Social Justice Reflection

  1. Do you have any new insights after the class experience concerning social justice?

I believe that I have developed a plethora of new insights about social justice due to my experiences in this class. Prior to this class, I, regrettably, only had an understanding of social justice in terms of the much derided “social justice warrior.” While this may be how social justice is discussed on the internet, it bears little resemblance to how I currently view social justice. Instead, I view social justice as a means to create a fair, equitable, and empathetic society for all. This means a supporter for social justice is a force for good in the world who advocates for dignity in all aspects of life. Additionally, I feel that this class has made me more conscious of the words that I use and how they may affect and be interpreted by others. I am much more aware of my blind spots and make a point to tailor my language towards inclusivity. In my case, this is as simple as finding a different way to address the class that is more inclusive than “guys.” While simple, this may make a difference in a student’s life and make them feel more comfortable and at ease- a feeling that all students deserve.

  1. Do you have any new concerns about social justice?

My major concern about social justice is its maligned reputation. People tend to have a view of social justice that does a complete disservice to its meaning and purpose in society. As a result, they tend to react negatively to any mention of the phrase. Therefore, I think we, as educators and members of society, need to reclaim the phrase and the conversation around it. Social justice is not something to be jeered at, but a goal that I believe to be attainable. This is why it needs become an important part of the classroom and instruction.

  1. What is your philosophy of integrating social justice in the classroom?

My philosophy is that social justice can and should be integrated into the classroom seamlessly. I do not believe that social justice must be discussed explicitly. However, I do believe it should be a guiding principle for instruction. In regard to ELA classes, I think this can be achieved rather easily. Teachers can introduce social justice issues into discussions about texts and articles. I find this to be effective strategy because it allows students to discuss these issues and interpret them on their own without any outside influence. This is important because it is not our job as educators to instill our beliefs into our students, but to guide them and give students the necessary tools to come to their own conclusions. Therefore, social justice should be a lens through which students learn and develop.

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.