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Terezia Zoric, Jenny Chen and students

Title:  Survival of ‘the Richest’?: Working with Students on Challenging Class Bias

Session presenters: Terezia Zoric (Lecturer, Departments of Theory and Policy Studies & Sociology and Equity Studies in Education, OISE), Jenny Chen (Teacher, Toronto DSB), and Students (Anila Akram, Dong Ling Chen, Rachael Chong, Megan Horsley, Mika Imai, Clara Neden, Matt Saunders, Spiros Vavougios)

Organization: OISE, TDSB

Contact information: tzoric@oise.utoronto.ca; jenny_chen98@hotmail.com

Brief description of workshop:

Participants in this interactive workshop learn a variety of beginner-friendly strategies teachers and students can use to challenge class bias in school settings. We highlight a life-size board game; a student directed video; teaching/learning documents; and other practical tools useful for starting (or continuing) the difficult, meaningful, and necessary conversations about classism with students, staff, administrators, and the broader community.

Workshop goals:

  • To raise awareness of an entrenched ‘ism’ that is often invisible or misunderstood – and usually left unchallenged in our schools.
  • To promote critical and creative thinking about socio-economic inequality.
  • To share strategies and insights about short, medium, and long-term ways to challenge class bias in schools and society.

Strategies used:

  • The workshop begins with the reading of a poem written by grade 4 and 5 students from North Bay, Ontario.
  • Next, we share our rationales for investigating class bias in K-12 settings, as well as Initial Teacher Education programs.
  • A provocative activity from the resource document, Challenging Class Bias, a student-made video on poverty, and the life-size board game, are highlighted.
  • The remaining time is spent in small group discussions de-constructing a variety of examples of class bias in school settings, mainly facilitated by the high school students.
  • Finally, a number of key resources for educators and students are showcased. 

Two key resources that support our work:

Zoric, Terezia. (2005). Challenging Class Bias. Toronto District School Board/Centre for the Study of Education and Work (OISE).  This teaching/learning resource is useful for all educators interested in promoting social and economic justice. The activities within it can be used to enrich the regular classroom curriculum or advisory/mentoring periods for Grades 5–12 (although mainly 7-12). It is organized into six thematic parts: Understanding Power; Needs, Wants, and Haves; Understanding Class Bias in the Media; Investigating Poverty and Economic Inequality; Labour Issues; and Global Connections. Samples of cross-curricular expectations are listed for each section.

Media Education Foundation, Class Dismissed: How TV Frames the Working Class (Narrated by Ed Asner) http://www.mediaed.org/   Based on the forthcoming book by Pepi Leistyna, the video documentary Class Dismissed explores the narrow working class representations on American television's sitcoms, reality shows, police dramas, and daytime talk shows. Featuring interviews with media analysts and cultural historians, it exposes disturbing depictions of working class people that reinforce the myth of meritocracy. It explores the ways in which race, gender, and sexuality intersect with class, offering a more complex reading of television's often one-dimensional representations. A free full-length preview is available at the URL above, and a substantial Study Guide is available from http://www.mediaed.org/assets/products/411/studyguide_411.pdf

Issues which we continue to struggle with in our own pursuits of educational activist goals:

  • Many teachers and other educators lack the basic awareness that class bias is a problem in our education and work spaces. Economic inequality and injustice is largely an unacknowledged or even taboo subject.
  • There are not very many resources available to help us talk about social class and class bias. As such, educators are reluctant to pursue conversations about class bias because they feel they do not have the necessary skills or tools to do so.
  • As with other equity issues, anti-classism education requires the concerted work of many friends and allies. It can be frustrating in a school setting to be labelled as the “equity person”. How can we make sure we support each other in this important and related equity work?

Next steps (E.g., Supports [theoretical or practical] that may enhance our ongoing or future practice):

  • Continue to make more meaningful theoretical and practical links with educational and community activists struggling to challenge racism, sexism, hetero-sexism, ableism, and other forms of social injustice. Make connections between socio-economic and ecological justice agendas.
  • Expand on and strengthen our network of socio-economic justice activist educators.
  • Step back and do some personal reflections to see what we have accomplished and what else needs to be done. Far too often, we are so caught up with trying to “fix”, support, advocate, and challenge existing policies. One consequence is that we can lose sight of what is most important in the long term. It is equally important to draw inwards as well as to connect with other activist educators.

“Big ideas” that we want people to walk away with:

  • Some inequities may appear to be invisible – whether they are or are not! –so we need to be acutely aware that social identities come in various forms that may require looking beyond the surface of a situation.
  • Social justice is impossible without economic and environmental justice; they are all linked. Activist educators are doing their students and communities a disservice if they do not raise awareness of, and facilitate critical responses to, all three dimensions of injustice.  However, if it is done well, activist-oriented equity education is hard work that requires strong supports from beyond the classroom.
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