Thinking About Social Justice and Education

Social Justice is defined as the equal access to (all) resources for everyone (Taylor, 2018).

Bell (2016) states that social justice is both a goal and a process. As we negotiate and move through the task of educating our children it is good to be aware of ways that we can ensure equity and fairness in what we do. Many times, we become so busy “doing” our job we lose our awareness of the guiding principles that are supposed to direct us to not only “best practices” but “fair practices” even “just practices”. The purpose of my writing this is to provide you with some guidelines that will help you maintain your awareness of the way in which you proceed and the degree to which you choose justice in your work. (Oakes and Lipton, Anderson & Stillman, 1999) provide us with a clear lens to think about our practice and remain mindful of the fairness of what we do and how we do it. This framework provides a social justice lens to analyze inequalities in education.  This framework contains the following objectives targeted for analysis of education and schooling.

To uncover, examine, and critique the values and the politics that undergird educational practice and decisions.

Are the ways we operate within our specific jobs based upon solid, ethical values? Or are we simply doing things the way we have always done them and not thinking about any of the consequences? What are the values being used to make decisions at a given district or board? Are these values discussed and are people aware of the founding values being used? Are these values fair? Who chose those values? Why?

To challenge educational common sense (status quo) to ask important questions about why we do the things we do in school and who benefits from them.

Doing things, the same way and expecting different outcomes is how some define insanity. Are we allowing people to challenge the status quo? Is it encouraged for people to test the old school ways? Who is benefitting by operating in this established and encouraged way of thinking? Is there a better, more just way? Are we allowed to ask these sometimes-uncomfortable questions? Or is it accepted that “we have always done it this way” and no other perspectives are accepted or asked for? Who benefits by doing things the same way we have always done things? Also, are the outcomes acceptable and fair to all?

To attend to the ways in which education and schooling contribute to the creation, maintenance and reproduction of inequalities, so we can construct more empowering alternatives and ways of thinking.

Social Justice is concerned with questions of power and decision-making.  It also involves a consideration of the economic and cultural resources available to individuals and to particular communities and sectors within those communities. How is education contributing to this inequality? How does what we do contribute to inequality? Does it? Are we allowed to look? Are we allowed to say something? Is it encouraged or discouraged?

Finally, are there hierarchies being created by what we do and how we do it? When we label students, place them, offer college prep as opposed to vocational education, alternate assessment rather than the Ohio assessment, these choices often result in placing children within hierarchies where consequences differ greatly. Changing this established pattern involves eliminating the injustice created when differences are sorted, and ranked in a hierarchy that unequally confers power, social and economic advantages and institutional validity to social groups based on their location in that hierarchy, (Bell, 2016).   How often do we ask these questions? How ready are you to begin thinking in this way?