Why must educators stand up against exclusion, prejudice, and injustice?

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.

 

References

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.

 

4 thoughts on “Why must educators stand up against exclusion, prejudice, and injustice?”

  1. Matt,
    I love that you mention that in order to stand up against exclusion, prejudices and injustices you must be a role model for your students. Students of all ages look up to the adults around them, and teachers positively or negatively influence students more than they may know. Like you, I’ve also worked in schools of predominately white students living in a bubble. In one of these predominately white schools in which I did my student teaching we read the book “The Watson’s Go To Birmingham” by Christopher Paul Curtis. The story centers around an African-American family living in Michigan, who decide to travel to Birmingham Alabama. The family travels to visit Grandma when their oldest son cannot seem to behave in hopes of straitening him out. I remember the teacher I worked with saying that he wanted the students to read the book to break the bubble that they live in and have an opportunity to see how others live. You also mention that it is important for teachers to take a neutral stance when discussing issues of exclusion, prejudice, and injustice in the classroom. We don’t want to undermine the values of those we teach, and at the same time realize that as educators we cannot tolerate when students treat others in the classroom with disrespect and injustice. I like how you mention that in both circumstances we should educate students, and provide them with facts, so that they will be able to form their own ideas and opinions on different issues.

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  2. Matt,
    I really enjoyed reading your post! Being a role-model for students is crucial when talking about social justice or equality. I also work in a predominately white school and the issue that I face is to have them see things from another prospective. You put it perfectly, using the term “bubble,” aspects of life are easy and familiar within that safe bubble and if they have no interactions or experiences outside of it in their young adult life they will not have a great prospective on the world around them. I find that the classroom environment is important to promote social justice learning and within that classroom students must have the feeling of safety to discuss topics and speak their mind. Also, when controversial topics are discussed student need to practice a civil way of debating and sharing opinions to grow the discussion further. If students practice the skill of listening to others and calmly discussing contrasting points when they leave their “bubble” they will be able to communicate with others who have had a different background and bring different values to a discussion.

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  3. Hey Matt,
    Referencing the bubble concept is excellent when discussing the responsibility of being a teacher. I personally find that encouraging our students to succeed is the ultimate goal. Of course, referencing your concept, co,municating efficiemtly and with others will help them achieve theirs goals. I agree with the previous comments when they state your concept is perfect when it comes down to education. Great insight!

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  4. I think that it is our job to be a role model for other student and to guide them down a better path. I also like the bubble concept probably because I went to a small, mainly white, school. You talked about how we should make it a teachable moment. My question of that is , how does the student register that its wrong if that’s how they grow up? And if that is the case then how do we know if the student is willing to change is viewpoint /belief on it. Just something I thought about.

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