Going into the final day of Dr. Brocato’s class, I am preparing myself for a class filled with fun, thoughtful insights, communication, and self-reflection. This semester I have learned so much not only about diversity and social justice but also about myself as a teacher and as an agent of the aforementioned topics. Last class period we were asked to begin filling in personal identity tools. This was key in my self-reflection/evaluation of how I have grown this semester. I’ve been thinking about what else I can fill into the tool since last class and am anxious to finish filling it out today. I am also looking forward to the overall class discussion to see how my classmates have grown as well. Overall, it has been a thought provoking semester that has challenged me and caused me to examine issues that I otherwise may have lacked awareness of for longer. Woo! Social Justice!
Upon the conclusion on this class, I am reflecting back on what all I have learned about social justice and how to implement social justice ideas in classrooms so that I may advocate for my students. I think I learned the most about social justice from the second project we completed in class. The second project was the Universal Intervention Plan in which we were to create a video discussing aspects of the classroom. My partner and I chose to research and present about “creating a physical setting that supports academic and social goals”. I did not realize how many social justice topics were interwoven into creating a physical classroom environment. For example, it is important to create an environment in which students have proper access to all tools they may need. This includes aspects such as having a clear pathway for students with disabilities to maneuver safely. Also, in a classroom it is important to seat your students in a way that helps meet social and academic goals. This can include seating students with learning disabilities or attention disorders in areas that best help them thrive. Project two definitely helped me learn the most concepts that will be directly applicable to my future classroom. Again, part of practicing social justice in the education system is advocating for all students, especially those who may have trouble advocating for themselves. So, as teachers it is important to consider the struggles of all students when arranging a classroom.
For my observation experience, I spent time in a classroom at an early college high school. In a program such as the one I observed, students take both high school and college courses so that when they graduate high school, they will have a high school diploma as well as an Associates degree. So, students that are granted entrance into this program are very academically ahead of their peers upon graduation as they may either enter the workforce with a degree or possibly only have two years left of college if they choose to pursue a Bachelors degree. My first question about the program was how students were chosen to go to this special high school. I learned that students apply for the program and then are either accepted or denied entrance. Also, this is still technically a public high school, so it is funded at least in part by the state. I must admit I am not fully aware of all of the technicalities of the funding. In terms of social justice, I had to wonder if a system such as this one provided equal opportunities to all students. The goal of public schools are to serve all students to the best of the state’s abilities on as fair of a platform as possible. So, is it fair to the students attending public schools to not be given the same opportunity to obtain an Associates degree as their counterparts at this special high school that is also sponsored by the state? The more I think about this question, the more I think that it is a fair system. Students are all given the same opportunity to apply to the school, and all applications are assessed the same way. Social justice does not mean necessarily including everyone in everything. Rather, it is giving everyone the opportunity to find their strengths and find where they excel. So, the students at this special high school happen to excel in this area, and they should not be punished for that or have such an opportunity taken away. In an earlier post I discussed that social justice is bringing up the “have nots” rather than bringing down the “haves”. In this case, students at regular public schools just have to be given their own opportunities to excel rather than taking away this opportunity from the “haves” here.
Earlier in class we participated in an exercise in which students used “I see, I think, I feel” statements to to discuss an issue. This is a method that Dr. Brocato states she has used several times in her real world teaching experience with at risk students. It should be noted though that students do not have to be at risk for this activity to work. In class, we discussed they hypothetical situation of a fellow classmate being habitually late to class. “I see” statements come first in which the speaker states what they observe happening. “I think” statements follow and speakers describe what they think about their observation. Finally, “I feel” statements are made, and these statements carry the most weight because they contain the speakers emotions about situations and can have the most impact. This activity provides a peaceful and safe environment with a facilitator for students to process their emotions and to learn how to resolve conflicts. To me, the use of this method can be very useful in teaching social justice values in schools. To me, part of social justice is not oppressing others viewpoints and giving everyone an opportunity to express themselves. This practice teaches students how to work and communicate with either towards a common goal in a manner that does not stomp on anyone’s voice.
