Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Privilege Checking

Harvard's JFK School of Government apparently has a new course for Checking Privilege, raising questions about whether this is politically correctness going too far.  I am basically in agreement with the sentiment raised in the piece--that this is not too far but near. 

I do think that it makes sense that folks who aspire to be leaders in various political systems have a greater awareness that their "specialness" derives not just from their innate intelligence and hard work but often from the advantages accrued by being of the "right" race, gender, religion, class, whatever.  Why?  Because we often make bigtime assumptions about the nature of success, ignoring that some people face far more severe obstacles than others.  It would be handy if we had leaders who are aware of this reality. 

Indeed, it would be nice if our leaders had some empathy and compassion.  Perhaps being aware of one's smoother pathway might help in making decisions down the road about those who face more discrimination and less opportunity. 

To be clear, I do worry about that privilege analysis can lead to paralysis--that we have to spend every moment checking privilege.  But having one class in grad school that puts a spotlight on this does not seem to be problematic.  It might inform other classes and force profs to consider as they teach other classes that they need to be more aware of the biases in their syllabi. Which is not a bad thing.  Too much would be spending most/all discussions about privilege rather than about whatever is the focus of the particular class.  This requires a bit of a balancing act for some classes where the imperatives of the main topic and the importance of privilege interact more.

Then again, I am privileged ....

1 comment:

R. William Ayres said...

I think you put your finger on the issue. There's nothing wrong with some analysis, but analysis isn't really the issue here - it's compassion. What we really want is not leaders who know certain things, but leaders who care about others who are different from themselves. If you care, you will go to the trouble to learn what you need to know.

Unfortunately, graduate coursework is a terrible vehicle for changing people's motives. Yes, sometimes learning information you didn't know can lead to a shift - in people who were predisposed to that shift in the first place. But I expect that some will be frustrated that there isn't as much compassion and empathy as we would like - because when has there ever been? If a single grad course can solve THAT problem, it would be a miracle.