Lesson Plans Days 11 & 12: power structures part II, and the final writing piece

Day Eleven: Power Structures, part II

Lesson Development: Building off of yesterday’s lesson on how historic forces have shaped current inequality and landscapes of opportunity in the US, today I wanted to explore how contemporary systemic discrimination and privilege operates. Specifically, I wanted to highlight the concept of white privilege in concrete, accessible ways. To do this, I created a list of white privileges that I thought sixth graders would be able to understand by drawing from and expanding upon the list of white privileges in Peggy McIntosh’s  essay, Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. Additionally, I felt it was important that students begin thinking about what they can do to change oppressive systems. I wanted them to understand how even speaking out against – and so calling attention to – racist, sexist, etc. comments or actions is essential in an era where people believe racism and sexism are largely things of the past.


  • Review yesterdays card game:
  • · What was it? Why did we play it? What were the two main things that made it unfair? What did that represent?
  • How do racism and other forms of systemic discrimination operate today?
  • Physically run through a scenario/skit to illustrate this: Ms. Pierre is working for a corporation that is hiring right now. Everyone in the class needs a job, so we all have to apply. That’s fifteen people all going for the same job! A lot of competition, it’s going to be hard to get that job… But what if Ms. Pierre imposes her prejudice on the job – she decides that someone with brown eyes just isn’t what she’s looking for. She doesn’t make that official – that would be illegal now – so she still lets everyone apply, she just doesn’t seriously consider anyone with brown eyes.
  • · Now how many people are left competing for the same job?
  • · Is it easier or harder for non-brown eyed people to get that job now?
  • · Do the non-brown eyed people even notice?
  • Even though official discrimination is illegal now, when many people in positions of power hold prejudice, it becomes part of a system.      Continue reading

Lesson Plan Day 10: power structures, part I (or, you’d better pull up those bootstraps)

Day Ten: Power Structures, part I

Lesson Development: I created this lesson in an attempt to provide students with an accessible simulation of the real world effects that systemic discrimination – specifically racism – has on society. I wanted to create an easy to play game that would clearly illustrate the way privilege and discrimination make it easier and harder for certain groups to acquire and retain wealth, and to get students thinking about how efforts to redress inequality must take into account how the economic “playing field” is not, and has never been, level.

As readers can see in the structure of the card game below, I specifically designed it with the historic economic experience of African-Americans in mind. However, the parallels the game draws to legal discrimination, as well as the consolidation of wealth, allow the game to provide more general lessons on systemic inequality and privilege. There are also references to specific moments in the history of United States’ racial opportunity structure. Part Two of the game is meant to represent the post-Civil Rights era, where white supremacy is no longer inscribed in law, but de facto white economic privilege remains. At the same time, the second phase of the game also provides one more added “bump” for some players, intended to represent the way the GI Bill, which, only two decades prior to the Civil Rights Movement, provided many white soldiers returning from World War II with privileged access to jobs, education, and housing.

I chose to call the game Bootstraps, referencing the false idea that the socioeconomic structure in the US provides all people with equal economic opportunities, an idea invoked by the old expression, “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps!”           Continue reading

Lesson Plans Days 7-9: introducing race and racism and writing about racial identity

Day Seven: Thinking About Race

Lesson Development: My main goal in this lesson was to introduce students to the definition of racism as racial prejudice plus power, a definition contrary to the mainstream definition of racism simply as racial prejudice. I felt it was essential the students have some context for systemic racism, so I also included a brief history on the creation of white supremacy. Additionally, I wanted to use the lesson as an opportunity to analyze some of our own racial prejudices and stereotypes. To get the conversation on stereotyping started, I employed another essay from Starting with I called My Lebanese Passport, by a Lebanese teenager who gets racially profiled at the airport. Lastly, I wanted to use the lesson to explore some false or problematic notions of race/ism the students had expressed during previous lessons, such as the belief that white people are all mixed race, or that racist jokes are OK as long as no one they offend is present. It is important to note that this is entirely too much to tackle in one day; after failing to get through the lesson in a single day, I split it across two.

