I've spent many years teaching in Inner City Edmonton focusing on how incorporating social justice into my classroom curriculum and pedagogy can not only help engage students in the margins of our system but also how it can help us re-imagine what teaching and learning can look like. As fortunate as I have been to do workshops with teachers, speak at conferences and engage in learning with colleagues, I often hear from other educators how social justice education is great for more "disadvantaged" students but it's not needed for those who are not facing social issues such as poverty, racism, etc. This understanding of social justice education couldn't be further from the truth.
Social justice education is for absolutely everyone. I truly believe that a fundamental goal of education is to not just merely ensure that students become workers and find meaningful careers, but that an essential job of any citizen in our society is to uphold our democracy and contribute to the social good. That means we work towards a society that is free from prejudice, discrimination, and oppression. Engaging students in dialogue around issues of race, class gender, sexuality, ability, and colonialism is not only necessary for our society but also for the personal growth of our students. Understanding how power and privilege impact our world requires an intersectional approach to allow students to reflect on their place in the world as well as how their actions and behaviours can contribute to perpetuating oppression within our society.
Social justice education has the power to help students in the margins understand the complex issues that they face on a daily basis not only on an individual basis but also on a systemic one. Hopefully, any time social justice education is taken up in the classroom, students have the opportunity to not only understand how oppression is perpetuated but also that they can be actively engaged in their communities and world to make it a better place. Helping students to make sense of these complex issues as well as presenting simple tools that students can use to take a stand and get involved in community efforts to improve our world should be essential to the education students receive.
At the same time, students in more privileged circumstances should absolutely have the opportunity to learn about issues that don't necessarily impact them on a personal level. Social justice education has shown to help foster a culture of empathy and understanding for students of privilege as well as unite students from various backgrounds to create a more accepting and equitable culture in their schools and society. It's essential we demonstrate the power of diverse people coming together to create powerful change within our society and communities.
Social justice education is not the only solution to reducing and eventually eliminating prejudice and discrimination in our society or schools. Students, regardless if we practice social justice education or not, are already dealing with issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, and colonialism every day. If we're not there to help them make sense of these issues as well as to prevent the perpetuation of discriminatory acts and language then we are missing a grand opportunity to provide students with a transformational experience in our classrooms that they can then take into their lives, professions and communities of the future.
Every classroom has the potential to seriously create dialogue and understanding on issues of justice and equity in our world. We have many responsibilities on our plate as teachers but every once in a while it is worth it for us to take a step back and ask about our true purpose in our role as teachers and intellectuals. If we want a society with a democratically engaged citizenry and reduced prejudice and discrimination then we need to start helping our students make sense of these issues in our classroom and hopefully creating an environment where students of diverse backgrounds not only care about one another in our classrooms but are also committed to creating relationships and communities in their future based on the values of justice, equity, and democracy.