Exploring privilege by throwing bits of Paper: An improved Exercise


This post (#5 of 27), after very careful deliberation, revisits a classroom game supposedly designed to teach about privilege.

…and after very careful deliberation (and a few re-writes), I’ve decided to skip the details and go straight to the bottom line:

The game as it is originally described is ineffective and might even be harmful.

The game requires a more structured debrief discussion, using a text or framework.

Here’s the summary of the game description again:

Throw the paper in the bin - dont tell I put some adhesive on the outer edge of mine

EXERCISE SUMMARY:  Students must throw a crumbled up piece of paper into a bin while staying seated in their chairs. The students in the front row have an advantage but usually don’t realize it… at least until the students in the back row protest their disadvantage. Debrief. 

The problem with that game is that it stops at the level of social awareness and discussion, and doesn’t provide a structure to focus that discussion into important distinctions about privilege, nor about the specific kinds of social action that can help ameliorate social inequities. No, I don’t consider developing a guilt complex or pandering obsequiously with slogans emblazoned onto t-shirts to be useful forms of social action. In fact, those things can backfire… or at the very least, waste a lot of energy and attention on empty rhetoric.

What this exercise needs is a text to read, maybe something like this:

Blum, Lawrence (2008). “‘White privilege’: A mild critique”. Theory and Research in Education (SAGE Publications) (6(3)).

Or if long form reading doesn’t work for the audience, give them following three categories of privilege to structure the discussion:

  1. ‘Spared Injustice’ privilege   – where the privileged person doesn’t have to deal with something that nobody should deal with
  2. ‘Unjust enrichment’ privilege – where the privileged person gains unfairly at the expense of a less privileged person
  3. ‘Non-injustice-related’ privilege – where the privileged person happens to have an advantage that doesn’t come at anyone else’s expense

Each of these has very different moral characteristics, and each suggests different ways of improving social equity.

With that in place, the students could re-design the rules of the game, including chair and bin placements, number of bins, seating assignment processes, etc. and to analogize those back to contemporary social issues.

With just that extra bit of instructional scaffolding, I think this paper-throwing game might be recoverable.

crumpled paper

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About danspira

My blog is at: http://danspira.com. My face in real life appears at a higher resolution, although I do feel pixelated sometimes.

Posted on January 6, 2015, in Instructional Design, Learning, Metaphors and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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