Public schools are designed, in theory, to provide a free and equal education to all students, regardless of socioeconomic background. As the U.S. Department of Education declares, “equity in education is vital because equality of opportunity is a core American value.” However, some students experience more privilege than others, despite the best efforts of public schools to provide a free and equal public education to all.
Students at Gull Lake High School have borne witness to various displays of discrimination, often based on social class within the school.
“I have definitely seen students getting picked on because of their social class,” sophomore Clara Sandell said. “There’s a stigma around things that suggest that you’re lower class, and I think a lot of it has to do with the huge wealth gaps at Gull Lake.”
According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, a social class is “a group of people within a society who possess the same socioeconomic status.” That status is typically based upon factors including wealth, education, and occupation. Members of the upper class usually have more access to each of these factors, and thus have greater privileges than the lower class.
The discrimination against people based on their social class is known as classism. When people are granted more opportunities or viewed as more valuable because of their class position, that creates a large degree of inequality in many facets of society. This can manifest itself in subtle ways that some people might not even notice.
For example, teachers saying things to students along the lines of “Make sure you study and do well in school so you don’t end up on welfare.” While these statements may come from a place of good intentions, they can ultimately do more harm than good in maintaining classist structures in our schools and communities.
In that same vein are phrases like, “You don’t want to work at a fast food restaurant for the rest of your life,” or “Dress for success.” Many students have family members who work minimum wage jobs and the proliferation of negative stereotypes like these about those you love the most can be disparaging.
The stigma against the lower class in our society can cause students to feel ostracized and judged in school. Gull Lake, specifically, has such a large school district that it draws students from all around. Students are pulled from wealthy neighborhoods around Gull Lake, communities in Bedford, Comstock, Augusta, and Richland. That isn’t even to mention the students that school-of-choice to attend Gull Lake schools. This diversity of socioeconomic background can help students become tolerant and empathetic, or it can create a climate of judgment and scrutiny.
“My mom works at McDonald’s as a manager and sometimes I’m afraid to tell people because I don’t want them to judge me,” middle school student Jordan said.
Classism can be an uncomfortable topic to discuss, but its impacts are worsened by ignoring them. Although the process of completely recognizing and fixing this issue might take a long time, many students feel that it is a necessary step to take.
“We need to talk about the problems that classism causes instead of repeating stereotypes and categorizing people,” Sandell said. “So that people can learn about privilege and start trying to help the working class.”
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