“The learning process is something you can incite, literally incite, like a riot. And then, just possibly, hopefully, it goes on.” — Audre Lorde
A deep conversation about equal opportunity was incited recently in a group of Latino 8th graders participating in a summer program in a Boston public school.
I and another Class Action intern, Anna Rodriguez, led the “Take a Stand – American Dream” activity from Class Action’s new curriculum Created Equal, in which students think about the statement “If you work hard you can get ahead” and stand along a line between “strongly agree” and “strongly disagree.” Almost all the Boston students stood at the “agree” end of the spectrum.
But then I asked the students ‘Do you believe your parents or guardians work hard?’ All the students moved to the Strongly Agree side of the room. The look on their faces was amazing. The statement made them angry. A female student said quickly, ‘My mom works two jobs. She goes to work at 4 AM and isn’t able to get home until 8 PM. She works as a cleaning lady in a hotel. That’s a lot of work’. After letting them speak more about how hard their parents worked, most at working-class jobs, I asked ‘Do you think people who make more money than them work harder?’ They all moved to the other side of the room. I then said to them, “Well, a lot of you said that if you work hard, you can have the American Dream. You say your parents or guardians work hard. You said they still struggle with money. What does that say about the American Dream?”
I just kept asking questions that highlighted what they knew to be true. It just allowed for them to see the contradictions in their lives versus the narrative that society had taught them.
Created Equal uses popular education pedagogy: students are not just empty vessels you fill with knowledge; instead students learn about classism and the other isms through their own experience. As a facilitator, I just aimed to provide them with more complex language to enhance understanding of those experiences.
The American Dream exercise is a just a small slice of what the Created Equal curriculum has to offer students. In working with these students I realized now more than ever how silent our nation is about institutional/structural inequality. This curriculum starts the critical thinking and conscious raising necessary for social change. As Lorde said, the spark of critical consciousness can lead to a lifetime of riots of self.
The riot inside me was started when my father gave me John Lewis’s autobiography. Lewis is a famous Civil Rights Activist and U.S. Congressmen. His story reached a place inside of me that had always been troubled by the narrative offered of this country by my education.
In my classes issues of racism and sexism never reached below surface level, even in my AP US History course. The idea of ism’s as structural and institutional or intersecting was non-existent in analysis of historical or contemporary events. Classism never even got a mention. These experiences are why I am so passionate about Class Action’s Created Equal curriculum for K-12 students.