When we wrote an autobiographical assignment earlier in the term, we were prompted with, “What events or people or experiences can you think of that influenced your understanding of teaching and or your desire to be a teacher?” Almost always, we find things interesting that do not fit the norm – things that stand out from the everyday. Thus, when I reflected, I chose events, people, and experiences that were not part of my everyday life, but rather exceptional instances – these make for a better story.
What got left out then is any sort of reflection on those constituent parts of my being, those things that I take for granted every day. The privilege of my being white didn’t come to mind. My dominant position as a male went under the radar. My heterosexuality met the expected social norm, so I didn’t have to think about it. I acutely remember every instance of bias and barrier against me – I blithely forget all of my privilege and advantage.
Imagine each and every barrier as a wall. For many of those walls, society has built an escalator for me to get over them – hop on, don’t think – the ride will be over soon! – no effort required. My advantages will not be shared by all of my students – many will struggle to overcome those walls that society has given me a pass on. When I can’t see my own escalators, I can’t have empathy for students trying to climb up a straight wall. I’m blind to their struggle because I didn’t experience it and wasn’t even aware that I got a free ride over the top.
This reflection and discussion has no end. I can’t change the past, and I’ll never recognize all of my advantages. However, I can try and make those things invisible, visible. At this point in the discussion, two key things remain to be said:
1) Positive effort, by me, to bring forward those parts of my experience that I didn’t notice and don’t remember is essential to becoming less oppressive. I need to look for the escalators society built for me.
2) Society is not solely to blame – I participated in that society, and so I bear a portion of guilt. I rode those escalators. I looked down on those struggling to climb the walls and didn’t even notice the difference. I bear fault, and while I may not find relief from that weight, I can actively work to keep from picking up more.
2) b) To carry this analogy just a bit too far, I need to clarify – tacit acceptance of society’s hierarchical structure is how I accrue more guilt – active education and fighting against the barriers we erect is the only way to keep myself from gaining more culpability as an oppressive member of society.