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Beliefs about Social Justice in English Education

Beliefs about Social Justice in English Education - Previous Revision

Conference on English Education, December 2009

Preamble

The United States’s first belief statement, the Declaration of Independence, asserts that all men [sic] are created equal; however, this promised ideal has failed. All people are not treated fairly, nor are they afforded the equality of opportunity that the Declaration implies. Instead, misues of power and privilege have oppressed and marginalized people based on differences of ethnicity, age, gender, ability, social class, political beliefs, marital status, size [height and /or weight], sexual orientation, gender expression, spiritual beliefs, language, and national origin. While the American educational system is supposed to mediate differences and provide equal opportunities for ALL students, schools often reinforce and reproduce injustice.

Through a sustained commitment to social justice in all its forms, English education can contribute to disrupting these inequitable hierarchies of power and privilege. This document outlines specific beliefs and recommendations toward this end.

Structure and Scope of the Document

This document is designed to provide policy makers, K-12 English teacher educators and their students, and those impacted by them, with meta-perspectives for understanding the importance of social justice both in and out of school contexts. We provide our seven beliefs about social justice and unpack them to explain each in more detail. With each belief, we enumerate with K-12 activities and assignments (that can be adapted to meet grade level needs and standards), provide an appendix with teacher educator activities and assignments that scaffold social justice into methods, provide considerations for research, and offer relevant resources for teachers to use in their classroom practice. Although not comprehensive, we recognize this as a work in progress that can be expanded over time and into future contexts. A goal of this document and its related research is to prime and move social justice into policy in English education.

Seven Beliefs about Social Justice in Schools

We believe that social justice is:

  1. A goal that evades easy definition 
  2. A grounded theory
  3. A stance/position 
  4. A pedagogy   
  5. A process 
  6. A framework for research  
  7. A promise

The Beliefs Expanded

Belief 1: Definition of Social Justice

Social justice is definitionally complex; it ignites controversy, is not neutral, and varies by person, culture, social class, gender, context, space and time. In fact, when definitions are consensus bound, a consensus definition of social justice is not likely to satisfy the most open-minded of thinkers. Furthermore, social justice cannot be reified nor can it be traced to any one particular location because the definition localizes in the individual or in a collective, not in any governmental policy (Miller, forthcoming 2010). We recognize that many people committed to social justice live a life that extends the following beliefs to outside of school contexts and that we cannot write a belief statement that encompasses every person’s experiences. We further recognize that a commitment to enacting social justice in schools is activist-oriented. This definition is, therefore, bound to the K-12 Language Arts and English teacher education classroom contexts. We believe that a disposition committed to enacting social justice enables teachers to teach all students more fairly and equitably. For social justice to exist in our schools means that each student in our classrooms is entitled to the same opportunities for academic achievement regardless of background or acquired privilege.

it ignites controversy, is not neutral, and varies by person, culture, social class, gender, context, space and time. In fact, when definitions are consensus bound, a consensus definition of social justice is not likely to satisfy the most open-minded of thinkers. Furthermore, social justice cannot be reified nor can it be traced to any one particular location because the definition localizes in the individual or in a collective, not in any governmental policy (Miller, forthcoming 2010). We recognize that many people committed to social justice live a life that extends the following beliefs to outside of school contexts and that we cannot write a belief statement that encompasses every person’s experiences. We further recognize that a commitment to enacting social justice in schools is activist-oriented. This definition is, therefore, bound to the K-12 Language Arts and English teacher education classroom contexts. We believe that a disposition committed to enacting social justice enables teachers to teach all students more fairly and equitably. For social justice to exist in our schools means that each student in our classrooms is entitled to the same opportunities for academic achievement regardless of background or acquired privilege.

Although such a disposition will prompt various pedagogical responses depending on the context, we believe that social justice must be a central part of the rhetoric we educators use to conceptualize and carry out our work. Thus, it means that in schools and university classrooms, we educators must teach about injustice and discrimination in all its forms with regard to differences in: race, ethnicity, gender, gender expression, age, appearance, ability, national origin, language, spiritual belief, size [height and/or weight], sexual orientation, social class, economic circumstance, environment, ecology, culture, and the treatment of animals. Again, although we recognize that while we cannot predict with certainty what kinds of teaching materials and methods might promote social justice across contexts, we believe that the following activities/assignments are a useful point of departure for students and teachers to explore what might be definitions and measures of justice in a given time and place:

