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Cassidy Shostak
March 3 2017

As a white upper middle-class heterosexual female my experience in the education

system was vastly different from others who did not and do not experience the same privilege I

do. From kindergarten through to grade 12 in the public school system, these aspects of my

social and cultural connections seemed unimportant and non-influential; however, by exploring

these aspect deeper there is a large more apparent influence on educational experiences. The

influence of being Caucasian goes further than just education and has roots deeper than the 21st

century and being a white female comes with little judgement and a particular kind of privilege,

especially in education. This was especially apparent when growing up in the suburbs of

Southeast Calgary in the Catholic School system, which influenced me to have an overall

positive school experience. The influence of my biology is one of many aspects that encouraged

my ability to achieve within traditional education.

In this Catholic school experience, I was also able to express my sexuality without any

judgement or fear of being out casted. This became clearer to me when many people in my

graduating came out after graduation. This overall blindness to the privilege of expressing my

heterosexuality in high school became much more apparent when fellow peers felt more

comfortable expressing their sexuality outside of our school walls. These norms that have been

structured by society, religion, and the school system that has given me both privilege and

power; however, also constraining others that do not fall within these norms. This privilege and

power relationship extends beyond culture, race, and sexuality but also socio-economic status

directly related to education.


I also experience privilege by being raised in an upper middle-class home which also has

a shaped my learning and educated experience which is affected my strong performance at

school. Additionally, my mother was a stay at home mom allowing time to volunteer in my class,

read at home, and reinforce my school work and homework. This both benefitted my education

but also strengthen a relationship between my parents and I, which enhances my ability to learn.

The constant reinforcement from my parents has influenced me to achieve in school and develop

strong home supports for my education. In an advantaged socio-economic situation, I have also

experienced little stressors in my life to affect my ability to perform and learn in the educational

system compared to a student from poverty. This difference in economic status, further supplies

me with a privileged education career affecting the power I held.

When looking at education through the lens of privilege and power it is easy to see the

dynamic relationship between the two aspects. As someone who benefits from privilege, it is

clear that there is an exercised hegemony in the educational system. By understanding my

privilege and how this directly influences the power I have, I am better able to recognize how my

characteristics influence how I view the world. This point of view determined by my privilege

also has its own pre-determined blind spots of my worldview; these defects of vision influences

what I see as a norm. These blind spots are created by my race, culture, language, religion, and

sexuality, which also creates the privilege I have. The basis of my biological makeup is reasons

why I experience privilege and power and why I contextualize the norms that I do. The

disadvantages others experience are the blind spots that I have in my outlook on the world.

Society has created norms that has highlighted and defined what is and who has the

privilege and the power. My fixed characteristics fall within these societal norms that gives me

the pre-determined privilege that I experience everyday. A characteristic for example, using

English as my native language, both gives me privilege and supplies me with a particular power

further advances me. By viewing the world with both privilege and power does not give me a

clear view of the entirety of the world and particularly the mass of my students. By benefitting

from hegemony, my worldview is flawed and incomplete of how society has shaped norms, who

benefits from these norms, and how others lives are negatively affected by these norms. Privilege

is invisible to the privilege and recognizing our privilege is essential in change of power


Textual/Contextual Influence on Education

Societys influence on education is prominent by various contextual factors that are

determined by society itself. The value and morals of society creates an inequality and ultimately

has a negative effect on education. The diversity of Alberta schools and its students show clear

contexts and why it essential to recognize the different factors that influence education and

students. An influencing context is gender and inequalities play a significant role in the

experiences of young students (Cullingford,1993). In What What About The Boys, Wallace

finds that in every aspect of education there is an overwhelming influence of gender. There is an

inequality of standardized tests scores and literacy measures between boys and girls (Wallace,


In her article, Unequal Opportunity: Race and Education, Darling-Hammond describes

an educational achievement gap between whites and minority groups showing a clear colour line

divide. This divide is created by inequalities in the school system created by unequal access to

resources, teacher skill, and curriculum quality. These inequalities for a minority student are

aspects that give privileged students an advantage in education and learning.


