There is studying about poverty and then there’s “being” poor – Experiential Learning 2

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)


10 comments on “There is studying about poverty and then there’s “being” poor – Experiential Learning 2

  1. excellent learning situation… worthy of sharing at some very useful time and I will remember it! Praise God … He is no respecter of persons and His abundant grace and mercy and the outpouring of His Spirit was accomplished that all mankind may have opportunity to walk in fellowship with Him…

    • Dear Susan,

      When we experience (if even a speck) the journey of another, it changes us. We are not as judgemental. Seeing with another’s eyes is to have the eyes of Jesus. He cut through all the distractions, excuses, illusions, and once that was done, once the person was wholly transparent, the healing could begin – for everyone!

      Thanks for your encouragement and grace,

  2. hi,

    i am a youth development specialist and i took a sociology class a while back. the teacher had introduced this sociopoly game to us. the game came with special chance and community chess cards that were related to sociology. do you know where i may purchase this game board for my students?

      • Hi Dawn,

        I came across your post while searching for information about the simulation that I had heard about. I am a 7th grade social studies teacher in Colombia and am going to play Sociopoly in my classes to help students understand the enormous gap between the rich and poor and the cycle of poverty. I was met with the blank stares you mentioned in September when we first started discussing these issues… I am wondering if there are indeed cards (the special community chest/chance cards that another poster mentioned) available that I can purchase or print off? Thanks!

      • This is so exciting that Sociopoly has made it all the way to Columbia! My suggestion for additional pieces of the game that may have been created since I used it is to contact its inventor Mike Jessup. I think his address can be found in the article “Sociopoly: Life on the Boardwalk”, Teaching Sociology, Vol. 29, 2001 (January:102-109). All the best, Dawn

  3. What wisdom God has given you, Dawn. My parents had little in the way of material things and a lot in the way of trusting God, creativity, gardening, using up, AND SHARING both their bounty and their faith. What an awesome teacher you were to your students in the classroom and to your students of life on your blog. God bless, dear friend.

  4. Dawn, I read this early this morning, and I thought about it all day. My parents were poor immigrants, coming here as children from the Netherlands. My father only had an 8th grade education, but somehow learned to speak, read and write English beautifully. He worked hard and long hours for the same company for over 50 years. He was well read, knew his Bible, and was a man of his word. I will NEVER forget when he went to the bank to apply for a mortgage for a bigger house for our family. I don’t know what was said there, but I remember how he stewed and said, “I remember the days when your word and a handshake was all you needed to seal a deal!” Though he never said it, I felt his honor was torn apart and he was shamed. For the first time, I felt he was ashamed of his status in life, and I didn’t like it a bit.

    There was no way for him to get out of that place in life. He did what he could do, and he did it well, but it wasn’t enough, apparently, to a bank officer. My father landed on the Boardwalk, and he couldn’t pass GO!

    Someone did see my dad for what his heart was made of, and made that loan to him, and my dad was never late even once on making those payments. I always despised snotty suits who were born into privilege and opportunity and looked down their noses at those who cleaned their oil burners and delivered their oil and came out on cold winter nights and crawl into their cellars to restore their heat. But once in a while, ONE would prove me wrong and show me the “What Would Jesus Do” thing, and I vowed that whether I was rich or poor or somewhere inbetween, I would pick HIS way. Why? Because ultimately, BOTH sides smiled as BOTH were winners!

    Thank you for letting me sound off here!

    • This is a true life story of what happens when people are trapped in a life circumstance not of their own doing. We are ALL in a circumstance, but those of us who have more freedom, more resources, more choices also will be held more accountable for what we do with those “mores”. Thanks for sharing this personal story, Cora, and the difference someone who shared their “more” made.


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