Dr. Brocato’s retelling of how she realistically used this method helped me to best understand it. According to her, it takes a lot of time and building trust to do this activity effectively, and therefore it is not something that can probably be done at the beginning of the school year. Once mastered by the students, though, it is a wonderful tool to help students advocate for themselves and others, and I will hopefully use it in my classroom one day.
A few weeks ago I brought it to the attention of the class that there would be a book talk for White Kids: Growing Up With Privilege in a Racially Divided America by Dr. Margaret Hagerman who is an assistant professor of sociology as Mississippi State University. The book discussed a study that Dr. Hagerman did in three different suburbs of a similar area. She looked at the similarities and differences of these three areas in terms of how and why they chose to live in those, how those choices are influenced by race, and how they discuss race to and with their children. I was particularly interested in how the children she interviewed talked about race and how aware of it they were. The children who lived in suburbs where parents did not discuss race with their families were still noticing racial aspects of life even though they had little experience with it. The parents in another area that were actively talking about race, many of whom were professors at a local college, have children who could talk rather eloquently about race for their age and were much more aware of social justice within their communities and also outside of their communities. The former children, though, seemed to have very little sense of social justice issues, and one particular child even confused Rosa Parks and Eleanor Roosevelt. Therefore, it is incredibly important to begin children and students thinking about and discussion social justice issues early in life so they may develop a better understanding of issues and work towards challenging said issues.
After this talk, I considered my own home town and how race was discussed there within the mostly white communities. In all honesty, it was barely talked about. When it was discussed, it was usually only after a racially charged incident had occurred. Even then, race was talked about in an abstract way rather than as if it was a real issue facing people every day. I think it was because people do not want to think about the people around them or even themselves as having racial biases, so it is easiest to act as if it is not an issue. This course of action, however, is not really action-packed at all. It is rather passive, and does not offer any work towards overcoming such biases. To tolerate such a lack of discourse about race is a social injustice, and as teachers we need to act as leaders in our communities and begin the difficult discussions about race with our students.
Recently we were asked to define studio based learning (SBL) and evaluate the difference between the culture in a studio based learning environment and a traditional learning environment. Studio based learning classes are classes in which collaboration is the goal and center of the class. SBL classes are very discussion heavy and students are encouraged to design and or create. This setting differs from a regular classroom because it is not teacher centered. Traditionally, teachers lecture while students listen and take notes. This offers very little opportunity for students to really engage in their education. Studio based learning is better for students because they can take charge of what they want for their education and get out of it what they put into it. To me, a large part of social justice is giving people independence and opportunities to make their own decisions. So, as teachers we can contribute to social justice in education by engaging in studio based learning environments and allowing students to have a voice in their educational goals.
This summer I was given the privilege of interning at boarding school that engaged in solely studio based learning experiences. No traditional lecturing was employed at any time. Students discussed and explored topics in a variety of creative ways, and it was amazing to watch and be a part of. I had never seen this type of learning executed, and I truly saw the value in it.
Recently in class, we did an activity in which each person was given variations of the same type of sandwich cookie. Some were thin, some were thick, some had more cream in the middle than others, some were one flavor, and some where two flavors. Although they were all different, they were still of the same general type. Our task was to design a rubric that took into account all of these differences and judged them. Every groups rubric was different and evaluated different criteria and ranked qualities differently based on personal taste. On the surface this task was to have future educators think about how we will evaluate our students projects when the work will all be so different and individualized and how we will keep our personal taste from interfering with high quality work. On a deeper level, though, the task got us all thinking about the differences in human beings and how it is impossible and wrong to rank and categorize people into groups of good or bad based on their differences. Considering all of the wonderful differences between all people and realizing that no type of person is better than another is its own form of social justice.