The topic of this activity belongs to the unit Man and Values in the Slovakian state curriculum. Man and Values is an educational area which focuses on building a culture based on the intellectual, spiritual and social dimensions of young people. Teaching related to this is usually carried out in one of the two subjects Ethics and/or Religion. I tested the activity during Slovak language lessons at our Primary school, with two Year 4 classes (age 9–10). I wanted to identify attitudes towards people of different social status and I was interested in evaluating the influence of wealth on pupil choice.
I expected pupils to choose better-off children, considering them as potentially better friends because they could benefit from them, but hoped that some would show empathy and choose less well-off children. This activity told me about pupil attitudes towards poor and rich pupils, but it also measured the attitude towards society of whole classes and individual pupils.
Using the descriptions of different children, I asked pupils to choose who they would like to have as a new classmate and to explain their choice.
Pupils had some difficulties justifying their choice in writing. During the subsequent discussion, however, they expressed themselves more easily when justifying why they did or did not want a particular pupil in their class. They completed worksheets and I took notes during the discussion. The discussion was more effective because I could encourage them to explain their choices.
Analysis of the outcomes was simple because the worksheets contained clear answers about pupils’ choices of classmate.
|Descriptions of different pupils||Class 4A||Class 4B|
|Pupils´ choice||Comments||Pupils´ choice||Comments|
|The boy lives with his mother, father, sister and brother in a one-storey house with a nice garden. The house has an indoor swimming pool, in which they swim throughout the winter and an outdoor pool for the summer, where they invite friends. Quite often he wears designer clothes. He is coming to this school because Dad got a better job and they moved here.||YES 7
|he invites his friends to the pool, he will fit in the class, he is a good boy, because he invites friends, more clever, he wears designer clothes
spoilt, violent, he boasts, stubborn
|not everyone has two pools, perfect friend, because he has two pools, I would like to see the garden, rich
spoilt, conceited, he will boast and be conceited that he has two pools, cheeky
|The boy lives with his just-divorced mother and little sister in a one-room apartment. Mom has two jobs to earn a living for the family. The boy does not go out often. He buys clothing in cheaper shops or at the market. He is coming to this school because Mum had to move to cheaper accommodation.||YES 19
|he helps his mother, he doesn´t hurt people, he won´t join the bad ones, modest, to give second chance, caring, he takes care of his sister, he didn´t harm others, he won´t be conceited
he is not rich
|humble, good, responsible, he won´t be boasting, he would feel better here, he helps his mother, good friend
he wouldn´t find friends here, they would harm him, I feel sorry for him
|The girl lives with her mother and father in a nice little house. Twice a year she goes on holiday abroad. Sometimes the parents allow their daughter to invite a classmate on a trip with them. She dresses very nicely. She is coming to this school because they moved to a nicer house.||YES 10
|nice, good friend, because she invites friends, not spoilt
Ambitious, always comes first, spoilt, conceited, she wants to get friends by inviting them to trips, strange, stubborn, boasting, cheeky
|good friend, she would not harm others, she goes on holidays, she would bring gifts, because they take classmates with, I want to go on holidays with them, she has no worries, more girls in class, typical Slovak family J
rich conceited girl, I don´t want another girl in class, too many girls, cheeky, she takes girls her with on holidays
|The girl lives with her father and grandmother in their grandma’s old house. Grandmother takes care of them, cooking for them and baking cakes. On her birthday the girl invites classmates to her house for a sleepover. Mostly she wears T-shirts and jeans. She joined this school because they had to move to her grandmother’s; they do not have much money.||YES 13
|she won´t be spoiled, friendly, would fit in the class, good friend, not cheeky, humble, she values things, I am sorry about her situation, second chance
|she won´t be conceited, we have a similar classmate, to have more friends, to feel better in school, ordinary good girl, it is sad to live in grandma´s old house, ordinary girl, she invites others to sleep over,
the description didn´t interest me, she doesn´t have a mother, I don´t like girls
Class 4A had experienced some Global Education activities beforehand, while Class 4B had not. It is difficult to analyse whether that had an effect, but it is good to keep in mind while reading the results. The results from Class 4A showed that the pupils chose classmates not according to their wealth but according to their social behaviour. Initial measurements showed that pupils also considered the character of the individuals described on the basis of their own experience. They believed richer children to be spoilt, ambitious, conceited and stubborn. To children from a more ordinary environment they attributed more positive character traits. I would thus try to change their stereotypical view of richer children.
The results from Class 4B showed that most pupils would choose a classmate from a wealthier family, but it is clear that the children considered social behaviour too. Boys mostly wanted another boy as a new classmate (girls outnumber boys in the class). The table shows that good or bad character traits were attributed to children according to their social and material background.
Based on the analysis, I would summarize the results as showing that the pupils’ attitudes were based on their own experience, as expressed in the discussion. Guidance is needed for those pupils who claimed that rich people have only bad characteristics and poor people only good ones. I will now aim to develop pupil awareness and tackle stereotypical thinking such as rich people are bad. Simultaneously, I will try to develop their sensitivity and empathy towards poorer people. I will exploit real or fictional stories about people of different status and their deeds and actions, using dramatization, discussion and group work.
In aiming to identify attitudes, I would recommend that other teachers first establish what they want to find out about pupils. This activity reveals much about family background and attitudes. Care is needed if you happen to have a pupil with a family situation similar to the examples, because of possible references to him/her.
TIPS FOR TEACHING
- To avoid stereotypes, make sure you explore multiple stories and narratives of people from different backgrounds, be it related to family composition or wealth
- While making the point that being poor or rich does not correlate with certain type of behaviour, it is good to acknowledge inequalities, and that sometimes circumstances can dictate the opportunities we have in life
- Concentrate on similarities before differences;l whenever you talk about people or places, help pupils see connections between themselves and others.
- The Human Rights Education Game Take a step forward if… Is a great way to enhance empathy and help pupils realise how being born to a certain context might influence your opportunities and rights.