Teaching About Classism

Introduction

Classism is “differential treatment based on social class or perceived social class” (Class Action). By this rationale, middle-class and wealthy people are perceived as smarter and more capable than working-class and poor people. Therefore, the system of policies and practices in place in society benefit the upper classes while disadvantaging lower classes, eventually resulting in an immense gap between the rich and the poor. Teaching about classism is important because this type of prejudice is dangerous and is ultimately present in every aspect of our society. Through learning about this issue, students from more privileged classes can become class allies, while those from less privileged classes may feel like their hardships are being better recognized, even if on a smaller scale!

Resources

There are several resources available online for teaching about classism and class differences in general. For educators who want to teach their students about economic issues, U4SC has the topic resources Teaching About Economic Inequality, Teaching About Hunger and Poverty, and Teaching About Unemployment and Lack of Economic Opportunity!

Lesson Plans

  1. Class: Learning for Justice provides an abundance of resources about class to give students a better understanding of wealth, poverty, and systems of economic class along with income disparity. These resources also recognize the practices and policies in schools and beyond that favor the wealthy. Featured class resources include Questioning Payne, School Is No Place for Class(ism), and No Time Off.
  2. UNIT on CLASSISM: This unit on classism is split into four separate sections: Introduction, A Piece of the Pie, Classism, and Getting Together. The introduction introduces the overall unit and discusses two conflicts involving classism. In A Piece of the Pie, students will consider the marks of material success in American life. They will examine the four general economic groups in the U.S. and how the members of different groups perceive each other and themselves. The section Classism presents a model of class separation in the U.S. and encourages students to both recognize connections between class differences with other “isms” and explore the role of institutions in class separation. Lastly, in Getting Together, students will outline the ways in which people cope with the class system in the U.S. and some ways to resist class divisions by “getting together.”
  3. Classism – A Stark Reality: This site offers an introduction, explanations and information, annotated bibliography, support and resources, teaching resources, and videos about classism for teachers. All of these resources discuss classism in education and advise teachers on how to bring the subject matter of classism into their classrooms.
  4. Resources – Class Action: Class action provides an abundance of resources on class, specifically about class, race and class, films related to class, the poor and working class, the middle class, the wealthy owning class, cross-class couples, class and education, gender and class, class and religion, resources for children, and more! In addition to these free resources, teachers who are interested are able to purchase Created Equal: A Curriculum for High Schoolers and Middle Schoolers on Class and Classism for a fee.
  5. Building Understanding about Classism: The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario created a pamphlet on building understanding about classism to help teachers build an increased understanding of issues related to socioeconomic class, class bias, and classism. The pamphlet offers information on how teachers can prepare to challenge classism and, teacher resources and readings, and books to start/support the discussion of classism.

Articles

  1. Raising Awareness of Class Privilege Among Students: The Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) offers an article in the Fall 2008 issue of Diversity & Democracy on raising awareness of class privilege among students. The article discusses preparing to introduce high-level concepts, the challenge of teaching about social class, and example exercises to demonstrate these concepts. Overall, this article will help teachers understand how to break down the topic of social class differences and class privilege with students despite the fact that social class tends to be considered a taboo subject in the States.
  2. The Question of Class: Learning for Justice provides an article on the question of class in which the author, Paul Gorski, calls on fellow educators to examine the classist assumptions that have infiltrated classrooms and schools rather than view poverty as a one-dimensional issue. Gorski emphasizes helping students recognize our own class-based prejudices and the systemic inequities that oppress the poor. He also discusses how teachers themselves can transform their own consciousness and practice, implementing changes to provide students in poverty with equal resources and opportunities.
  3. Classism – America’s Overlooked Problem: The Rutgers Review has published an article on America’s overlooked problem of classism. The article first discusses how the so-called American Dream is not necessarily all that it is cracked up to be considering that there are many barriers, including economic class, that hinder those looking for opportunities. It goes on to explain how the impoverished often face significant challenges, such as greater difficulty in attaining success, dangers from poor living conditions, and lack of educational resources, that ultimately traps them into a cycle of poverty. Lastly, there is a focus on the intersection between many of America’s social issues, particularly racism, with classism.
  4. School Is No Place for Class(ism): Learning for Justice provides a brief article addressing how school is no place for classism. The article explains how the language that teachers use to address students can maintain and reinforce class structures and classist attitudes, so it is important to use anti-classist language.

Informational Sites

  1. Unpacking Racism and Classism Chart: Teaching for Change has created a chart unpacking racism and classism. The chart provides information on internalized, individual/interpersonal, societal/cultural, and institutional racism and classism.
  2. About Class: Class Action provides an information article about class, which includes an explanation of classism, class definitions, and class FAQs. There are also further readings about why class matters and the connection between class and race.
  3. NCCJ – Classism: NCCJ offers information about classism. There are sections of definitions involving class and classism, videos, statistics, questions to further ponder, articles, and resources.
  4. The Impacts of Social Class: lumen offers an informational article on the impacts of social class, discussing physical health, mental health, family life, education, religion, politics, crime and criminal justice. 

Conclusion

Teaching about classism may seem daunting, but it is truly important. The wealth gap between America’s richest and poorest families is only growing, causing classist attitudes to become more widespread. However, it is also key for educators to emphasize the intersection between race and classism. Though white people are victims of classism and live in poverty, African American, Latin American, and Native American populations in the United States are disproportionately impoverished.

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