Issues & Definition of Social Justice in Education

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  • 0:04 What Is Social Justice?
  • 0:54 Hard Conversations
  • 1:53 Attending to Inequality
  • 2:21 Action Projects
  • 3:05 Remaining Attuned
  • 3:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Social justice is an important aspect of education in today's society. This lesson will offer a definition of social justice and will familiarize you with a number of issues pertaining to social justice in education.

What Is Social Justice?

Karen is a young teacher who just completed her certification and is getting ready to teach first grade in an urban public school. Over the course of her teacher education, Karen became very interested in social justice and how it relates to education. In this lesson, Karen will share her findings with you, and you can follow along with her as she gets ready to incorporate justice-oriented values into her classroom.

Karen understands that social justice can be very difficult to define. She thinks of social justice as a combination of fairness, equity, and a strong dedication to social action. In education, Karen thinks that social justice means both educating students in a fair and just manner and also preparing them to become change agents, or people equipped to fight for what they believe is right once they enter the world.

Hard Conversations

Karen has come to believe that a major obstacle to incorporating social justice-oriented values into education is developmentalism. Developmentalism is the idea that students at a particular age are ready for a rigid and predetermined set of ideas and nothing beyond this.

While Karen, of course, agrees that there are ideas and themes out there that are not developmentally appropriate for the six- and seven-year-olds she will be teaching, she is determined not to let developmentalism get in the way of the hard conversations she knows she must have in her classroom. For instance, some might say that issues of race and racial violence are developmentally inappropriate for first graders, but this is a privilege that most children of color in the United States do not have.

Karen plans to address hard topics with her students in group conversations, little by little over the year. Having hard conversations with groups of children helps them learn from one another and gain perspectives that they cannot get anywhere but the classroom setting.

Attending to Inequality

Karen has asked her assistant teacher to help her attend to inequality in her own practice. She knows that she is not immune from participating in inequitable power structures. She wants to attend, for instance, to how many boys and girls she calls on each day because she knows that gender inequity is hard to get away from. Similarly, she wants help making sure she does not unduly discipline students of color, who are far more likely than white students to receive harsh punishments in school.

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