so hard about this? I asked. The fact that we couldn’t use our hands! they answered. I used this activity to illustrate how when we aren’t born with certain privileges, aspects of life can be more difficult and there can be many obstacles that limit success.
When I asked the kids what privileges they have in life, many of the initial responses I got were physical attributes: hands, feet, eyesight, etc. but I asked them to take it a step farther. Is education a privilege? What are other examples of the wind pushing you forward? I heard: enough money for food, healthcare, a caring family, educated parents, good friends…
Then I asked, who are people in our communities or even in our own families who seem to be running against the wind? One of the first words I heard was “hobo!” Ahh teachable moment – thank you Chi Rho-er! This gave us the opportunity to debunk the meaning of the word hobo – to discuss the stereotypes associated with homelessness, and then to talk about the fact that maybe it’s not actually their “fault” that they’re like that, maybe homeless people aren’t all lazy, and they certainly aren’t all men. You see, when people start out in life lacking some of the basic privileges we take for granted like going to school, having enough food, a family who guides us, the ability to go to the doctor when we’re sick, when some people aren’t born with those things they end up running against the wind their whole life.
I asked them what was a time when you felt like you were running against the wind?
I heard stories of divorce, losing a home, losing a family member, moving, switching schools. When certain privileges we have are taken from us we too can feel vulnerable and downtrodden, but those moments help us connect more deeply with other people in the world who experience similar loss.
I asked them to think about things they could do to use their own privileges, their own power, to make a difference in the lives of others. Everyone agreed that coming to church camp was certainly a privilege and I challenged them to think of ways they could use what they learned this week to teach and serve others. We closed the activity by each person putting their hand in the middle of the circle and grabbing the thumb of the person next to them, creating a circle with our hands. I had each camper go around the circle and share one thing they are thankful for. I then said a quick closing prayer, thanking God for the blessings in our lives, asking God to help us become aware of the privileges we have and showing us opportunities to use our power to make this world better.
It’s amazing how deep into the concept I was able to get with middle schoolers before it was time to rotate. I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to work with all of them and it was neat hearing how the responses differed between each rotation. SO grateful for the creative energy that’s flowing through me this summer. I LOVE experiential learning ☺ There is no greater pleasure in life than to take something I’m deeply passionate about and see it reflected in the lives of our youth.
Thanks be to God!

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