The Willis Soccer Club — Playing Indoors Because of Rain (cc photo by J. Delp)

Is Privilege a Dirty Word In Our Schools?

The Willis Soccer Club meets every Friday.

There is no fee. There are no performance expectations or prerequisites. Everyone is welcome. Girls, boys, experienced athletes, novices, non-athletes. Show up. Be considerate of others. Have fun.

This is what we call “access.” Almost no barriers to participation.

As a school administrator, a significant part of my responsibility is to ensure that race, ethnicity, and socioeconomics do not limit the quality of education a student receives or their access to academic, extracurricular, or enrichment programs.

It is not a losing battle. But, it is uphill.

Privilege comes in many forms. Racial. Ethnic. Socio-economic. Academic. Access. The first three have a definitive impact on the last two.

Privilege is a word that evokes a wide range of emotions: fear, contempt, anger, confusion, and denial. Let’s be clear, privilege does not mean that a person has not worked hard to get to where they are — it simply means that there are certain obstacles they did not have to face. I come from a life of privilege. I have worked hard to overcome challenges and I still struggle, but I have had a clearer path to success than most.

As a society, we seem reluctant to recognize the impact that privilege has on education — especially student access to quality academic curriculum and access to enrichment activities. Even within our public schools, there are enormous discrepancies in student access that can largely be traced to the zip code of the school. It should not be a surprise that students who lack privilege require a higher level of support in order to access a quality educational experience. These supports come at a cost in terms of financial resources and human capital. Until we are willing to adopt funding formulas that help to off-set socio-economic privilege we will continue to see the negative impact of privilege.

Some will argue that the answer is charter schools or voucher programs. While these may help some families and students overcome obstacles presented by lack of access, I would argue that proponents don’t truly understand privilege. For students who come from poverty, or from a broken home, or who have experienced trauma a simple application may be present an insurmountable barrier to access. Consider some other issues of access.

Fees.

Transportation.

Before/after school responsibilities (like taking care of siblings)

Learning disabilities.

Access to supplies.

Lack of an adult advocate.

Behavioral issues.

Unfortunately, we have many schools (charter and public) that do not consider barriers to access and make it nearly impossible for students who lack the privilege to receive an education that is equitable to peers in more affluent zip codes. Fair is not equal.

I am proud of the activities and education we offer students at our school, but I also know we have a lot of room for improvement, and we need help.

We can do better for our students. As individuals. As a school. As a society.

Kids deserve it.