As those of you who read my blog yesterday know, I am reaching back in time to tell you some stories about the time when I taught baccalaureate students using a service-learning model. This particular day I was teaching about how certain societal factors placed people in certain positions in society that, barring a miracle from God, fairly certainly predestined them to live a life of poverty. We were reading books on the subject like Newman’s No Shame in My Game and Ehrenreich’s Nickeled and Dimed: Not Getting By in America. These books allowed students into the lives of young men and women their age that had no hopes of going to college or trade school or even landing a job at the local fast food restaurant. My students were attending a college that cost $20.000 per year to attend (10 years ago). They had attended preparatory schools that taught them what they needed to know to pass entrance exams and served as a solid foundation for the rigorous academic life at the college. They were also raised in the majority culture or in the social norms thereof and were exposed to professional etiquette and the ways of doing business. (They actually had a mom and dad get up every morning and go to work.) When I suggested that some of their success was purely an accident of birth that positioned them for success, I was met with blank stares.
I don’t like blank stares so I planned a class where my students could experience the impact of social class. My esteemed colleague at Taylor University, Michael Jessup, had a simulation in the works called Sociopoly*. He used a regular Monopoly board, finagled the rules so that students were divided into 4 groups all playing Monopoly with different rules. There was a different amount of money for passing go for each team, a different amount of fees for parking, different rules for getting out of jail and different rules for purchasing properties and houses. The specifics can be found in Dr. Jessup’s article which was published in Teaching Sociology 2001. Mike was so kind to mention me in the credits of this article as one who pretested the game in a classroom setting before its instructions were officially released.
I was amazed at what happened as my 16 students in 4 groups of 4 (determined by a roll of a die from highest to lowest numbers) played the “game”. As the poorest group quickly reached the end of their resources and could see no hope of ever catching up, one of the team members slammed his playing pieces down on the table and stormed out of the room. “This is not fair. How can anyone expect me to play a game where I can’t possibly win?” I was incredulous. It was only a game, but in less than a half hour’s time this young man was ready to give up. His team-mates just quietly pulled their pieces off the board when they could no longer continue. The bargaining began between the two classes in the middle as they tried to help one another survive in the midst of certain death from the upper class. It was interesting to see how different team members wanted to handle the inequities. One young man wanted to share some of his class’ resources to help the lower class survive, but his team-mate said, “You can’t do that. We won’t have any reserve to get by the upper class’ Boardwalk if we land on it if you do. Hmmmm, what’s a Christian businesswoman to do?
In the debriefing that followed the game, my students spoke with emotion about the inequities of the class system and what they had experienced during the simulation. This kind of discussion would never have taken place without the simulation. Thank you, Dr. Michael Jessup. Sociopoly is an excellent tool to prepare students for the real world of service among the poor.
My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? James 2:1-4
Finding my value in Him,
*Sociopoly: Life on the Boardwalk, Teaching Sociology, Vol. 29, 2001 (January:102-109)