In our daily consumption of mainstream and social media, we can find blatant examples of privilege – white, class, gender, and so on. We also hear about the importance of education, and that it is one of the 14 social determinants of health. However, it was a quiet conversation this weekend that has me reflecting on my own privilege of education.
After recently writing a University mid-term exam paper, I ran into a few classmates and the talk naturally turned towards how we did on the exam. I shared that I had done well, but I knew I could have done better. After a few minutes of conversation, it was clear that I had done much better than they had.
I have thought about my own privilege, and yes, there are the obvious examples; I am white and middle class, with all the advantages they bring. But this conversation got me thinking about the actual effect that these privileges have on my successes in education.
I had never really given much thought to education and what it means to come from a family of educated people that prioritize education. But I can recognize that I have skills that continue to make me successful in the Canadian school system. Here are three contributing factors to my academic success:
- First and foremost, I know how to write well. Do I have a natural affinity for language? Well, if finding a typo in a billboard while driving 100 km/h down the road is any indication, then yes. I memorize letter and language patterns and enjoy playing with them. But my family enjoyed language, modeled it for me, taught me and celebrated my written work. My grandfather would dictate letters to me and I would type them. He knew how to write, as did my grandmother, my mother, my father, and my extended family.
- Secondly, I know how to think critically. This is a complex set of skills, but in a nutshell, this means I can read a question, research ideas, points of view and information, and be confident in sharing my own conclusions about the topic. To learn more, here is an article that explains critical thinking. But more than this, I feel justified in speaking up because I believe my opinion is valuable and has merit. I have been taught this since I was small, and have never known any different.
- Lastly, I know how to manage my time effectively in an exam. I strategize. In writing this exam, I saw the first question was worth 60% and the 2nd question was worth 40%. Therefore I divided my time accordingly. I also broke down the process in steps; choosing to first read the articles, find the quotes that I felt would be most significant in my essay, and write them down. Finally, I wrote the essay based on that structure of ideas that I had already created.
My own focus during the exam had been on the quality of my answers. I do care more about my growth and understanding. However, it was obvious afterward and during this conversation that it was about the grades. And I felt bad for having shared my mark.
We often learn more from mistakes than when we get things right. As I unearth my own privilege and biases, it is more uncomfortable to make these mistakes than when I was ignorant. Much like a snake sheds a skin that it has outgrown, being comfortable with being uncomfortable makes room for real growth. Learning from these mistakes is worth more to me than any mark.
So how about you? How has the value your family places (or not) on education impacted your own success in the school system? In life?