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The United States has some of the greatest income inequality in the world. Though some Americans enjoy comfortable lifestyles, others do not. In this lesson, students will confront the reality of economic inequality, and discuss how we should move forward as a country.
Estimated Time: One class periods
Level: 10th – 12th grade
Civil Dialogue & Critical Thinking
By the end of this lesson, students will have learned:
- Collaboration: students will work together and learn from each other through discussion.
- Civil conversation and conflict resolution: students will learn how to listen, understand and respect one another’s views, especially when there are differences of opinion and background.
- Research and analysis: students will have a deeper understanding of different perspectives (including their own, their classmates, and the country at large) through researching and discussing
See how this program complies with Common Core standards.
Tools & Resources Provided By AS4S & Our Partners
The Inequality Topic page on AllSides will give your students access to background information, current news and opinions, and more.
The AllSides Balanced Dictionary reveals how different people from across the political spectrum think and feel about the same term or issue. Terms: The American Dream, Equity, Equality, Inequality and inequity, Hard Work and Welfare System.
Income Calculator by Pew Research: Are you part of the American middle class?
From the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality: Reducing Poverty the Republican Way vs. Reducing Poverty the Democratic Way
Newsela: The Pros and Cons of a $15 minimum wage in California
ProCon.org: Corporate Tax Rate and Jobs
Suggested Curriculum / Class Plan
Homework Prior to Class
- Students will spend 10-20 min looking at the most recent news about Inequality from different perspectives.
- Teacher should assign articles from the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality (see Resources above). Either assign half the class to each or have entire class read both (3 pages each).
- For a discussion on Minimum Wage, have students read the article on pros and cons of raising it to $15 in California.
- Optional: Students will ask their parent(s)/caregiver(s) to fill out Pew Research’s Income Calculator to see where their family falls in terms of other households in the area. Results are for student knowledge only, not to be reported in class. OR students should take a few minutes to look at Pew Research’s Who is Middle Income infographic.
If you’d like to have an in-class discussion, divide students into small groups, preferably with a mix of biases. (Educator may need to have students complete a simple bias quiz for homework 2 days prior so the Educator has a chance to evaluate relevant classroom biases, if a similar test has never been conducted previously.)
If you’d like to have an online discussion with a classroom that holds different political views, utilize the Mismatch platform.
Pick and choose from the following list of discussion questions, and give students time to discuss them in small groups. If time permits, also have students come back into a larger class-wide discussion to share their thoughts.
How do you think your gender, race, and socioeconomic position have affected your path through life so far?
If our actions and behaviors mostly reproduce the condition in which we live, how can we change inequality?
Is some form of inequality necessary for society to function?
By what processes are inequalities produced?
Does our economic system perpetually sustain the essence of inequality?
Would the world really be better with complete equality?
Should we raise the minimum wage?
If we do raise the minimum wage, what else can we do?
Why don’t the unemployed/underemployed simply find better jobs?
Why can’t the unemployed get off their couches and get back to work?
Can former factory workers retrain into new jobs?
Should we cut public assistance and force people into the job market?
Deeper Meaning questions:
Have you personally seen that there is an opportunity gap?
Do you believe that there is a public need to create equal opportunities for all our young community members?
Do you have ideas for how we might diminish the obstacles to success that some communities face?
What opportunities were and were not available to you?
Final Questions to pose to students, either as homework or just as a wrap up:
What is one important thing you thought was accomplished here?
Is there a next step you would like to take based upon the conversation you just had?
Optional Homework Assignments
- Have students write a 300 word reflection after the Economic Inequality class discussion — what did they learn? Did they have any interesting disagreements? Why do they think discussions about our environment matter?