Grappling with Social Justice
I find myself wondering if “social justice” is becoming a buzzword–a trending topic. On one hand, of course it is. Everyone wants social justice, right? How can a person argue against justice, especially in a country that defines its founding upon it, in a way? On the other hand, though, talking about it and living it are two different things–especially, in my opinion, when it comes to teaching for social justice.
Christine Sleeter (California State University, Monterey Bay) wrote a compelling piece for the Journal of Language and Literacy Education titled, Deepening Social Justice Teaching. In it, she addresses the very issue I am currently struggling to understand: what, in fact, does teaching for social justice look like now? How is it changing, and how can I evolve with it in order to best meet my students and my community? I don’t want this work to look like a trend; I want it to be my past, my present, and my future.
According to Sleeter (2015), “Teaching for social justice means developing democratic activism: preparing young people to analyze and challenge forms of discrimination that they, their families, and others face, on behalf of equity for everyone.” To me, that means meeting students where they are, asking them and getting them to ask questions about their world(s), and troubling the ideologies behind those questions and answers. Then, and most importantly, acting out in response to those thoughts.
Sleeter’s words (throughout this piece) encourage me to look past talking about issues, and toward talking back at them (hooks, 1988). Teaching for social justice is not just expressing one’s anger about the injustices found in our country, but acting out against them. As a teacher, I think “all of this” has more to do with how my classes are conducted–what we read, what we write, what we do, how we interact with our communities–and less about what is in my heart as a social justice educator. I can want the best for my students. I can hope for change, but I need to be social justice–be the change (as Jones mentioned in her TSJ guest post).
So, what can we do to make sure “social justice” isn’t trending, but is becoming—being—staying?