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Not Forgotten How I Spent My SummerVacation BY LAUREN F. WINNER My students last summer had never heard ofJim Crow. U.S. Government is not an area in which I can claim expertise, but when I applied for a summer job with Duke University's Talent Identification Program—a camp for academicallygifted middle- and high-school students—someone in hiring thought my few years' study ofAmerican history and religion qualified me to serve as a teaching assistant for American Government: Practical Politics. A few weeks after receiving my college diploma, I arrived in Durham, armed with notebooks , The FederalistPapers, and all the youthful optimism and energy we twentyyear -olds are supposed to possess. At the faculty and staff get-to-know-you barbecue, three days before the students arrived, I was munching on a hot dog when a young black woman grabbed my arm and introduced herself as Sarah,1 the instructor for the government course. "I'm so glad you're here," Sarah said. "I have a syllabus for you, and I've just received the student roster. I think we need to pray aboutwhat to do with this bunch!" Twelve of our fifteen students were boys. All hailed from the Soudi: Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, and Texas. All sharp as a whip. All white. (Not coincidentally , it is a minimum score on the sat, taken in the seventh grade, that identifies participants for the Talent Identification Program.) An admixture of private and public school kids. AU from privileged backgrounds. In fact, we began die class by discussing what power and privilege are, concluding that power is something that must be accessed, while privilege can be enjoyed unawares. We drew up a Ust of different privileges in American society— gender privilege, class privilege, race privilege, age privilege. Sarah said that in the black community, she, very fair-skinned, enjoyed complexion privilege, and that she and her boyfriend also enjoyed heterosexual privilege. "James and I can walk down the street, all lovey-dovey, holding hands and kissing, and people croon, 'Oh, how cute, two folks in love,' but if two men tried to do that, people would say, 'How disgusting.'" Our students grasped age privilege and volunteered myriad examples of being followed in stores because proprietors suspected all teens of shoplifting. However, Sarah and I realized we had failed to communicate something essential when a thirteen-year-old from Texas raised his hand and asked, "Is welfare a class privilege? Only people from one class can get it. I mean, my mom can't just walk down to the welfare office and pick up a check." That was the first clue that something was wrong. 123 Our class spent a portion ofits six-hour day covering current events. Each student read a newspaper and selected one story to write about in his journal; then we discussed the events of the day as a group. Once, Brad wrote about an article that described various congressional approaches to tax reform. In discussion that evening, we deHberated the proposal to abolish income taxes in favor of a national sales tax. "How would this affect taxpayers?" I asked, and was gratified when Walter immediately shot up his hand and explained how substituting sales tax for income tax would shift the burden of payment onto people in a lowincome tax bracket. But fourteen of my fifteen students said that would be fine with them. I saw the opportunity for a briefhistory lesson (I was squeezing them in wherever I could), and burst into an impromptu lecture on the Populists and the development of graduated income taxes in America. In five minutes we surveyed inheritance taxes and the lottery, too. Save my tenth-grader from Adanta, who explained that paying a flat 30 percent income tax would mean nothing to Bill Gates but diat for a family "earning $10,000 a year, that 30 percent might mean the difference between homelessness and survival," all of my students erupted into calls for a flat tax and abolishment ofinheritance taxes. "No random poor person is gonna get my father's money when he dies," said the son of a Florida factory owner. "Yeah, /deserve that money, and I...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 123-126
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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