Introduction

Inequality is, unfortunately, everywhere in the United States. Over the years, economic inequality, in particular, has become even more prominent as the rich have become richer and the poor have become poorer. It is important for students to be aware of this concept as they enter the real world and begin to face its challenges.

Resources

Inequality can be a tough topic to broach both in and out of the classroom if one does not have the right background knowledge and resources. Nonetheless, there are many materials available on the internet for teaching students of all ages about inequality in the U.S. and around the world.

Lesson Plans

  1. Issues of Poverty: Teaching Tolerance provides four lessons to “help students understand that poverty is systemic, rooted in economics, politics and discrimination” and “provide evidence to show that poverty, far from being random, disproportionately affects Americans who have traditionally experienced oppression—African Americans, Latinos, immigrants and children.” These lessons, geared towards middle school and high school students, encourage students to recognize the issues of poverty and inequality and take action. Each of the lessons, however, focus on a different aspect of poverty. Topics from the connection between poverty and unemployment to the cycle of poverty to the connection between race and poverty are covered.
  2. Inequality in America: This lesson plan, which was inspired by French economist Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, includes two student readings and a classroom activity. The first reading discusses the growing between the wealthy and the rest of the population, while the second reading talks about whether progressive taxation is the solution for addressing the issue of inequality. Discussion questions follow each reading to ensure students grasped the main concepts before moving onto the two-part classroom exercise.
  3. How the Deck is Stacked: Income Inequality in the U.S.: PBS provides an extremely thorough lesson plan for high school students about income inequality in the United States. The plan includes the warm-up survey ‘How Does the U.S. Slice the Pie?’, a PBS NewsHour video survey ‘Land of the Free, Home of the Poor’, two ‘How the Deck is Stacked’ videos, a brief research activity on the Gini Coefficient, and an extension activity. Each activity is followed up by discussion questions that can be reviewed in small groups or as a whole class. 

Articles

  1. Learning about global inequalities helps youth become global citizens: Michigan State University published an article discussing global inequalities and how learning about them can help young people become leaders and take action. The piece begins with describing how large the wage gap is between the wealthiest and the poorest members of our society, and it is astonishing. The authors then go onto describe how inequalities based on a variety of factors, including income, race, and gender, still occur around the world on a day to day basis. Lastly, the article talks about Goal 10 and how the youth can get involved in reducing the inequality between people. This thought-provoking article is bound to bring on a lively discussion between students in the classroom!
  2. The Sociology of Social Inequality: ThoughtCo provides a description, overview, two main theories, and more on social inequality in their article, The Sociology of Social Inequality. The paper opens with explaining how social inequality came to be and its manifestation before jumping into how it can be measured and the different theories surrounding it. This informational article is best for middle or high school teachers who want their classes to learn about social inequality, the two main theories of social inequality, and how sociologists study social inequality. 
  3. Is inequality really on the rise?: Brookings published an article describing how the wage gap between the richest in the poorest is only growing. With the Occupy Wallstreet Movement in the U.S. and the Yellow Vest protests in France, inequality seems to be on the rise. The author, however, breaks down if this is really true (based on the facts) and discusses the concepts of the drivers of inequality and the policies to help reduce inequality.

Informational Sites

  1. 20 Facts About U.S. Inequality that Everyone Should Know: The Stanford Center on Poverty & Inequality published an informational page listing 20 facts about U.S. inequality that everyone should know. Though this resource was published in 2011, it is still extremely informative in the majority of these economic areas described. (If anything, these numbers have only gotten worse, not better, over time.) Graphs and information are given for men’s wage inequality, immigration inequality, homelessness, etc. This site page is a bit dense and would best be used to supplement lessons on inequality rather than be the main resource.
  2. Inequality is: This site is a great resource to use for a webquest or just to have students investigate during class time. The lessons are split up into five different sections: Inequality is… real, personal, expensive, created, and fixable. The interactive site has students do everything from choosing how to distribute income to the population before learning how it is truly distributed, learning how they fit into the economy based on their gender, age, education, and race, questioning whether their wages keep up with productivity, and more. This website presents the reality and effects of economic inequality very well!

Conclusion

The most important fact to be aware of when teaching students about different types of inequality is to be aware that they or their families may have faced or be currently facing some type of inequality (or issue), particularly economic inequality. Keeping this in mind, it is key to be sensitive when discussing these issues in order not to make anyone feel more uncomfortable than necessary. Save for that, good luck!

Additional Resources

  1. Inequality Ted Talks: There is a vast collection of Ted Talks on the subject of inequality. Speakers have made videos about topics from ending the economic injustice of poverty to social justice in the community to using one’s individual voice to fight back against injustices. There are so many good resources offered on a wide variety of economic, social, political, and cultural inequalities. 
  2. Economic Inequality Teacher Guide: AllSides for schools supplies a guide for teachers who want to design their own lesson plan on economic inequality and a completed lesson for use. For those who want to create their own lesson plan, the site provides a multitude of resources for background research and to help students engage in discussion. The Allsides Lesson Plan consists of learning goals, homework for students to complete before class, and a compilation of questions for students to talk about in a group during class.