Long-time readers of this blog may recall that around 18 months ago I posted a series of sociology simulations, under the general title “7 Sims in 7 Days”, one of which, Cards, Cakes and Class, focused on giving students a physical taste of social inequality. However, while I like the basic ideas underpinning the sim, it suffers from two major problems:
1. It takes a lot of time, effort and space to set-up and run.
2. It mainly focuses on economic inequality to the detriment of other dimensions of class inequality – specifically, cultural and social capital. While the former is, of course, an important dimension of inequality, students need to understand, discuss and, in this instance, experience other dimensions of inequality.
If you liked the basic idea behind “Cakes and Class” (and who doesn’t like to see their students suffer in the name of Education?) but were prevented from running the sim because you couldn’t commit to everything involved in setting it up, you might be interested in this variation by Dawn Norris (Beat The Bourgeoisie: A Social Class Inequality and Mobility Simulation Game). While it covers much the same area as Cakes and Class it does so in a way that’s:
1. Easier to set-up and run: you just need two groups of students and some questions.
2. Quicker to carry-out: Norris suggests the simulation itself should run for around 30 minutes, (with as much time as you like after for a discussion of content and outcomes).
While the full document includes discussion of the simulation’s rationale, plus the research Norris completed around the game, for teaching purposes you’ll probably be more-interested in this shorter document that just covers instructions on how to run a simulation that needs only a minimal level of teacher preparation:
• You might want to tell your students in advance of the simulation class that you’re going to be running a “revision quiz session” for the next class and that they should make appropriate preparations. While this is broadly true the actual objective is to give students experience of different dimensions of social inequality.
• Create a set of “social inequality revision questions” covering whatever area of inequality your students have studied. You can make this as specific or as general as you want and the questions should vary in ease and difficulty.
• For the class itself you will need a reasonably large number of students to run the sim effectively. They will be divided into two groups: a small(ish) “bourgeoisie” and a much larger “proletariat”. As a rough guide you might want to think 25% bourgeois – 75% proletariat.
While the document sets-out the broad “rules of the game” these are not, of course, set in stone. If you want to develop your own rule variants it’s perfectly possible to incorporate them easily into the basic format.
Finally, although the sim was originally designed to focus on class inequality there’s no reason why it couldn’t be adapted to other forms, such as gender, ethnic or age inequalities.
Gender: this may work best if you have a small group of boys (“bourgeoisie”) and a larger group of girls (“proletariat”) although it would also work in reverse (“bourgeois” girls / “proletarian” boys).
Age: This is more difficult because there’s unlikely to be a massive age range in an a-level sociology class. There will, however, be small differences in age and you can set-up groups accordingly – and this puts the focus on “micro group differences”.
Ethnicity: If you have a mixed ethnicity class sufficient to create two groups you can run the sim as per the class example. If you don’t you can simulate ethnic differences within the overall sim by creating two mythical “ethnic groups” of your choice (such as dividing the groups by height, for example).
There are, of course, further groupings you could use to make different points about social inequalities: if you wanted to simulate the effects of educational labelling, for example, you could divide the class by “measured IQ” (real or, a la Pygmalion in Classroom, made-up…).