K-12 Activities/Assignments
  • Ask students what social justice means.
  • Have students discuss examples of social justice or injustice in their lives.
  • Ask students why social justice is important.
  • Have students do research about issues relating to manifestations of power and privilege and how these have influenced their lives in their neighborhoods, counties, and states.
  • Have students do reports on political rulings that have impacted human rights locally, nationally and abroad.
  • Reflect on possible outcomes of living a life that dismisses justice as a priority
  • Analyze language related to social justice: power, privilege oppression, myth, hatred, violence, peace, equity, inequity, access, academic standardization, and the language embedded within the definition of social justice.
Teacher Education Activities/Assignments

It is highly likely that students come to us at varying levels of awareness about issues relating  to social justice. In this descriptive, non-prescriptive developmental model for scaffolding social justice into English methods courses, the model accounts for a continuum of understanding of awareness. The model is nonlinear as people are likely to move back and forth quickly between stages. Therefore some activities can include various levels at once. Instructors would need to assess when students are ready to be pushed on to different levels. It is up to the instructor and student to select activities based on student need, to select the place at which begin the work. In fact, the developmental identity model for social justice can be individualized based on a student’s awareness around social justice and her commitment to it.

As we work within this model, the curriculum we teach and how we construct our lessons will support and facilitate the cognitive, emotional and corporeal growth of our students. The first model, which is referred to as the meta-framework, comes from Nieto and Bode (2008) who provide a framework for supporting individuals through developmental stages in becoming multiculturally sensitive: (1) tolerance [critical reflection], (2) acceptance, (3) respect, and, (4), affirmation, solidarity, and critique. Instead of naming the first stage as “tolerance,” which means to “put up” with something even though one’s principles may malign with it, it will be called “critical reflection.” The second model comes from a non-empirical model as described in Narratives of Social Justice Teaching (Miller, 2008), where the once called, 5 “re-s” but now referred to as the 6 “re-s,” are introduced as what happens during the “critical pause time” when the preservice teacher can quickly reflect, reconsider, refuse, reconceptualize, rejuvenate and reengage in a manner of seconds.

The 6 “re-s”, reflect, reconsider, refuse, reconceptualize, rejuvenate and reengage can be applied to the lessons and become practice for the possible social justice and injustice issues faced by preservice teachers in the field (Miller, forthcoming). This process can support preservice and student teachers develop these skills whereby they move from a potentially destabilizing moment into a restabilizing stance and articulate a response to the best of their ability. Such movement, albeit unseen to the audience, is a strategy to preserve and enhance social justice and other kinds of teaching in the classroom. The 6 “re-s” can exist with any of the four meta-framework stages. Building upon the amalgam of these two models, these proposed strategies can be appropriated into methods courses as we work toward scaffolding a social justice identity. Reflection can support a teacher to make a transition when something isn’t going well or even when extensions can be made to other topics. Reconsider references that something might need to be changed to make a situation flow more effectively. Refuse allows for a preservice teacher to negotiate against ideas, to not actively participate, to disagree or even refuse and reject altogether. Reconceptualize enables students to understand that there is more than one way to do or respond to something. Rejuvenate becomes a sense of “My principles about social justice matter in the context of this classroom and I will not abandon them.” In other words, the practice students have in methods classes should work toward stabilizing students’ belief systems especially if they are not supported by the school environment. Reengage helps students stay present and involved in their teaching for social justice even when they may feel that the school system seems to be unsupportive of equity for all. Although the structure provided is a sample for how to scaffold social justice identity, it will have efficacy in the context of students’ teaching lives.

See Appendix A

Researcher Stance and Research Questions
  • How do we prepare preservice English teachers to meet the challenges that social justice will bring in schools?
  • How do we foster a commitment to social justice?
  • How can we support preservice English teachers to maintain a social justice disposition when schools in which they teach do not support teaching for social justice?
  • Can a definition of social justice be neutral?
  • How can social justice research benefit from assessing the effectiveness of the non-empirical model offered in this document.

Relevant Resources

Apple, M. (2006). Interrupting the right: On doing critical educational work in conservative times. In G. Ladson-Billings, & W.F. Tate (Eds.), Educational research in the public interest: Social justice, action, and policy, (pp. 27-45). New York: Teachers College Press.

Applebaum, B. (2004). Social justice education, moral agency, and the subject of resistance. Educational Theory, 54(1), 59-72.

Ayers, W. (1998). Popular education: Teaching for social justice (xvi-xxv). In W. Ayers, J.A. Hunt, & T. Quinn (Eds.), Teaching for social justice. New York: The New Press.

