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Mapping Power

Source: Zoric, T. (2005). Challenging Class Bias. Toronto: TDSB. Adapted from Educating for a Change, Arnold and Burke et al. (1991).
Time: 60 minutes

Students will become aware of the interconnectedness of power operating through ideas, individual actions, and institutional practices.

• Students are able to identify racist, sexist, and classist behaviours and ideas.
• Students begin to understand the different (i.e. institutional, ideological, individual) and connected ways in which power operates.
• Students begin to understand how to challenge and change ideas, individual actions, and institutional practices.

• Chart paper & markers
• Overhead or handouts of the Power Triangle (optional)

Prior Knowledge
• Students should have an understanding of definitions of stereotype, prejudice, and discrimination (individual and institutional).
• Students should have an understanding of the definitions of classism, racism, sexism, heterosexism, and ableism.

Teaching/ Learning Strategies
1. Individually, ask students to complete each of the following statements with at least 2 responses.
a. I know that racism is happening when I see/hear…
b. I know that sexism is happening when I see/hear…
c. I know that classism is happening when I see/hear…
2. Ask students to share their examples with the class. Record responses on the board, overhead or flip chart. As you record them, sort them visually into 3 groups, depending on whether the examples are institutional, individual, or ideas and beliefs. Each of the groups should roughly represent 1 corner of a triangle. Do not name or label each of the groups.
A. Institutional Examples
i) School courses ignore or marginalize the contributions and history of
women, people of colour and working people.
ii) The media portrays certain groups of people as criminals.
iii) Certain students are streamed into applied, workplace and college classes
iv) None of the kids in the storybooks look like me.
B. Ideas/Beliefs
i) Poor people don’t work hard.
ii) Some kinds of work are more respected and valued than others (e.g.
physical work vs. intellectual work).
iii) We should have tighter immigration controls because many immigrants are
on welfare or are criminals and don’t really contribute to our country.
C. Individual examples
i) Name calling.
ii) Inappropriate (racist, sexist, classist, homophobic) jokes.
iii) Physically threatening, bullying or harming someone.

NOTE: Many examples will likely be based on individual experiences, as students may be less able to identify institutional and ideological exercises of power. This can provide a diagnostic evaluation of students’ prior knowledge of how power works and their familiarity with certain systems. This can be an important starting point from which to build to emphasize how power systems are linked to one another.

3. Tell students that you have organized their examples into 3 categories. Ask them what they notice about the examples in each of the categories.
a. How could we name each of the categories? Draw in the lines linking the categories and making visible the triangle. Introduce the categories of institutional examples, ideas and individual examples that correspond to the different sides of the triangle.
b. Why is it easier for us to think of examples in certain categories?
4. How are these categories connected to one another? If we drew arrows to show the relationship between them, which way would the arrows point? Help students to think of all the ways in which the categories are connected to one another (e.g. how one causes the other and vice versa.).
5. How does this triangle help us understand how classism/ racism/ sexism work? Reinforce that ‘isms’ operate in institutions, individual behaviours, and ideas.

Thus, classism (as an example) can be understood as a system of power that operates in institutions, individual behaviours, and ideas, and which is linked to income, occupation, education, and wealth.

6. In a guided discussion, ask students: how we start to challenge classism, racism and sexism? Do we start with ideas? Individual? Or systemic practices? Remind students that to work on one and ignore the others will not be effective. We need to look at changing the way institutions work. Changes must be made to individual and institutional behaviour in order to challenge racist, sexist and classist ideas.
7. Ask students to brainstorm: what can be done to challenge ideas and beliefs? (Education);
individual actions? (Rules and consequences); and institutional discrimination? (Political action)
8. As this can be a challenging concept for students to grasp, keep this triangle on overhead or chart paper to refer to and add to throughout subsequent lessons. It is an important tool in locating examples of the ‘isms’ and exercises of power to understand the interconnected ways in which power operates.


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