Promoting Elementary School-Age Children’s Understanding of Wealth, Poverty, and Civic Engagement
by Rashmita S. Mistry, Lindsey Nenadal, Taylor Hazelbaker, Katherine M. Griffin of University of California, Los Angeles, and Elizabeth S. White of llinois State University
The heightened and precarious state of economic inequality in the United States today (Rodrigue and Reeves 2014; Stiglitz 2012) presents both opportunities and challenges for educators interested in leveraging contemporary events as entry points to larger conversations about democracy, the social contract, and civic engagement. Teachers can help their students make sense of the current state of economic inequality—to understand its causes and the ramifications of living in a society so heavily imbalanced in terms of who does and does not have access to wealth and resources. They also can use this opportunity to support their students in becoming “justice-oriented citizen[s]” who “critically assess social, political, and economic structures and consider collective strategies for change that challenge injustice and, when possible, address root causes of problems” (Westheimer and Kahne 2004, 243). On the other hand, teachers may feel unprepared to engage in such conversations (White, Mistry, and Chow 2013), due, in part, to a paucity of existing curricula and professional development opportunities regarding such topics (Mistry et al. 2016). Irrespective of whether teachers approach conversations about economic inequality as an opportunity or a challenge, we assert that the topic cannot be ignored given the well-demonstrated and far-reaching consequences of economic disparities, at both an individual and societal level (Keating 2016; Wilkinson 2011).