Project: An experiment in class-consciousness

This in-class demonstration is a way to promote awareness of the problems inherent in any culture, which has fostered social conflict. This project works well as an introduction to early modern works of art, literature, and music.

Resources: all you need for this project are a deck of cards and a maximum of four or five treats, such as candy bars or brownies.

Process: before class, sort the cards so that there are no more than five aces or face cards and five low cards: twos, threes, fours. The rest of the cards should be in the middle range--fives through tens. It may be helpful to match the number of cards kept to the number of students in the class. Shuffle the cards.

When students are seated and ready to begin class, have one or more students shuffle and cut the cards. Go around the room and lay one card, face down, on each student's desk. Tell the students not to turn over their cards until everybody has one.

All students turn over their cards at once. At this point, tell the students that this is the social class they've been born into--Aces and face cards high, fives and above--middle class, and fours and below low class. Lowest and highest cards represent those respective positions in the social framework, for example, 2s might be street people.

Have the students move chairs so that all social classes are grouped together. Proceed with the demonstration by encouraging students to speculate such questions as--

What line of work are you in? What is your mode of transportation? How do you spend your days? How do you spend your leisure time, etc. ? Sometime during the early part of the discussion, give the members of the upper class their treats; encourage them to enjoy as the rest of the class continues the discussion. How do other members of the class feel about this? What is the parallel (to treats) in real life?

Try to move the discussion from a lower to higher level--Which class is most mobile? Which group of people bears the most responsibility for other classes? How does marriage (marrying into a higher class, for instance) effect one's class? How does luck (winning the lottery) figure into class distinctions? How might talent (in music, sports for ex.) make one more socially mobile?((A few changes in class/group might be possible if any students decide to marry someone from another class.) Are there any classes (in America, Europe) that still deny entry?

Closure: As you sense that the discussion is winding down, have students reflect (in notebooks or half-sheets of paper) on the experience. What group were they in? How much choice as to class did they have? What emotions were they aware of? What, specifically, were their concerns about other classes?


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