Check Your “Privilege List”: New York School Gives Points for Being White, Male, or Straight
A New York public high school recently gave students in one class a “privilege reflection form” that’s turning more than a few heads. Thus, if you are an overweight black blind gay transgender woman from the Middle East and are planning to become a “scientist,” you’ve got zero chance of being among the “privileged” few…
Saratoga Springs High School students have recently been asked to score their “privilege status” based on a variety of factors using a special “privilege reflection form,” which raised concerns among parents worried about the assignment’s underlying message and the use of offensive words.
For example, students get 25 points if they’re white, 25 points if they’re male, 20 points if they’re straight – but they lose 100 points if they’re black, 50 points if they’re female, and 150 points if they’re gay, the Daily Gazette reported.
And this is only the beginning. Are you ready?
The form also included outdated and offensive words and point assignments that appeared to play on cultural stereotypes.
For example: Jewish was rated the most privileged religion – earning such students 25 points – but Christian students earned just 5 points, and if you’re Muslim? Minus 50 points, no exceptions.
Under the “disability” category, “able-bodied” students get 25 points, but “retarded” students lose 200 points and “blind” students lose 750 points.
In the “gender” category, students get 20 points if they’re “cis” and 10 points if they’re “trans (passable)” – but lose 100 points if they’re “genderqueer” and 500 if they’re “trans.”
There’s even an “attractiveness” category: Students get 20 points if they rate themselves a “9+/10” – but lose 10 points if they’re “overweight,” 20 points if they have an “ugly face,” and 40 points if they’re “disfigured.”
No kidding. Can’t add the form up? Down with 30 points!
Those working on the form “on a Friday or Saterday [sic] night” lose 15 points.
In the end, students with final point totals of negative 100 points or less are deemed “very disprivileged” while those with 100 or more points are instructed to “check [their privilege] daily.”
No wonder the worksheet got a lot of attention after parents posted it to the Saratoga Conservative Chicks Facebook page.
“When we looked at that form, we felt a lot of terms on there could really be offensive to a lot of kids,” said a parent whose son was given the assignment. “I felt like this lesson being pushed in the classroom is being more divisive than bringing kids together.”
“It’s emotional abuse,” one poster wrote. “Students are either made to feel guilt for being white, or made to feel like victims based on the negative score associated.”
“It’s not acceptable. It’s inappropriate. It’s inexcusable to be even introduced into a classroom,” Michelle King, whose daughter was given the form, said.
What did the school district say?
It’s not clear why and how the activity was used or how the school will work to ensure similar issues don’t happen again, but it appeared to be an attempt to get students to consider ways they are privileged and to foster a conversation about their differences.
The day before the activity made its way to the marketing class, teachers at the high school participated in a professional development session on cultural competency and awareness. The privilege survey was one of several activities discussed at a recent faculty meeting.
In a prepared statement, the district highlighted its core belief in “equity of opportunity” and said “our school district continues to champion efforts fostering and facilitating growth in becoming a culturally competent school community.”
A school district spokeswoman said that district officials would consider the assignment appropriate if the insensitive words were removed.
Districts across the region and state in recent years have done more to promote curriculum and lessons that focus explicitly on diversity and inclusion, pointing to the importance of understanding the different places students come from and the diverse world they will leave school for.
Catherine Snyder, director of the Clarkson University teachers education program based in Schenectady, found the topic “very sensitive and very personal,” saying the master’s program she manages last year added 15 hours of workshops focused on diversity and inclusion. More broadly, she said educators are working to move from teaching tolerance – getting students to accept one another – to teaching students a deeper level of understanding one another.
“We’ve challenged ourselves as a profession to take a big leap from tolerance to genuine understanding,” Snyder added to the Daily Gazette. “[Educators] are trying to get students to understand that people do think differently and it’s your job as an individual to understand people have different points of view… Kids need to start to be more understanding, and that’s not going to happen unless teachers are purposefully teaching in that direction.”
In Facebook comments in the days after the assignment was posted, some users said the general intent of the assignment – forcing students to consider ways that may benefit from privilege – was worthwhile and argued it’s not wrong to make students feel uncomfortable when dealing with uncomfortable topics in class.
“It should make Saratoga school students uncomfortable,” one Facebook user wrote. “It is a wake up call that not everyone has equal access.”