Social Justice with the Classroom in Mind

Our teacher, Dr. Kay Brocato prompted us on Monday with the following: “What I know about social justice that I did not know on 8/15 is…”

8/15 marks the beginning of our class Planning for the Diversity of Leaners. Up until this point we have completed 2 full units of study: Unit in Diversity Talk and Universal Intervention Plan. We have also participated in a community discussion titled ” The Divided States of America and in classroom settings with our Generation S Learners. As the name of the class and the units of study imply, this class is heavily focused on social justice.

In this class, we have had the opportunity to learn from each others’ Unit in Diversity Talks about various topics relevant to our Mississippi classrooms, specifically focusing on areas like race, gender, SES, ethnicity, and even textbooks and standardized testing. As future educators, we are spending time in the Planning for the Diversity of Learners class in order to first, recognize the different types of diversities and second, learn how to reach all of our diverse learners. In this class, I have learned that the “answer” to almost every classroom scenario is “it depends…” Every learner has unique needs, and capabilities, talents. In every classroom scenario, the answer to how a teacher should solve a problem or create a solution depends on his/her learners. Mississippi State University’s policy against discrimination is very clear. It outlines a list of the characteristics protected by laws for which students may not be discriminated against under any circumstances. My classmates and I have learned a lot from each other about ways to teach individuals with these and other diverse characteristics. Still, with each project we do or topic we discuss, I can’t help linking most things back to Abraham Maslow. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs describes how all students, all people, need to feel a sense of belonging in order to learn and to grow. Different educational theorists have different ideas about whether or not social justice should be “taught” in the classroom. Some say to  stick to teaching your content. Others feel like lessons in social justice are some of the most valuable lessons you can learn. I would have to say, I side more closely with the latter. While I think it is of high importance that all teachers teach their content with depth and rigor, I also feel very strongly about the lessons in social justice that students will experience in my classroom. Social justice shouldn’t look like an ordinary math lesson taught by direct instruction. Social justice is taught through experience. Students watch teachers and everyone around them, soaking up experience, and figuring out the type of person they want to become. I want to be a teacher who models social justice by creating a safe environment for my students where they know everyone is welcome and we share mutual trust in each other. I want my students to feel comfortable asking me or their peers questions that spark difficult, real conversations. I want them to develop critical thinking skills, so that as they grow, they can develop their own moral code and find purpose for themselves. I want to foster an environment for thinkers and creators. What I’ve learned about social justice is that it is a process, but I can bravely be a part of that process, and I can help inspire my students to be a part of that process, too.

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