The Layers and Nuance of Privlege

I don’t know when I first became aware of my privilege. Maybe it was my first trip to a country of vastly different economic circumstance than my own. Maybe it was the first time I read To Kill a Mockingbird and was confronted by systemic racism. Maybe it was IMG_8331when I started teaching and saw the vast discrepancies between kids whose parents had time and energy at night to read and sit beside them at the homework table. Maybe it was the first time I read about the reality of our prison system and the way we incarcerate.

Privilege has certainly become a loaded word in the recent years. It’s rare to hear someone say, it’s a privilege to visit. I usually hear it in the context of check your privilege or white privilege.

When we started attending our neighborhood school this year, I was hit with our privilege. I saw how incredibly prepared Bea was for kindergarten – from reading together to access to books and art supplies to the fact that we have multiple memberships to museums around our city. She has the background knowledge and supports to excel.

And, while I see her incredible circumstantial privilege, I also feel incredibly grateful that this is our educational experience. Not only is Bea learning academically, she’s learning about cultures and worldviews that we could not teach at home. She’s enthralled with her Muslim friends and empathetic toward kids who are tired from late bedtimes. She asks why some kids need extra help and why others can’t speak English.

I’m shifting my view of privilege again. Yes, we are a family of privilege. There is no doubt about that. But we are also a family who feels privileged to know and interact with our neighbors and classmates. I’m remembering that this word is layered and nuanced and I need to reintroduce the gratefulness of privilege into our outlook.

What feelings do you get when you hear the word privilege? How does your privilege make you grateful? How does it help you see others in a more gentle way?

Linked with Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “privilege.”

Advertisement

Finding Heaven at the Wild Table

Every Tuesday, I help with Writer’s Workshop in Bea’s classroom. And every Tuesday, I leave after an hour with a greater appreciation toward all kindergarten teachers. Controlled chaos is putting it mildly but somehow Mrs. M is able to help twenty five-year-olds create books about Nocturnal Animals, using exclamation points and onomatopoeias when appropriate.

wax-1175873_960_720Bea is a quiet, concientious kid at a rowdy table. She is constantly battling boys who refuse to give a silent five or take bunny breaths to calm down. One table over is filled with girls who follow directions, share crayons, and get their work done.

Part of me wants to ask why Bea is stuck with the wild kids. Part of me knows exactly why because I inflicted that same spot to my good, quiet kids when I was teaching. Sometimes you need to know that one person at the table will do what they’re supposed to do.

Where’s the justice in this? Shouldn’t all the good kids be together, encouraging each other academically? Shouldn’t all the rowdy kids be together, fending for themselves? In some ways, I think Bea’s school experience would be better if she were at a table (or in a classroom) filled with kids who care as much as she does.

But that would defeat the point of sending her to our diverse neighborhood school. Not only is it culturally diverse, but it’s academically, socially, and economically diverse. When I talk about diversity, I need to remember that it means everything.

Friends were visiting from Zimbabwe and we took them to the fall festival. At one point, as we were standing in the eternally long line for the bounce house, Susan exclaimed, This is what heaven looks like!

This comment gave me pause. It’s true. Heaven, wherever it is and whatever it actually looks like, will be filled with diversity. It will be filled with people who look different, who speak different languages, who see God differently, who learn differently, and who interact with life differently. That’s the beauty of God loving all the little children, regardless of appearance or life experience.

I’m sure there will be a time when being at the wild table will be a true detriment rather than a life experience. We’ll have to evaluate our own values and make a game plan. Until then, I’m thankful that every single day Bea gets to experience a little slice of heaven as she writes about bats and owls.

Where is a place you’ve seen heaven here on earth? What does it look like to you?

BackyardThis post is Day 12 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.

Public Schools and Redemption

We are currently in the market for a new house. We finally decided our little ranch is getting too small and we want to move before we actually outgrow it. So, we’re getting ready to sell this one and are looking at a variety of homes across Denver and even in (gasp!) the suburbs.

Looking for this next house has been interesting. We could potentially remain there for the next twenty or so years, through our kids’ schooling, and it’s been interesting prioritizing what we want and what we need. It’s brought about some feelings about how privileged we are and how we best want to spend our money and use our resources as wisely as possible. (This means we won’t be looking in the cool, sexy neighborhoods of Denver but in the quieter, more family oriented ones…)

One thing that has brought about a lot of discussion is schools. Frank spent all twelve years in a private Catholic school. In fact, the three oldest siblings in his family were privately educated through high school. His youngest sister attended the local public schools and traveled a rougher road, which is often blamed on the school.

I grew up attending all public schools. In California, I was in bilingual classrooms before bilingual education became what it is today. Back then, one teacher would give instructions in English and an aide would repeat them in Spanish. Needless to say, progress was slow in those classrooms because instruction took twice as long. When my parents moved to Colorado Springs, they chose a house in a monochromatic neighborhood based on the high quality of the public schools. While I had an amazing education, I regret that my classmates mostly looked alike.

Bea is ready for school!
Bea is ready for school!

We’ve been grappling with what the best school looks like for Bea and our future kids. My Master’s degree has an emphasis in Urban Education, so I always assumed my kids would just go to the neighborhood school – if it’s good enough for the kids around us, it’s good enough for our own kids. How will we even begin to change hundreds of years of exclusion based on race and income if we don’t start with our own kids? Besides, if we feel comfortable enough to buy a home in a certain neighborhood, I’d like to think that I’d feel comfortable doing life and education with those neighbors.

Frank is worried that we’ll sacrifice our own children on the altar of change, rather than doing what’s best for them. I see it less as a sacrifice and more as bringing redemption to a broken system. How will any change occur if we leave it to others to enact? And, in my years as an educator, school success is based less on skin color and economic level and more on parent involvement and support. It’s not that parents have to stay home and volunteer in classrooms, but as long as we find a community where parents do what they can for their children’s education, the school will (most likely) be successful. (We also got into a big discussion on success: Is it just based off of test scores or is it more than that?)

Plus, my big picture view is that a school can quickly change in three years, ten years, twelve years… (And, since Colorado is a choice state, if we don’t like our neighborhood school, it is not uncommon to choice into a different school.) It’s so hard to predict what our child’s specific needs will be, but I do know that wherever we end up, I want Bea to learn empathy and acceptance as equally as she learns traditional academics.

We’ll see where we end up – both in neighborhood choice and in where we send Bea. One of the top house contenders is about a block away from the elementary school and within about a half mile of the middle and high schools. I love the idea of walking to school, knowing our neighbors as school friends, and really investing in our community.

Are you a public school kid or a private school kid? Did that influence where you sent your own kids? Do they go to the neighborhood school?