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A Case for Social Justice Education

Why is social justice important to teaching and education? As someone who has "branded" themselves a "social justice teacher", I feel I should have a good answer to this question. As I think about the world I live in, I see issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, (dis)ability, and colonialism being perpetuated on a daily basis. Within each of those categories, there is a power group that benefits and one that does not. Social justice education is about challenging those power groups and the society that perpetuates the inequality in each one of those categories. Students must begin to confront the realities of their communities and the larger world around them. Social justice education is challenging the notion that education is more than just training students for jobs, it is educating and empowering them to be free-thinking, critical citizens who care about the world they live in.

Now, what does that look like in the classroom? To me, social justice education/teaching is allowing students to question power within and outside of the classroom. As a teacher, I want to create a space where students feel free to challenge authority and power structures. If I can successfully engage students in this process, then I have succeeded at getting my students to think critically and thoroughly over issues that impact them and the world they live in. It is essential that we teach students to not just accept the social, economic, and political structures within our society, but ask them to challenge those structures. We should ask students if those systems can be improved? How do they envision a better world? For more info and social justice teaching ideas check out my "Teacher Resources" page on my blog: http://danscratch.blogspot.ca/p/teaching-resources.html

Unfortunately, many people think that if you incorporate social justice within the classroom, it teeters on "brainwashing" or "indoctrinating" students to a particular ideology. As one commenter on a previous blog post suggested, "Is social justice a cover term for socialism?". On the contrary, social justice is not about replacing one ideology with another. If social justice is successful within the classroom, then students will be actively challenging their own and their teachers pre-conceived notions. The teacher should not act as the only authority in the classroom when it comes to knowledge. Rather, a social justice teacher should work to empower and grow the confidence of their students to learn together and create their own knowledge within the classroom.

Despite a popular misconception about teachers, we are not neutral, unbiased, or objective (see my previous blog post on this here: http://danscratch.blogspot.ca/2013/08/i-am-teacher-i-am-not-neutral-unbiased.html). It is essential that teachers represent all sides to a debate or issue when learning about it and allow students to come to their own conclusions. However, we must realise that when we teach a topic, our own beliefs and values will permeate how we teach it. Instead of ignoring this fact, we should teach students to challenge us on our beliefs, just as we do for them.

In the past, I have been hesitant to use the term social justice when discussing my teaching practice. I have seen far too many eye rolls from fellow educators and am not blind as to how the media portrays social justice education (Take a look a Maclean's magazine portrayal "Why Are Schools Brainwashing Our Children": http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/10/31/why-are-schools-brainwashing-our-children/). This malicious portrayal of what I do has caused me to have doubts and apprehension about practicing what I think is fundamental to a strong education. However, thanks to some great feedback on twitter from fellow educators, I have felt the support and push to continue what I'm doing (I only wish my real-life PLN was as good as my twitter one!).

Overall, social justice education is about teaching students how to think and question. It is encouraging them to be compassionate and empathetic to people and the world around them. Social justice education is about empowering students to become engaged and critical citizens to change the world for the better (if they think it needs changing of course). Social justice can be incorporated into social studies, English, math, science, and just about every other topic (That's an entirely different blog post to get into how to do that). I hope that those reading this reflect on how social justice is a part of their practice and lives, and hopefully begin, or continue, the important work to make this world a little bit of a better place.

Comments

  1. Thank you Dan for this powerful post. It speaks to teachers at/on so many levels. In my opinion, it would not be worth teaching if social justice could not be infused into every aspect of the classroom. Your post causes me, as it should, to reflect on my own practice. (Something that is greatly appreciated.) As we ask our learners to trust us, we in turn must ensure that they are given a 360 degree look at the world around them. Teach on!

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  2. Thanks Will! I just want to make sure that students not only understand the world outside the classroom, but also feel that they have the tools to make it better. Large task, I know, but I feel it's one worth striving for. As always, I appreciate your support and thanks for reading! Cheers!

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  3. Good post, Dan. A good (academic) article on this is "Is teaching for social justice a liberal bias"? available here: https://cidocstudents2012.wikispaces.com/file/detail/Applebaum_Is+Teaching+for+Social+Justice+a+%C2%93Liberal+Bias%C2%94%3F.pdf (though I might quibble with the use of the word "liberal")

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  4. Dan not too sure if my previous comment got sent. Love the blog post. I feel your pain and frustration over this topic too. I the it when I am told I am indoctrinating my students. I am only trying to teach my students how I want them to be and what world I want to live in. I often shoot back excuse me for trying to teaching caring and compassionate people, ones that don't hate, judge and want to create war. Keep doing what you are doing and I hope you don't mind but will be using your blog post in future pd and talks. Thanks for sharing.

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