A Saratoga Springs High School teacher wanted to teach her students about privilege, but may have done it in the worst way possible.
As students resume school in the new academic year amidst a global health crisis and growing racial tensions in the United States, a teacher at Saratoga Springs High School decided it would be a good time to talk to their students about privilege. Privilege is the way you navigate through life as a result of the institutions you benefit from. For instance, a White man in America has more privilege than a Black woman because, institutionally, he receives more invisible "benefits," also known as privilege. Privilege could mean anything, from the number of books you have at home to which college you went to. To teach students about this concept, a teacher used a "privilege worksheet," The Daily Gazette reports.
Students were expected to add or subtract points depending on the category they were filling out. The categories included, among others, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and disability. When students were part of a minority group, a group that it is typically oppressed or not catered to via institutional or systemic means, they were asked to subtract points from their overall score. Meanwhile, those in privileged groups were asked to add points. So, for example, someone without a disability would add 25 points to their score whereas someone who was blind would have to subtract 750 points from their score as per the worksheet.
Parents quickly got a hold of the privilege worksheet... And they were not happy. Several took to the Facebook page Saratoga Conservative Chicks to post photos of the worksheet and criticize it. "It’s emotional abuse," one parent stated. "Students are either made to feel guilt for being White, or made to feel like victims based on the negative score associated." Others expressed concerns about the insensitive words used on the sheet. One example of this is the word "r*t*rd*d," which appeared under the disability category. The word has been denounced for several years now as a slur for its hurtful usage, so it was surprising that the word was printed on a worksheet distributed to young high school students.
After numerous parents expressed their anger about the worksheet, the school district released a statement. It read, "An unmodified version of the privilege reflection form was distributed to students without the removal of insensitive words. The district does not condone the use of the document with these insensitive words." However, the district also clarified that it intended to make conversations about privilege and social justice more common within classrooms as a way to acknowledge the diversity that exists within the Saratoga community. The jury is still out, nonetheless, on whether this activity added anything fruitful to that conversation.
For many students, the worksheet could have been a breach of privacy, especially for those within the LGBTQIA+ community or those with invisible disabilities. On the other hand, educators are confronted with the question of how to encourage their students to discuss privilege and oppression openly, and many believe such a worksheet could be one way to do so. Perhaps if the activity were rethought in order to take into account privacy and confidentiality, and reworked to remove any mention of insensitive language, this could have been a more worthwhile exercise. The lesson, however, remains: it is time for those who are privileged to check their privilege on the regular, no matter how "guilty" they may feel.