How to Teach About Poverty in Our Affluent Society?
Trying to put our students in touch with poverty through more than "book-learning" or "facts and figures" is an ongoing challenge in a society as prosperous as ours in the U.S. But, our Catholic faith calls us to a "preferential option for the poor," and so we must constantly seek new ways for our students (and ourselves!) to better understand the lives and struggles for justice of poor people ... both at home and abroad.
Among some helpful and "hands-on" resources for teaching about poverty is the award-winning Poverty Project by Linda Hanson of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis. The curriculum is targeted for Junior High/Senior High students, and can be used in whole or in part -- accommodating everything from individual class sessions to extended Confirmation classes to a half-year course.
Hanson notes in the Introduction, “The main goal of the Poverty Project is to facilitate students in removing any prejudices that they hold in their hearts regarding the poor; to recognize, for example, that a ‘bag lady’ is a human person worthy of respect. Each of the activities in this book focuses on and tries to simulate what it might be like to be poor. These experiences can leave a lasting effect on young people that translates into social justice action throughout their lifetimes.” She adds, “The student response to this project was overwhelmingly mature and enthusiastic….This Project can readily be used with students aged 12 through adulthood in any setting: school; Confirmation preparation; Christian formation; youth ministry; or even an adult prayer group….A session usually outlines and provides the resources for a 45-minute to 60-minute class or meeting time.”
A lesson from Hanson’s book is excerpted below:
Time Required: Two class periods or two hours
Objectives: To understand the randomness of poverty and wealth in today’s world
To understand that sometimes it is not a person’s fault that he or she is poor
Notes to Teachers: Play a fixed game of traditional Monopoly. Some players begin with a great deal of money and properties, and others begin the game with next to nothing. Teachers may hear cries of “This isn’t fair.” That is the purpose of this game—to demonstrate how life’s economic situations are many times no fair, and to mimic the unfair cards that are often dealt to people in poverty. Allow the students to play the game until at least half of the class has declared bankruptcy and become spectators.
Materials: One Monopoly board game for every four students in the class; plastic bags. (Ask for students to bring Monopoly games prior to the date set.) Assign four students to each board. Fill four plastic bags per board with the following items:
Bag 1: 3 property monopolies (1 high priced, 1 medium priced, and 1 transportation) plus $20,000
Bag 2: 2 property monopolies (1 high priced and 1 utility) plus $10,000
Bag 3: 1 property monopoly (medium priced) plus $5,000
Bag 4: one piece of lower-priced property plus $1,000
Poverty Project (2nd ed.) by Linda Hanson is available from Good Ground Press, Publications of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, 1884 Randolph Ave., St. Paul, MN 55105 (1-800-232-5533) for $24.95, ISBN# 1-885996-06-3.
Another fairly new set of teaching resources about poverty comes from the U.S. Bishops’ Catholic Campaign for Human Development. The PovertyUSA Student Action Project materials provide age-appropriate resources for use with grades K-8 in schools and religious education programs to raise awareness about poverty in the United States and our Catholic response. Download the K-8 lesson plans and the Poverty Action Day Guide.
Further educational resources on hunger and poverty downloadable from the Internet are listed at Bread for the World’s education website, www.hungernomore.org/web_resources.html.