Does Social Justice Education Matter?

June 27, 2017
 
Diverse group of children's ahnds holding up the globe.

The Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair

Last week, I participated in the University of Illinois 5 Days for Change training program.  I went through this program last year as a participant and then was able to serve as a facilitator this year. This intensive training program is designed to provide university staff members with the opportunity to acquire and strengthen cultural competencies, awareness, and skills. This training is also designed to increase the visibility, skill, and effectiveness of allies in the cause of social justice and campus civility as critical campus incidents arise.

As I finished my training on last Friday, it made me realize that these skills and greater awareness are equally important for our children to learn in the classroom setting. As teachers, we have control over the cultures of our classrooms, but we cannot control the world our students face when they leave us. As a result, it is important that we continue to incorporate Social Justice Education into our curriculum to do our part in helping our students become “socially just” citizens.

Christina Torres is a seventh and ninth grade English teacher in Honolulu, Hawaii. She wrote a blog for Teaching Tolerance, a Product of the Southern Poverty Law Center where she stated, “Whether or not I talk about it, my students are bombarded with issues surrounding privilege and power every single day. “Activism” is now so rampant that it, for better or worse, even appears in Oscar acceptance speeches. Protests are televised and publicized at the click of a button, and the Internet has turned four hash marks into weapons of mass discussion. Whether or not I talk about it, they will.”

Teaching is a passion and the ability to pour into our students can be rewarding. Not only do we teach them academics but we can also teach them how to be good, civil people as well.  In order for them to grow up with this understanding, they have to understand society. One of the first ways we can incorporate social justice in the classroom is to establish a community with good morals. This type of classroom confirms that student voices, opinions, and ideas matter. Teachers can establish a community of conscience by creating rules that teach fairness in classroom discussions and behavior. It is beneficial to give students opportunities to see how positive change happens and how they can be both actors and leaders in creating change.

If you are seeking resources to support incorporating Social Justice Education into your classroom, you can start with this book list from A Teaching for Change Project.  This list of books ranges from Pre-K through grade twelve. The Illinois Edition of PBS LearningMedia also has many video clips and images that can be used to support your lessons and spark discussions. The photo collection, From the Civil Rights Movement to Black Lives Matter has engaging photos depicting the similarities between both of these massive movements and its impact on America.  PBS News Hour did a story following President Donald Trump’s inauguration, where hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered in Washington, D.C. for the Women's March on Washington. These are just a few examples of the many resources that can be used to support Social Justice Education in your classroom. Henry Brooks Adams said it best when he said, “A teacher affects eternity, and can never tell where the influence stops.”