Teaching Social Justice

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As an aside before I begin my post, I love the concept of sketchnoting, and have not formally embraced it yet using technology (only paper and Sharpies).  The ability to write down my thoughts in any format, using any colour,  is very appealing.  I now have a better appreciation of my students who doodle.

Teachers have always been socially conscious and discussed difficult issues with their students.  As society has embraced technology, and our understanding of the world and its’ challenges has expanded,  we are more aware than ever of the injustices occurring across the globe.   Our students bring their concerns into our classrooms every day, and we hear challenging questions.  Sometimes, it is difficult to discuss these questions because it is not our place (as teachers) to share our opinion.  Out of respect for the views of parents, we must remain neutral and not ‘preach’ to our students, or bring our bias into the classroom.  An educator’s job is to teach students how to gather information, think critically, and question what they hear and read.

Danielle McLaughlin, the Director of Education for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and Canadian Civil Liberties Education Trust, wrote an article called “The King of Denmark and the Naked Mole Rat: Teaching Critical Thinking for Social Justice“, where she discusses the importance of teaching children to always ask questions and consider all perspectives.  The most salient quotes are listed below.

Democracy does not, in fact, depend solely upon the rule of the majority; it depends upon the understanding that the majority should be subject to questions and that minority values and views will be tolerated where they do not cause significant harm (2012).

As a Teacher-Librarian, my job is to ensure that students learn to look at all voices – the only way we truly understand an issue is to consider all perspectives.  Each perspective tells a different story, and though we may not agree with that story, we must listen.  By listening, we may learn and gain an understanding, and even begin to ask questions about our own beliefs.  I always ask – is it true? fair? reasonable? just? moral?

We teach justice by actively and purposefully engaging those whose views differ from our own.  We must do this consciously and creatively.  We must invite disagreement, but also acknowledge that all points of view are not equally valid and justifiable (2012). 

Questioning other perspectives is necessary to gain an understanding of an issue, especially for children, who sometimes struggle to understand a different point of view.  I never really considered that “if we find everyone to be in agreement…we should acknowledge that someone is missing” (2012).    The sad history of residential schools in our country is an example where an entire culture – First Nations People – was ignored.  They were “missed”, and the point of view of the majority was just wrong.  Removing children from their families, sending them to schools far away from home, and attempting to ‘erase the culture from them’ is unacceptable.  As a child growing up in Canada, my education regarding First Nations was, in my memory, almost non-existent.  I did not learn about the existence and damage of residential schools until I was well into my adult years.  Why?  I will ensure my students learn how to engage differing views and respectfully invite disagreement.  The Canadian Civil Liberties Education Trust has created a series of videos that can be used with students aged 7 – 11 to learn about rights and freedoms.

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The last quote from the article, “we need to encourage our children to find as many points of view as they can, and to ask questions we many never be able to answer, knowing that education for citizenship lies in the process of thinking critically about the many sides of an issue” (2012).  Ms. McLaughlin discusses citizenship and concludes, rightly so, that our students raise money for a cause so that they “learn to be good citizens who assist people in need – particularly those who are less fortunate and who live in far-off countries” (2012).  She asks, as I do, what about those less fortunate who live among us?  The student in a Grade 3 class who lives in a foster home and has no parents, or a Grade 5 student who lost a library book and the first thing he tells me is his mom can’t pay for it because she has no money.   We cannot ignore those in our own schools, but we also must be sensitive to their situations.   Those students who are fortunate should be made aware that there are students in our community who are not as privileged, and maybe we should ask, “why not?”

RESOURCES FOR TEACHING SOCIAL JUSTICE/CRITICAL THINKING

Teaching Young Children About Bias, Diversity and Social Justice – Edutopia – This article includes 5 strategies for teaching social justice in the classroom.  The most valuable suggestion is teaching social-emotional skills to our students on a regular basis.

Books Matter – The Best Kid Lit on Bias, Diversity and Social Justice – Anti-Defamation League – a list of the best books to use in the classroom – “Book collections for children should serve as “mirrors” that reflect the children and families in the school as well as “windows” that help children explore the true diversity of our world” (ADL, 2016).

 

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One thought on “Teaching Social Justice

  1. Pingback: A Learning Summary | A Teacher in Delta

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