At its heart, social justice education is about equality; specifically, giving everyone the ability to access all areas of education. Bell (1997) states that one way to create this equality is to tailor that education to the different needs of students, “The goal of social justice education is full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs’’ (Bell, 1997, p. 3). Social justice education, however, is not as simple as just creating a school and allowing everyone in, akin to a public library. Equal access does not just mean tailoring curriculum to compensate for different learning styles or installing ramps and elevators for those with physical disabilities. Social justice education means looking at the very structure of not only the educational system, but of society, and understanding how people access education has as much to do with their social status as it does with curriculum.
Hackman (2005) states that there are five aspects of social justice education, including content mastery, systems of oppression, action and social change, personal reflection, and multicultural group dynamics. These all work together to identify multiple reasons why people do not equally access education, or become disenfranchised students due to an inability to either find success, or are actually pushed out of educational systems (Hackman, 2005). There is a very real desire for people to find the one book, the one assignment, the one teacher that will, in turn, be able to be the magic bean that will help to reach all students and help them access the opportunities that education offers. Unfortunately, the answer is just not that simple; in order to address the multi-faceted issues that face education, it is imperative to address each one adequately to ensure that equal access can be achieved.
As an educator, I have taught students from the very lowest to the upper levels of social classes. I have taught students from Community Day and Continuation High Schools, and I have taught Honors and AP classes. What is similar across all levels is the real need for systematic change that will provide a more equitable arena for students, no matter where they were born, and no matter what their interest. There is a real need for discussion about social justice education at all levels in order to better serve all of our students.
Bell, L. A. (1997). Theoretical foundations for social justice education. In M. Adams, L. Bell, & P. Griffin (Eds.), Teaching for diversity and social justice: A sourcebook (pp. 3–15). New York: Routledge.
Heather W. Hackman (2005) Five Essential Components for Social Justice Education, Equity & Excellence in Education, 38:2, 103-109, DOI: 10.1080/10665680590935034
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