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Rob Hudson: An opportunity to unify and embrace productive forms of ‘privilege’

As a Baby Boomer, I confess to a rapidly fading connection with popular culture. My strongest link remains being a talkative father of two talkative college-age children.

Our children now live in a university culture with values and points of emphasis which often differ from what they heard in our home. I get that this was part of the reason for having them go away to college in the first place.

I’ve listened intently to reports about lectures concerning “privilege,” described as “unearned access” to certain parts of life. All of us heard recent criticisms of Covington Catholic students as being “privileged.” Some of their “unearned access” consisted simply of growing up in stable homes and attending good schools, with love and support. But it’s much easier to rush to judgment when using somewhat de-humanizing labels. Our culture has taken a remarkable step backward by tagging productive family achievements with negative connotations.

Rob Hudson

We should turn the page in our public discourse by looking at “privilege” differently.

Most good parents work to provide as much privilege as possible for their children. They view it as a duty and gift to be passed from one generation to another, working to bind their family together along the right path. In this way, families exist to bestow privilege upon their children. Try telling the parent working an extra job to pay for private tuition that she has provided her child with “unearned access.” Great parenting and sacrifice should never be dismissed as “privilege.”

We know that parenting has consequences. Parents can provide the privileges of love, stability, and security. As parents teach faith, charity and love, they provide the privilege of connection with something bigger than self. Studies abound establishing that these factors tend to lead to happier, more productive children. Try telling a student with a supportive family who just aced an advanced calculus test that her success resulted from “unearned access.” Loving, productive choices which set the stage for achievement are not unfair “privilege.”

Adults in positions of authority, please consider refraining from sending your mixed messages of disunity to our youth. Their world is already confusing. When speaking to kids who aren’t “privileged,” ease up on discouragement about life’s challenges. They already know that everyone faces difficulties, large and small. When speaking to “privileged” kids, do not denigrate their blessings of love and family by suggesting feelings of guilt or shame. Do not tear down or belittle their success.

If you must speak about their young lives in terms of “privilege,” offer words of encouragement. Tell them they should set a goal of someday raising their own “privileged” children. Tell them about the unbreakable bond with their children which can make family the best place for building privilege. Point towards a brighter future instead of dwelling on past failures over which a young person has little or no control. Move them positively to acts of gratitude through community, charity and love.

We will always have differences in our upbringings and abilities. Whether our parents failed or succeeded, much of it was always “on us” to find a productive way in the world. While others can help immensely, no one was going to take our tests, do our work, or make many of our key decisions. Offering snarky comments about privilege from the sidelines of someone else’s life, whether born of envy or a confusing political agenda, uplifts no one.

It was never okay for adults to assign this type of label to children, further dividing us and dividing children against one another. But when divisive talk about productive privilege began popping up in our schools, no one stood up and questioned it. It took the Covington Catholic debacle to remind us how misguided adults can damage kids and institutions, revealing that ugly stereotypes move in all directions.

At the very least, can we unify by embracing the “privileges” which every parent should be trying to provide?

Rob Hudson and his daughter Lauren are co-authors of the Students Leading America Series. Their latest book, entitled It Can Be Done – Students Leading an Exceptional America, will be released by Headline Books this Spring.

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One Comment

  1. Pete says:

    Since I have not read the student’s assignment I can’t definitively understand what the teacher is suggesting is “priviledge “, but I do know that as a white person, I have “unearned access” in my daily life – just because of the color of my skin.

    Everything in America is designed around the wants and needs of white people. Anyone that wasn’t born that color has an up hill battle to fight to get to the same level of opportunity. And this is the point that I think the author of this article misses.

    I have witnessed numerous instances where people of color were treated much different that I would have been had I been in their situation. All because of the color of their skin.

    The fact that I was born white is not lost on me and I acknowledge my priviledge and try to use it to help correct the imbalance in America.

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