Boutte, G. (2008). Beyond the Illusion of Diversity: How Early Childhood Teachers Can Promote Social Justice. Social Studies, 99(4), 165-173.

Clark, J. (2006). Social justice, education and schooling: Some philosophical issues. British Journal of Educational Studies, 54(3), 272-287.

Cochran-Smith, M. (1999). Learning to teach for social justice. In G.A. Griffin (Ed.), The education of teachers (pp. 114-144). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Cochran-Smith, M. (2004). Walking the road: Race, diversity and social justice in teacher education.  New York: Teachers College Press.

Cochran-Smith, M., et al. (2009). Teacher education for social justice. In W. Ayers, T. Quinn,  & D. Stovall (Eds.), Handbook of social justice in education (pp. 625-639). New York:  Routledge.

Cribb, A., & Gerwitz, S. (2003). Towards a sociology of just practices: An analysis of plural  conceptions of justice. In C. Vincent (Ed.), Social justice, education, and identity (pp. 15-29).  London: RoutledgeFalmer.

DeStigter, T. (2008). Lifting the veil of ignorance: Thoughts on the future of social justice teaching. In s. Miller, L. Beliveau, T. DeStigter, D. Kirkland, & P. Rice, Narratives of social justice teaching: How English teachers negotiate theory and practice between preservice and inservice spaces (pp.121-144). New York: Peter Lang.

Dewey, J. (1915, May 5). The New Republic, 3, 40.

———. (1987). Democracy and educational administration. In J.A. Boydson (Ed.), John Dewey: Later works, 1925-1953. Carbondale & Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press. (Original work published 1937)

Duncan-Andrade, J. (2004). Toward Teacher Development for the Urban in Urban Teaching. Teaching Education, 15(4): 339 – 350.

Fish, S. (1999).  The trouble with principle. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum Publishing.

Ladosn-Billings, G. (2000). Preparing teachers for diversity: Historical perspectives, current trends, and future directions. In L. Darling-Hammond & G. Sykes (Eds.), Teaching as the learning profession: Handbook of policy and practice (pp. 86-87). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Miller, s., & Norris, L. (2007). Unpacking the loaded teacher matrix: Negotiating space and time between university and secondary English classrooms. New York: Peter Lang.

Nussbaum, M. (2006). Frontiers of justice. Cambridge: Belknap Press.

Rawls, J. (1971). A theory of justice. Oxford: Clarendnon press.

Wiedeman, C. (2002). Teacher preparation, social justice, equity:  A review of the literature. Equity & Excellence in Education 35, (3), 200-211.

Belief 2: A Grounded Theory

A grounded theory for social justice presupposes that all students should be treated with human dignity, that all are worthy of the same educational opportunities, and that the contract they enter into with schools must honor their sociocultural advantages and disadvantages. It must seek to offer the same educational, sociocultural, and psycho-emotional opportunities to them in order to help them meet and obtain a [determined] basic threshold that is mutually beneficial to students and educators. Our theory also recognizes that students have different moral, physical and intellectual capabilities due to the historical inheritance of oppression and class status.

A grounded theory for social justice related to K-12 Language Arts and the preservice English teacher classroom translates and demonstrates theory into direct classroom practice as it accounts for inequitable histories, specifies them, and not only brings students up to their [determined] capability thresholds to meet minimums, but also prepares them to sustain and take on challenges in the future beyond. If any student is left behind, the system has failed, no matter how well some may have succeeded. Such a theory for social justice is not parsimonious nor does it leave any student behind, rather it extends altruism to all. A system for all, is implicit in its inception, it is a system for all (Miller, forthcoming, 2010).

Just as Nussbaum (2006) identifies her work as having moralistic implications, we, too, identify a commitment to enacting social justice in schools that is highly moral and ethically evaluative. We do want to create systemic change in education and we want to stop oppressive attitudes and political rulings from interfering with students’ opportunities for success in schools. A belief about social justice as grounded theory recognizes and honors the relationships among language, knowledge, and power both in the teaching of English and in the preparation of English teachers, particularly recognizing those relationships that help foster and maintain uneven social and educational outcomes (Commission for Social Justice Mission Statement, 2009). We ground our work in the belief that English teaching and English teacher preparation are political activities that mediate relationships of power and privilege in social interactions, institutions, and meaning-making processes. Such relationships, we believe, have direct implications for how we achieve equity and access outcomes in English classrooms. We feel it is impossible to prepare English teachers or to engage in serious English study and scholarship without meeting these goals. The challenge for our research is to sustain the critical dialogue, necessary for developing and uncovering theories and practices in the teaching of English that foreground and promote respect across multiple social categories, including race, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation, ethnicity, language, national origin, spiritual belief, socioeconomic status, culture, size [height/and or weight], and ability. These subjectivities, or ways that individuals imagine themselves and their possibilities for action, function together to determine how teachers in English language arts position themselves and others in everyday interactions, in institutions such as schools, and in society. Further, the act of positioning delineates individual and collective opportunities for growth and social activism in the profession of English language arts—opportunities we feel can have a transformative impact on society. To reiterate, such a theory must stay committed to being translated into direct classroom practice.