  • Define Race: Race refers to our physical characteristics, especially skin tone, which is regulated by a chemical in our skin called melanin. Physical characteristics of racial groups are the only things genetic about race. Everything else we associate with specific races is learned behavior or a stereotype.
  • What does mixed race mean? “Even though a lot of white people have heritage in different countries, it doesn’t mean that they are mixed race. For example, I have Irish, Italian, and French heritage but I’m still just called white.” Racial groups are based on skin color and geographical origin, not necessarily national origin.
  • What does “white” mean? What does “people of color” mean?
  • What are the different races?
  • Define prejudice: Literally, pre-judgment, especially of a person or group.
  • Define racism as prejudice plus systemic power. This means people of color can have racial prejudice, but not be racist. This is likely to confuse students at first – they will likely want examples of how white people are in power and how people of color are disadvantaged.
  • How do people have power in our society? Who does what? Take answers from the class, important things to discuss include:
  • · Running companies
  • · Voting/holding public office
  • · Media control (refer to the ads from day 3 if necessary)
  • · Wealth
  • · Legal system – police, courts, lawmakers
  • · Schools – Whom do we learn about? Who asses students, and how? Naomi suggests discussing NCLB and the achievement gap, as this may resonate.
  • “Was it always this way?” How did racism start? In the late 1600s, ruling whites owning both slaves and European indentured servants (people who had debt, wanted passage to a colony, etc – they usually worked in three to seven year contracts to earn their freedom) feared organized revolt. So they divided the two groups by giving their European servants privileges (esp. jobs as slave overseers themselves) African slaves did not have. This made poor Europeans feel that they were more important and better than African slaves. At the same time, Europeans needed justification for keeping Africans in perpetual, race-based slavery, so they made up stories and rumors that said people with darker skin are less than human. The combination of the special privileges given to poor Europeans and a general denigration of all things of color encouraged poor European colonists to see themselves as having more in common with their wealthy European owners and less as an oppressed social class having more in common with African slaves (and therefore, less likely to partner with African slaves to overthrow wealthy Europeans). The idea that whites were superior to other colors also conveniently served as justification for the genocide of the indigenous [define] and the theft of their land (this also fit well with previous justifications of Indigenous peoples being “savage heathens”). “White” replaced terms like “Christian” and “Englishman” to separate European immigrants from Africans and Indigenous peoples as well as other people of color. (Though it is important to note, some later Europeans immigrant groups – notably the Irish and Italians, and more recently, the Jews – were not considered white when they arrived in the US. These groups had to give up parts of their cultural heritage that marked them as foreign before being allowed the privileges of whiteness. Of course, these groups were only able to do so because they had the physical characteristics already associated with whiteness.)   Continue reading

Lesson Plans Days 5 & 6: exploring personal narratives by youth and discussing LGBTQ identity

Day Five: Reading Personal Narratives About Identity

Lesson Development: I felt it was important to provide students with plenty of examples of other youth writing personal narratives about identity. Drawing from a collection of personal narratives written by youth called Starting With I: Personal Essays by Teenagers, I selected two essays, both of which deal with socially salient identities and the effect that family and community has on our identities. A Shortcut to Independence is about an Indian girl’s quest to cut off her hair, and in doing so, transgress traditional conceptions of femininity and claim agency for herself. I Hated Myself is an essay by a closeted Latino teenager about his experience with homophobia, depression, and attempted suicide. As I was reading this piece to an eleven and twelve year old audience, it was necessary to omit some passages that deal heavily with recreational drug use. Both of these stories also speak to the issue of internalization of societal values, and serve as an excellent jumping off point to discuss the negative reactions people face when they transgress societal norms.                Continue reading

Lesson Plans Days 1-4: identity overview and thinking about gender

**These are the first of several lesson plans I created for the identity unit at Miller’s Hill Elementary. The plans typically appear as they were initially written, with the body listed in bullet points in the order I intended the lesson to follow. However, nearly all of the lessons were forced to change and adapt to student needs during implementation.**

Day One: Identity Overview

Lesson Development: I wanted to use the first day to get the kids thinking about their own identities and all the different pieces that make them who they are. As this day was the introduction to a longer unit on socially constructed identity, I felt it was essential that they first understood the distinction between socially constructed identities and aspects of their personality such as likes and dislikes. I struggled for a while on how to translate “socially constructed identities” into language accessible for sixth graders, but ultimately realized that they would supply the language themselves. In talking about different aspects of a person’s identity and asking students to group different traits together, students were clearly able to see the difference and offered words like “choice” to separate them. The terminology for “socially constructed” easily became “identities you can’t choose” or “identities you’re born into.”

  • What do I mean when I say ‘identity’? “What are some ways you would identify yourself?”
  • Take a moment and write a response to the question ‘who are you?’ “It could be a narrative paragraph, or even just a list of attributes – we’re just trying to generate ideas.”
  • After about five minutes, ask students to share their lists with a neighbor and look at similarities and differences. What did people focus on? Take some volunteers (yourself included) to share and write down some of the words people used on the board. Talk about similarities and differences as a class.
  • Differentiate socially constructed identity from personality traits. Start by asking students to group the identity attributes, and then ask them why they grouped the way they did. “What if we were going to categorize different identities? What would go together?” “What do X and X have in common?”
  • Things to consider in grouping identities: choice (being born into certain identities), societal expectations (rules), societal organization (explicit examples: racialized slavery, women’s suffrage, segregation). Socially constructed identities are often the labels other people apply to you by looking. If students are really stuck, stand in front of the class and ask them to describe you, see what comes out of it.
  • What are some of those types of identity? (Get explicit – race, class, gender, sexuality etc.). “Let’s return to our lists now – is there anything people would add to the lists about themselves now that we’re thinking along those lines?”
  • If there is time at the end, begin brainstorming for tomorrow’s writing exercise. Tell the class we will be writing stories that have to do with these types of identities. First take volunteers to share ideas for stories they have and then try to work with students who are stuck. Continue reading