As an educator who wishes to prepare his students for the world outside of the classroom, it is integral that I am a force of change in the classroom. I need to be a role-model that students can use to help guide their decisions and feelings regarding exclusion, prejudice, and injustice. Poplin and Rivera (2005) argue that “[t]eachers need to be broadly educated so that they may broadly educate their students” (p. 32). Therefore, if I am to be an agent of change and stand up against oppression, then I must educate myself so that I can be a credible source. Since I work in a middle school with predominantly white students, it is important that I enlighten them about the world around them. While they may live in a “bubble” now, that may not always be the case. It is important that I give them the skills and education they need because“only in a nation of broadly educated citizens can people be truly free to construct their own meanings and build and participate in a true democracy” (Poplin & Rivera, 2005, p. 32).
To combat exclusion, prejudice, and injustice in the classroom, it is crucial to discuss these issues with the class in a safe and healthy way. The students should understand that we are not coming at this discussion with the goal of influencing their beliefs but to “equip learners with the facts, thus enabling them to form their own opinions on the relevant issues” (Struthers, 2016, p. 153). With this foundation, students will be more open to share their feelings and experiences because they will not feel pressure to appease the teacher and appeal to their sensibilities. Ultimately, this form of neutrality when discussing human rights will, hopefully, lead to students seeing their place in the world and deciding for themselves if they want to be the change that they wish to see.
However, with a neutral stance in mind, it is integral to the development of a healthy and safe classroom to set a precedent that exclusion, prejudice, and injustice have no place in the classroom. If a student’s behavior shows aspects of exclusion, prejudice, and injustice, then it should be used as a teachable moment and not solely as a disciplinary action. Storms (2013) claims that “[s]ocial justice educators believe encouraging students to connect their personal experiences to macro-level social issues may increase their understanding of structural inequality” (p. 35). Therefore, if we use a student’s inappropriate behavior to teach and discuss larger related issues, then the student is more likely to absorb what they are being told because it is grounded in a real-life experience. The impact will be all the more effective because the student will see how their actions play into the overall system of oppression that they may not have been aware of at the time. Rather than only punish the student for their behavior, it is better to educate them as well. After all, that is our goal as educators.
Poplin, M., & Rivera, J. (2005). Merging Social Justice and Accountability: Educating Qualified and Effective Teachers. Theory Into Practice, 27-37.
Storms, S. B. (2013). Preparing Teachers for Social Justice Advocacy. Multicultural Education, 20(2), 33-39.
Struthers, A. C. (2016). Human Rights: A Topic Too Controversial for Mainstream Education?. Human Rights Law Review, 131-162.