A high school teacher wanted to share an important life lesson with his students.
But a dull lecture just wouldn’t do. So he planned a simple interactive exercise. All he needed was some scrap paper for each student and a recycling bin at the front of the room.
He set up the exercise by telling the class that they represent the country’s population and everyone has a chance to get rich. But there was a catch:
“To move into the upper class, all you must do is throw your wadded-up paper into the bin while sitting in your seat.”
The results were about what you’d expect. Most of the students in the front made it into the bin, and most of the students in the back didn’t.
The teacher explained: “The closer you were to the recycling bin, the better your odds. This is what privilege looks like.”
Understandably, the only students who complained about fairness were those in the back of the room.
Students in the front of the room, however, focused only on the task at hand with little consideration for their advantage — their privilege.
That’s how privilege works. It can give us clearer insight into both our present and future. But it can also distract us from the challenges people behind us face in pursuit of the same goals.
In that sense, people with privilege can themselves be an obstacle to social mobility for the underprivileged.
The teacher concluded with a statement that gets to the heart of the matter:
“Your job as students who are receiving an education is to be aware of your privilege and use this particular privilege called ‘education’ to do your best to achieve great things, all the while advocating for those in the rows behind you.”