Some parents at Aloha High School in suburban Portland, Oregon are questioning the wisdom of a teacher’s decision to send his students home with a “white privilege survey” that asked them to evaluate the various ways that they may or may not benefit from white privilege. Other parents applauded the intellectual exercise as a means for their children to form their own opinions about how race functions in their lives.
The school, located in the suburb of Beaverton, is ethnically diverse, according to statistics published by U.S. News & World Report. The student body comprises 34 percent Hispanic students, and 45 percent white students. Native Americans, blacks, and Asians and Pacific Islanders also attend the school, where approximately half of the students are listed as “economically disadvantaged.”
Jason Schmidt, a white parent, is not happy that his son is being asked to fill out the survey. “I feel that he should be learning actual education, and not be a part of some social experiment or teacher’s political agenda,” he told KATU. “The way this survey is read, it almost wants to like, shame you for being white.”
But Sarah Rios-Lopez says that talking about race has to start somewhere, and she wants it to start in the classroom. “We are first of all judged by the color of our skin,” she told KATU.
“Education is supposed to be provocative. The way we get people to challenge their assumptions about the world is to provoke them,” Sociology professor Randy Blazak said. The reporter noted that most of the parents supported the teacher because they believe it’s a conversation that students need to be having.
In 1989, Peggy McIntosh wrote the essay, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” in which she laid out a series of questions for white people to answer about what they expected as they moved through the world. And, she emphasized, while the term “white privilege” was a common appellation, “privilege” was a misnomer. Instead, she said, privilege was simply an expectation of norms that all within our society are entitled to. Being aware that many people who are not white do not receive even these simple courtesies can help to awaken white people to systemic oppression. She wrote: “I want, then, to distinguish between earned strength and unearned power conferred systemically. Power from unearned privilege can look like strength when it is in fact permission to escape or to dominate. But not all of the privileges on my list are inevitably damaging. Some, like the expectation that neighbors will be decent to you, or that your race will not count against you in court, should be the norm in a just society. Others, like the privilege to ignore less powerful people, distort the humanity of the holders as well as the ignored groups.”
Schmidt insisted that “with the amount of money that we are paying,” he didn’t want his kid indoctrinated into some political fad.
Watch KATU video here: