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I’m Trying to Write About Privilege | Note 38

A few weeks ago, intensely bored from driving across Europe (as I always do with A. during the summer), I amused myself in the passenger seat by watching a British reality TV show in which three students from an elite boarding school swapped for a week with three students from a school located in a poor suburban area. The camera followed them around their family homes as well, opening my eyes to things I have never seen before.

In Warsaw in the late nineties, my middle school was attended by students that fell within its geographical catchment zone, resulting in a broad mix of socioeconomic backgrounds. As I saw it back then – in fact, as I saw it until a few weeks ago – my class was composed mostly of “bad students”, aka the stupid or misbehaving children, and a small group of “good students” which I was always a part of. The “good” and the “bad” kids didn’t mix much, and the good were often the teacher’s pets. (In fact, a friend reminded me recently how together with the teacher, we used to mock the less accomplished children.)

I remember clearly that one of my classmates lived in an orphanage, and another one shared a room, furnished with hospital hand-me-down beds, with four siblings. I suspect that many others in the class grew up without much support from their families, resulting in their utter uninterest in school, studying, or homework, and increased interest in fighting, petty crime, and demonstrating a general disdain for anything to do with education.

Still, the direct link between their circumstances and their attitudes evaded me – of course, I realised that their parents probably didn’t do... continue reading here →


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