“You have to remember that as an educator, you have the responsibility to build a community of scholars who will fight for what is right. You must distribute knowledge that permeates advocacy within your classroom. There’s so much more to teaching than education; it is a fight for equitableness.”
– Leslie Ekpe June 7, 2020
In the face of current incidents, it is evident that teachers have a responsibility to educate students by engaging with them to bring meaningful progress to the world, address real-life issues and different points of view, and build a classroom environment that fosters genuine empathy.
A lot of discussion has been generated about being a ‘social justice educator.’ What does this mean? I suggest it means taking action with a few basic classroom practices that allow educators to engage in unique teaching approaches while advocating for social justice in the classroom.
Social justice is an avenue to create change and is appropriate to engage in across all classrooms. Teachers play an important role in creating a culture of consciousness by developing rules which teach justice in both conversation and action in the classroom.
Teachers can enhance classroom culture by creating learning opportunities built from their students’ varied backgrounds. Providing different viewpoints helps align new learning with the experiences of students.
Teachers should use books, articles, and lesson plans, which include diverse voices and cultures when choosing class materials. Educators may need to call on colleagues or community members from particular backgrounds to better understand student’s culture. As the adult, working to understand your students, creates opportunities for students to feel comfortable and confident to develop critical thinking, collaboration, and self-reflection skills necessary to foster a better society.
Useful discussions can be generated by encouraging students to express their ideas and react to other ideas that allow for disagreement, while equally respecting the viewpoint of their classmates. Teachers can model questions and answers which illustrate how to engage in thoughtful conversation, rather than making their classmates feel badly or devalued. Teachers can also explain to students by presenting model responses that equip students to engage in critical discourse.
THE COMMUNITY WITHIN THE CLASSROOM
There are many different ways for you to be a champion of social justice in your classroom. It is also important to note that you do not have to do them all to orient yourself towards social justice. Try to find small ways for you and your students to incorporate the ideas in the practices that you know will work best.
Every member of a just society should have their basic needs fulfilled. They should be physically and mentally stable and secure, be able to develop their natural talents, and be willing to interact openly with others. Therefore, social justice is incompatible with prejudice or bigotry centered on ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, age, or capacity (Wade, 1997).
Criticism is an important element of social justice in the classroom, especially when addressing the origins of injustice in pedagogical practices, the school system, and community. Do not steer away from incorporating social justice because it makes individuals uncomfortable. After all, from being uncomfortable, you ultimately grow.
Your students might investigate the following types of questions in understanding how social justice works:
- ‘Who is involved in decision making?’
- ‘Who succeeds, and who does not?’
- ‘What is a reasonable or unfair practice?’
- ‘What options can we envisage to improve conditions?’
Progress will also occur from the development of tangible, meaningful and real democratic coalitions and the widening of one’s understanding of the effects of racism, and how it affects not just Blacks and other communities of color, but also how it affects white citizens and how these things intersect (Adams et al., 1997).
Ultimately, social justice will not be taught in one lesson. It is a concept that is embedded throughout pedagogical practices and the action of educators. IT’S ON US. Educators can help students start asking the right questions by making them feel comfortable, motivated, and engaged in purposeful and constructive dialogue.
- Adams, L. A. Bell, and P. Griffin, eds., Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook(New York: Routledge, 1997).
- C. Wade, ed., Community Service-Learning: A Guide to Including Service in the Public School Curriculum(Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1997).
Books on Social Justice:
- White Fragility
- The Fire Next Time
- Practice What You Teach: Social Justice Education in the Classroom and the Streets
- Savage Inequalities
- Teaching for Social Justice: A Democracy and Education Reader
- To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher
- Interrupting Racism
- Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race
- It Won’t Be Easy: An Exceedingly Honest (and Slightly Unprofessional) Love Letter to Teaching
Foundations and Resources for Social Justice:
- The Zinn Education Project
- The National Education Association’s Social Justice Lesson Plans
- The Global Oneness Project
- The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding
- Cult of Pedagogy – Social Justice Resource Collection
- Global Oneness Project
- The Southern Poverty Law Center
- Teaching Tolerance
- Equal Justice Initiative