Teaching for Social Justice: Part One – Social Justice Movements

[MUSIC] I didn’t decide to go into teaching,
I fell into teaching [LAUGH]. Although, I think in some ways, I was
probably always meant to be a teacher. I loved school. I loved education. I was interested in teaching in
some ways even in high school. And actually I had a 12th
grade social studies teacher, who taught a class called,
it was called American Seed. And we read books about social problems. One of the books I read was Teaching
as a Subversive Activity, which was this eye opening book about
how schooling ought to be and what the purpose of schooling should be. Which was that you should question
basically the status quo and the purpose of teaching was to
open up inquiring minds, and to think about not how things are,
but how they could be. I went to graduate school for American
History, and I finished my Masters, and I was about to start a PhD program,
when I realized, I didn’t have the money. I thought, okay, let me work for
a few years, and then I’ll go back to the PhD program. And I got a teaching job. I got a teaching job in a private school. So I didn’t have any education credits
to speak of, but I had a Masters in American History, which meant I could
teach American History pretty quickly. And every year I thought of
this as a one year commitment. And so I made that one year commitment for
18 years [LAUGH]. During that 18 years, of course,
I did go and take education classes. I was exposed to the work of Paulo Freire. I got my permanent
New York State certification and I learned a lot about pedagogy. But I would say that I was always
motivated by a sense of social justice, I brought that into teaching. And as a history teacher, particularly, I think it’s hard to teach history
without having a sense of social justice. Overtime I landed here at
the Southern Property Law Center as Director of Teaching Tolerance. Which just seemed to be,
when I saw that opportunity, it was like this is what I’ve been
kind of training for [LAUGH]. And, it’s a wonderful opportunity, because it combines that
interest in social justice with a deep knowledge in caring about teaching
and with a deep connection to teachers. I’ve worked as a teacher or
with teachers for nearly 40 years and I know what they struggle with and
I know that it’s not always easy. And I know that they care, they want to make a difference
in their students’ lives. And my job is to give them
the tools to help them do that. I think that the first step
is to find at least one other person who wants to have the same kind of
conversation or has the same concerns. One person, that’s all you need. And then to sit down with that one
person and start having a conversation. We just published a booklet
called Let’s Talk. And in fact it tackles exactly this issue,
which is how do you get prepared as a teacher to have conversations in
classrooms that are difficult to have? And those might be classroom
conversations about race. They might be conversations about
ethnicity or immigrant status. They might be conversations now about
the current presidential election. They might be conversations about
sexual orientation or gender identity. I mean, there are all sorts of
conversations that teachers want to talk about. Feel that they need to because it’s
relevant to the needs of their students, but are not particularly
comfortable doing. I like coalitions. I like coalitions, because you get
strengths from different places. You may not have all the capacity
locally that you need. What you talked about, you know that you
may have a school that has only one or two people who are ready to go the next
step, who are ready to take action and they need the support of allies
in another place sometimes. They may not have the allies right
there in their own building. The wonderful thing is that coalitions
can be virtual at this point, so you could have a state wide network. You could have coalitions of individual
teachers and counselors and administrators from the school together with community
groups, perhaps religious groups. There are other organizations
like not in our town and not in our school which are also very,
very good at bringing groups together. And what those coalitions always
do is they start out with here’s where we want to be, this is
the kind of community we want to be. And then they support each other in
figuring out solutions that are going to apply in a very specific place.

1 Response

  1. woof beast says:

    I have been looking for videos that make a positive case for the "social justice" movement. There are quite a few but none of them have many views. I have a hard time knowing which are considered serious promulgations of it's ideas and which are just the "wing nuts" due to a lack of critical review among it's supporters – it is only the conservatives who denounce the violent bigots and bullies who, in the name of social justice, are flagrantly violating the civil rights of others by disrupting some often rather mild-mannered and mainstream events. This seems to indicate it is a very fringe movement in which very few have a positive interest. Yet I constantly hear the term and it's related vocabulary used in the media and by politicians. Why, I wonder, does a movement which the vast majority of people do not buy into, enjoy so much media support and so much effect on legislation and educational curriculum?

    The critics of "social justice" often make the point that it's adherents are unwilling to participate in dialogue and debate. There seems to be a lot of truth to that as calls for such are seldom met except with name calling and even libelous slander. If there are people of honesty and good-will on the social justice side, they would do their cause a lot of good by enaging those with whom they claim to disagree in open and civil dialogue. The charges of cowardice and even malevolence are gaining a lot of traction in the wake of the many "protests" by inarticulate mobs and the refusal of academics to engage in civilized discourse with their peers.

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