Unlearning the Lessons of Privilege | Adam Howard

What’s the underside of the messages wealthy, high-achieving students receive about the importance of being the best and the brightest? Adam Howard takes on this question, drawing on his years teaching in an affluent private school while also coordinating his school’s outreach program in urban schools. Howard found his wealthy students’ competitive outlook and sheltered lives led them to react insensitively and with downright ugliness when they couldn’t take first place in a sports event at an urban school.

Howard conducted a six-year study of how students in four elite schools viewed their place in the world and their roles as learners and citizens. He uncovered unspoken lessons that he believes teachers (perhaps unwittingly) communicate to such youth: (1) do whatever it takes to win; (2) people outside our class are too different to relate to; and (3) stick to the “right way” of getting ahead. Howard suggests ways teachers might communicate alternative lessons. His strategies include: (1) model honesty and acceptance of failure; (2) encourage openness to diverse perspectives; (3) connect to students’ enthusiasms; (4) encourage collaboration; and (5) develop students’ critical awareness of the world outside their privileged group.

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