K-12 Activities/Assignments
  • Have students reflect on the question where does oppression comes from?
  • Ask students if there are any oppressive rules in school and unpack their impact on students’ lives.
  • Ask students what kind of changes might make schools more equitable for ALL students.
  • Have students research the impact of First Amendment Speech rights while in school.
  • Discuss with students whether they perceive some students are exempted from oppression and why.
  • Discuss the meaning of being proactive and how social justice actions can manifest in their lives.
  • Reflect on the social constructions of language, culture, economics, and binary relationships and how they inform policy.
Teacher Education Activities/Assignments

See Appendix A

Researcher Stance and Research Questions
  • Should a theory for social justice embrace oppressive views?
  • Through a theory for social justice, how can we, and do we, need to differentiate between oppressive actions and generative language (Freire, 1970)?
  • How do we determine what is socially injust?
  • What other fields of study do we need to continue to draw from to help inform a theory for social justice in English education?
  • How can a theory for social justice stay committed to being translated into direct classroom practice?
Relevant Resources

Ayers, W. (1998). Popular education: Teaching for social justice (xvi-xxv). In W. Ayers, J.A.  Hunt, & T. Quinn (Eds.), Teaching for social justice. New York: The New Press.

Christensen, C., & Dorn, S. (1997). Competing notions of social justice and contradictions in  special education reform. Journal of Special Education, 31(2), 181.

Cribb, A., & Gerwitz, S. (2003). Towards a sociology of just practices: An analysis of plural  conceptions of justice. In C. Vincent (Ed.), Social justice, education, and identity (pp. 15- 29). London: RoutledgeFalmer.

Fraser, N. (1997). Justice interruptus: Critical reflections on the ‘postsocialist’ condition. London:  Routledge.

Fraser, N. (2006). Retrieved November 11, 2006, from  http:///www.newschool.edu/GF/polsci/faculty/fraser.

Fraser, N. (2003). Social justice in the age of identity politics: Redistribution: recognition, and  participation. In N. Fraser and A. Honneth (Eds.), Redistribution, or recognition? A  political- philosophical exchange. London: verso.

———.   (2005). Reframing justice in globalizing world. New Left Review, 36. Retrieved
 December 24, 2008, from  http://www.newleftreview.net/?page=article&view=2589.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum Publishing.

Gerwitz, S. (2002). The managerial school. London: RoutledgeFalmer.

Hursh, D. (2009). Beyond the justice of the market: Combating neoliberal educational  discourse and promoting deliberative democracy and economic equality. In W. Ayers, T.  Quinn, & D. Stovall (Eds.), Handbook of social justice in education (pp. 152-170). New York:  Routledge.

Ladosn-Billings, G. (2000). Preparing teachers for diversity: Historical perspectives, current trends, and future directions. In L. Darling-Hammond & G. Sykes (Eds.), Teaching as the learning profession: Handbook of policy and practice (pp. 86-87). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Miller, s., (Forthcoming, 2010). Introduction: Teaching social justice. In s. Miller & D. Kirkland Eds.), Change Matters. Qualitative Research Ideas for Moving Social Justice Theory to Policy (pp.xx-xx). New York: Peter Lang.

Miller, s., & Norris, L. (2007). Unpacking the loaded teacher matrix: Negotiating space and time  between university and secondary English classrooms. New York: Peter Lang.

Nozick, R. (1974). Anarchy, state, and utopia. New York: Basic Books.

Nussbaum, M. (2006). Frontiers of justice. Cambridge: Belknap Press.

Rawls, J. (1971). A theory of justice. Oxford: Clarendnon press.

Walker, M. (2006). Towards a capability-based theory of social justice for education policy-  making. Journal of Education Policy, 21(2), 163-185.

Wiedeman, C. (2002). Teacher preparation, social justice, equity:  A review of the literature. Equity & Excellence in Education 35, (3), 200-211.

Young, I. (1990). Justice and the politics of difference. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

 

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