Students who identify with the LGBTQ+ community also have a prominent effect on

students ability to learn and feel safe in their school. In the Alberta Teachers Associations guide

for Safe and Caring School for Lesbian and Gay Youth, it claims that gay youth are more likely

to dropout out of school and risk mental health issues. When comparing a heterosexual student to

their homosexual peers they are two to three times more likely to risk these factors and others

including drug or alcohol abuse and being kicked out of their homes. These factors are

influenced by and arrive from the effect of being marginalized and often by facing large amounts

of discrimination and prejudice in their lives. In a national study of middle and high school

students, LGBT students (61.1%) were more likely than their non-LGBT peers to feel unsafe or

uncomfortable as a result of their sexual orientation (CDC, 2014). LGBTQ+ students may face

other stressors including home life acceptance, being outed in schools, negative sense of self, and

feeling unsafe and unwelcome at school. These worry in their lives directly affect their grades,

their attendance, and their feeling of future academic success (Wells & Kropp, 2016).

Other affecting factors are students who are raised in lower socioeconomic status homes

who experience different upbringing from students from a middle or upper class family. There

are many obstacles students may experience when in poverty for example, parents without

education, lack of healthy relationships, lack of extra curricular activities, violent

neighbourhoods, and/or lack of medical resources; however, experiencing acute or mild stress

greatly affects childrens learning (Clandos, 2008). According to Eric Jensen in his book,

Teaching with Poverty in Mind, students raised in poverty are especially subject to stressors that

undermine school behaviour and performance. Students who are raised in lower socioeconomic

status families are more likely to be experiencing stressors such as trauma, violence, living in a

unsafe neighbourhood, and neglect, which are known to directly affect a students education and

their brain's capacity to learn (Jensen, 2009). Exposure to many different forms of stressors is

apparent for many students in different schools demographics and has a large effect on students

cognitive ability and a powerful influence on educational achievement.

English Language Learners (ELL) are often from a wide variety of contexts whether

being raised in a home that does not speak English, an immigrant, or a refugee. Students who are

ELL may have different exposure levels to English or a school experience and often adjust to

learning English at different rates. ELL students may also have different values and beliefs that

differ from the students and the teacher based on cultural norms and conditioning (British

Columbia Ministry of Education, 1999). Students who are immigrating to Canada or who are

refugees often experience a culture shock as well as feeling disconnected by the language.

In addition to ELL students, there is a disconnection and educational gap between First

Nations, Metis, and Inuit (FNMI) students and other students in Alberta (Alberta Education,

2016). Additionally, FNMI perspective and education are not being effectively delivered to all

students in Alberta. FNMI students often do not have equal opportunities or access to quality

support systems to experience academic success. In 2006, Statistic Canada shows that one third

of FNMI people had less than a high school education and seen to have lower literacy and

numeracy skills when compared to other Alberta students. This clear educational divide is a

result of cultural and language context, which disadvantages this demographic of students.

Proposal for an Inclusive Classroom

` By recognizing the diversity of Alberta students it is important to create safe and

inclusive environments to ensure all students are successful academically and socially. Several

different contexts affect students lives both inside and outside of the classroom. Inclusivity

extends beyond differentiation and a multicultural day but establishing a learning environment

that fits the needs of all students. When considering various aspects that influencing our student

learning experience is it more important to be mindful of our decisions in an inclusive

environment. When teachers have a lack of knowledge towards these different cultural, political,

economic, and social context they risk the ability to segregate and disadvantage a large

demographic of their students.

Inclusivity through language is a powerful tool teachers can utilize to both model

inclusive behaviour but also give regularly excluded students a feeling acceptance in the

community. In her novel, Power of Our Words, Paula Denton discusses that by paying attention

to teacher language can positively affect success in students where they feel safe, respected, and

engaged. Denton continues to argue that, careful use of language, [teachers] can support

students as they develop self-control, build their sense of community, and gain academic skills

and knowledge (2013). Other examples of using mindful and informed language, is when

teachers are referring to the LGBTQ+ community and youth. Teachers need to have sufficient

knowledge when use LGBTQ+ inclusive language to both model behaviour to other students but

ensuring that this demographic of students feel they are accepted and cared for. Acceptance is a

top-down attitude and school needs to support students both on learning and social development

(Luecke, 2010).

