Books, newspapers deemed 'privilege' at academic conference

Educators at a national conference are learning that people who shared bedrooms as children lack privilege, and that “enslavement era-like concepts” continue to impede the success of minorities.

The 41-step Privilege Exercise, which is part of a week-long conference on educational strategies being held this week at the University of Connecticut, mentions various forms of privilege and marginalization and asks participants to step forward or backward, respectively, if the condition applies to them.

“This exercise has been designed to bring a group to certain conclusions regarding the concept of privilege and disadvantage,” the introduction unabashedly states, elaborating that it seeks to refute the notion that economic success is a product of talent and hard work.

“Because of the prevalence of racism and sexism in the US, and for the sake of obtaining clear results, this exercise focuses on those two forms of prejudice,” the description continues, adding that success “depends on many variables, including the development of self-esteem, our educational opportunities and attainment, and the support structures this society offers,” and is not determined solely by economic measures.

“Few White people in the history of the U.S. have ever been convicted and executed for killing a person of color,” reads Step 1. “All White persons take a step forward.”

“If you or your ancestors have ever learned that because of your race, skin color, gender, or ethnicity, that you are ugly or inferior, take one step back,” says the fifth step.

Additional steps tells participants to take a step forward if, when they were children, their parents had more than 40 books in the home; if their childhood home received a daily newspaper; or if they vacationed outside the United States or their country of origin “other than Mexico” before turning 18.

“African Americans, Native Americans, Chinese, and Mexicans were slaves in the United States,” reads Step 15 of the exercise. “All those whose ancestors were not members of these groups, take a step forward.”

Participants took a step back if they grew up sharing a bedroom with someone else, had ancestors who were defeated and had their land taken by the US, consider television or movie roles played by people of their race, gender, or ethnicity “degrading or shameful,” or if they “felt” they didn’t get a job or promotion based on their race.

“If you will never have to wonder if you were hired to meet a racial affirmative action goal, take one step forward,” reads Step 38.

Step 40 instructs participants to take a step back “if you were ever told you must dress or act in a proper way because it reflected on your whole racial or ethnic group,” and the final step instructs them to take another step back “if you were ever told to speak better English.”

“Some ethnic diversity enhances the outcome [of the Privilege Exercise] but is not required,” the instructions say. “If this is done with an entirely White audience, the group may be divided into two parts. One groups [sic] will represent themselves. The other group will be asked to imagine the they [sic]are a Black, Native American, or Latino child being raised in an impoverished family and area.”

“Participants should be advised prior to these questions to remember their feelings during the exercise. Did they feel ashamed that they were part of a group that took a step forward or backward? Did they want to be a part of the group moving forward or backward?”

The Privilege Walk exercise was devised by Ken Dickson, an educational consultant who is developing the Educational Support and Consulting Network (EDSCN), which “will focus on advocacy for parents of learners with exceptional needs; including diversity and educational equity services.”

Dickson also delivered a presentation at the conference about improving the participation of racial and ethnic minorities in gifted learning programs, arguing that the legacy of slavery continues to impose obstacles to their success by influencing the mentalities of both students and instructors.

“On paper, enslavement ended over 150 years ago,” the notes for Dickson’s presentation state. “In the hearts and minds (attitudes) of some, it did not. In some individuals, enslavement era-like concepts live on. These individuals harbor so-called ‘slave master mentalities.’ In other individuals, enslavement era-like concepts live on as well, but they harbor ‘slave mentalities.’”

The summary explains that people with “slave master” mentalities actively “create and support concepts of separation, segregation, discrimination, and underrepresentation in gifted programs,” while those with “slave” mentalities “see it, but say nothing about it,” because they “expect and allow” those concepts to flourish.

“They fear speaking out against the slave master because they have been intimidated and fear public and private humiliation—even at the expense of allowing the continual exclusion of traditionally underrepresented learners from gifted program services,” the document asserts. “Both mentalities can be observed over and over in many endeavors in today’s society.”

Participants are then instructed to think about people they know who have “slave” or “slave master” mentalities.

“Choose a road sign as a metaphor that describes your experiences, thoughts, [and] feelings, regarding how race/racism impacts gifted education,” reads page 24 of Dickson’s presentation. Forty-four road signs, including “deer crossing” and “no U-turn” are listed.

Both the Privilege Walk exercise and Dickson’s presentation were part of the University of Connecticut’s week-long Confratute, which the school describes as “a combined CONFerence, and an instiTUTE, with a lot of FRATernity in between” that is designed to “[provide] educators with research-based practical strategies for engagement and enrichment learning for all students, as well as meeting the needs of gifted and talented students.”

Campus Reform reached out to Dickson for comment, but had not received a response by press time.

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