A message about thinking globally…

I believe in teaching for social justice and social change

I believe in place-based education to develop student’s sense of self, community and place.

Lately there has been a lot of buzz around social justice issues such as Kony 2012. When I think about social justice in the classroom, many things come to mind. First of all, I think it is really important that we take the approach of thinking globally and acting locally. Social justice issues are many and wide, and as teachers we need to expose children to as many of these as possible. There are so many resources available for children of all ages to bring these issues  to their attention. Once we have discussed, examined, and learned about these issues, we then need to make relevant connections for our students. This is where place based education becomes important. For example, a middle years classroom might watch a video about starving children in Africa, after doing so they might be inspired and wish to help. It is my opinion that volunteering at a soup kitchen in Regina would be more relevant and effective than raising money to send to an organization in Africa. A few months ago a stumbled upon this website that suggested 10 strategies for integrating social justice in the classroom. These provide many great starting points for teachers looking to integrate social  justice.

  1. Include in the syllabus guidelines for respectful interaction among everyone and model that respect.
  2. In the first few sessions, take time to solicit from students what they perceive as justice or equity issues related to the subject of the course and invite them to identify which ones are the most urgent. Use this information to develop subsequent lessons and student assignments.
  3. Create community service components as requirements for the class, and ensure that reflection on experience is a critical part of the assignment.
  4. Compare and contrast notions of justice historically and geopolitically.
  5. Investigate and discuss those agencies or government offices that hold responsibility for ensuring justice is administered in business and society; examine and evaluate the effectiveness and limitations of their work. Focus on those entities that relate most directly to the concerns initially identified in class.
  6. Profile biographies of individuals who have exemplified social justice, trace the development of their concerns and efforts to advance justice, identify any obstacles they faced. Examine the implications of these lives for students today.
  7. Construct a visual representation or graphic organizer that identifies the shared beliefs about justice expressed by various cultures.
  8. Create profiles of local, state and nationally elected leaders and identify their positions on social justice and equity issues.
  9. Invite local leaders and advocates into class to address social justice from their perspective and experience, or attend a session of the local assembly or city council and conduct a content analysis of social concerns and the leadership’s response to them.
  10. Acquaint yourself with current research on controversial issues in your field, and articulate how these relate to equity, democratic principles and social justice.
During my internship, I was searching for a picture book called And Tango Makes Three. This child friendly book is about two penguins and it discusses gay parenting. As I was explaining this to a family member she said “Allie, why would you read that to your students?” I was disappointed in her reaction and I replied “Why wouldn’t I read this to my students?” It is a positive way to expose children to these issues, and it fit in perfectly with the family unit we were studying at the time.
I know that there are many parents and teachers skeptical of social justice issues because they feel they might not be age appropriate, or may challenge the ideas of others. Therefore, as teachers we need to be careful to document how these issues relate to the curriculum and be an advocate for change. By helping our children see the injustice in the world, they will become advocates for another generation and hopefully change the minds of those who are scared of these topics, living a privileged lifestyle.

What do you think? Is teaching for social justice worth the risk of offending others? 

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2 thoughts on “A message about thinking globally…

  1. Great post. I agree with your idea of “think globally and act locally”, however, I also think that we do need to ‘think and look locally and help locally’ as well. – There are many social justice issues within our own country, province and city even that are relevant to educating our students about.

    Social justice includes relevant topics and issues in the world today and some our students could be facing them first hand. We need to do our part to incorporate these lessons into our units and to communicate them to our students. Many topics can be approached within the curriculum, as they can be the themes that you study in English for example. I think you may not need to do a whole lesson, but in social studies or arts education or other subjects, you can include discussions or projects that help educate the students. Some topics may be more complex, but I feel that the root of an issue can be broken down so that students at all grade levels are educated about it – the degree of discussions and resources should vary among grade level and among students.

    I feel that in everything we teach there is potential that we can be judged for the wording of a certain math problem, or the type of unit and books the students are read (for example). If we as teachers are confident and are committed to teaching for social justice, then we should do this. It never hurts to be backed by your administrators, the curriculum and the STF though too.

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