Gender inequalities also play a significant role in the experiences of young students. In

the article, Reconsidering Gender Equitable Education Wallace gives strategies to improve

literacy in boys. These strategies include, using boy-friendly book, promoting technology, and

increasing the number of male elementary teachers and male role models. Other strategies

include, literacy task with purpose, student control, inquiry-based learning, and research projects.

In her TEDtalk, All Carr-Chellman discusses how boys culture is unrepresentative and embraced

in school. She argues that we need to design better education games to re-engage these students

to change the culture of schools and have academic success.

In the context of race and culture, Smith finds that there is a bias against black and other

minority males shown that black youth are suspended four times more likely than white youth

and Latino youth two times more likely (2015). The diversity of race and culture in our schools

is important to recognize to develop and implement real and successful strategies to ensure that

all students are learning and engaged. Students are more likely to be motivated and close the

gaps of inequalities when students feel like they are cared for (Weinstein, Tomlinson-Clarke &

Curran, 2004). Our classrooms can be intentionally designed to be culturally inclusive and

responsive by treating diversity positively to nurture all students sense of belonging. Teachers

also need to ensure that they are using a variety of teaching strategies and resources to represent

all students culture. Resources include, books, articles, case studies, and different ways of


Poverty also affects the classroom and the engagement levels of students who come from

lower-income homes. In his chapter of his book, How Poverty Affects Classroom Engagement,

Jensen firstly suggests that teachers need to take the time to get to know their students before any

other strategy can make a difference. The seven differences that Jensen gives that teacher can

have an affect on to lessen the gap between middle and lower class homes are explicitly given in

his chapter. Educators need to teach students that their brain can grow and influence children to

be aware of their growth mindset to cultivate a positive attitude (Jensen, 2013). Students from a

lower socio-economic status often test at a lower intelligence and academic achievement.

Teachers need to guide students to learn different and effective executive skills for example,

organization, and task switching, problem-solving, and emotional control, to build a foundation

of these higher-level skills. By implementing executive skills, students are more likely to achieve

academically. As discussed above, children in poverty are most affected by the high levels of

acute and chronic stress, which affects brain development, academic success, and social

competence (Jensen, 2013). Teachers can develop strong relationships to help alleviate student

stress. Teachers can use strategies like brain breaks, student control and choice, and teaching

different coping strategies to help lessen the effects of stress.

Incorporating FNMI perspective and effectively teaching these perspectives to all

students can help engage FNMI students and also give other students a sense of cultural

awareness and understanding. Teachers can effectively integrate FNMI perspectives by using

FNMI resources, creating partnerships with the community, ensure that they are including FNMI

learning styles and introducing student to different FNMI people. By respecting and appreciating

FNMI culture, stories, and language we are better to foster the relationships in our classrooms

and bridge the connections within the curriculum to enhance learning for all students. Creating

an inclusive environment using strategies to encourage FNMI learning can be done by including

holistic view to concepts, small group work, visual-hands on activities, and allowing reflective

time for the students (Toulouse, 2008).

Research shows that the most effective way to build an inclusive classroom environment

is building relationships with all of their students. Taking the time to get to know our students

and portray that teachers are caring and aware will take steps towards an inclusive classroom.

The use of an inclusive classroom benefits all students and all student learning. An inclusive

classroom will exposed students to different teaching strategies, learning executive skills,

becoming more culturally aware, and being respectful to all demographics of people.

Additionally, teachers actions toward equality and inclusivity are modelled to students and this

behaviour is seen as a norm. This gives students a clear representation of how relationships are

built and to look beyond bias and judgement. By teaching to the edges we are able to reach all

students, privileged or not. The power of inclusion can create high expectations for all students;

however, still reinforce a more compassionate society. By moving diversity and inclusion from

theory to practice, we are fostering towards a better learning environment for all students. The

need for inclusivity gives students the opportunity to be literate of diversity and become blind to

differences and focus more on similarities. Inclusive classrooms pave the way for a future of

equality and acceptance.


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Adolescence: Just Be Supportive. Journal of LGBT Youth, 8(2), 116-156.

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