I am not going to lie to you – I am pretty good at Candy Crush. Like, “finished all available levels” good. Because I have gone so far in the game, I get boosts that help me along the way. In case you are unfamiliar with the game, these boosts come from completing challenges, from other friends that are playing the game, and as a bonus for playing each day. These boosts help me get past stumbling blocks that might trip up other players. They sometimes give me extra turns, an extra life, or special pieces that give me special abilities. The fact that I have access to these bonuses does not take away from my ability; they just help me get out of jams that might bring another’s game to a screeching halt.
Now, some might say that this seems fair. That I “work” hard at the game and deserve whatever I earn. And, that may be true. But, here is the kicker; people can also pay to gain access to these boosts. So, even if you aren’t that great of a player, if you are willing to put some cash into it, you will still progress through the levels. Others put time and effort into moving forward; others can just pay or depend on family connections. Money has a way of removing some of the barriers in life.
Of course, Candy Crush is a game. There are no serious consequences resulting from a person “paying to play”. But, the same can’t be said for life. And, that brings me to the idea of privilege. As we go through life, we will all encounter challenges that may trip us up and take us away from the path we had envisioned for ourselves. Boosts can help us overcome those challenges. That boost may be a helping hand, or a scholarship, or a pass when we have done something wrong. Sometimes those boosts come from hard work. Often, they are the result of privilege. That is what “privilege” means; it does not mean that you are not smart or talented, or that you haven’t worked hard. It does mean that the obstacles that may trip up others are not game stoppers because of skin color, gender, or some other external factor. It is not the presence of the boosts that is so much the problem; everyone deserves a helping hand. It is that privilege awards those boosts to some; and lack of privilege makes these boosts out of reach for others.
For example, two boys have a couple of beers, get behind the wheel, and fall asleep. One with privilege might be found by police who might call his dad and release the boy into his custody. The family might discipline him, but the mistake doesn’t have to ruin his life. The other might be found by police and brought up on charges. Yes, there was a bad choice, but one gets the chance to recover from it and the other will have a much harder time overcoming the situation. Two girls get caught shoplifting. one is sent away with an exasperated and embarrassed parent who promises it will not happen again. The other is sent away in handcuffs.
The benefits of privilege start very early in life; children of color are often treated differently from those of European descent; even in early childhood classrooms. In a study (link below), researchers presented teachers with a recording of a staged early childhood classroom (teachers believed it was a true classroom setting) and asked them to be on the lookout for challenging behavior. In the situation, there were four children; two boys, two girls, two black children, and two white. Unbeknownst to the teachers, there was no challenging behavior in the vignette. While they watched the recoding, researchers tracked the teacher’s eyes to understand how they handled the task. Researchers were not surprised to find that teachers spent much of the time observing the black boy. When asked after the experiment who they thought required the most attention, 42% of the teachers again zeroed in on the black boy. Even when told about the results of the research, teachers stuck to their guns. They defended themselves by attesting that this particular boy seemed more aggressive towards the other children and rougher with materials.
Dr. Walter Gilliam and his team at Yale have been conducting research like this to try to find the root of one of the most disturbing statistics in early childhood education; children of color are 3.6 times more likely to be kicked out of preschool than others. It makes sense, if teachers are looking for trouble, they are more likely to find it. The other children are just as likely to exhibit challenging behaviors, their privilege gives them more of a chance to not suffer severe consequences because of that behavior. We all have biases; they evolved to keep us alive when a snap judgement about another was essential to keep us alive. Being aware of, acknowledging, and naming these biases can be a game changer in the early education classroom.
Here is the other thing about boosts in Candy Crush, their quantity is not limited; there are plenty to go around. The same is true for the boosts we can give as early childhood teachers. Giving one child the benefit of a doubt and a chance to learn from a mistake doesn’t mean that we can’t do the same for the next one, and the next one, and the next one. The boosts we give in the early year might be those that put the child on the path to success; and they are free for the giving.
When you give a child a boost, even if you think they haven’t done anything to deserve it; think about me playing Candy Crush. I may not have done much to deserve those boots that people send my way – but, I sure appreciate them.
What do you think? Engage with me and others in the ECE community on my social media outlets. You can also find more information about my book and available training sessions, on any of the following:
Facebook: Teacher as Gardener
LinkedIn: Michelle Salcedo
My book Uncover The Roots of Challenging Behavior can be purchased at Free Spirit Publishing or Amazon
Interested in hearing more? Consider bringing me in as a speaker for your next Professional Development event (you won’t regret it).