The volume of social justice conversations has increased dramatically among the general public during the last decade in the United States. These discussions have inevitably reached school classrooms, which are ground zero for observing these issues among students. Teachers have a firsthand view of how social inequities like race, class, and others manifest every day in the classroom, meaning they have the power to create change.
Social justice issues that affect students can make an enormous difference in their ability to learn and succeed in school. In that sense, social justice is inseparable from the quality of a student’s education, as one post from Education Week notes. That connectedness means educators should take an intersectional view toward their teaching strategies: “We cannot talk about schools, without addressing race, class, gender, ability, sexuality, and politics, because education is a political act.”
As the post articulates, ignoring social justice issues and not integrating them into the learning experience “erases the very identities present in our classrooms and in our respective communities, every day.”
These issues affect students and educators alike in the classroom, but these situations are nuanced, and factors differ from student to student. Skilled educators understand how to identify and manage social justice issues for the benefit of all students. Creating an intersectional learning environment that responds to the needs of all students starts with proper knowledge and training around social justice issues, their roots, and risks.
Change Starts With Knowledge
At Worcester State University, the Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Educational Leadership & Administration online program prepares educators to be effective leaders regarding social justice issues with coursework that emphasizes the importance of these issues in schools. Core coursework teaches students in the program how to drive change to create equity for all in their schools, such as formulating equitable programs for students with special learning needs, establishing strong and constructive relationships with students’ families and school communities and more. Graduates will be prepared with crucial skills to cultivate a safe and effective learning environment that offers equitable learning opportunities for all students.
In the last few years, increased attention to social justice conversations in the U.S. means educators must understand their nuances and complexities. The following are some of the current social justice issues facing schools today as well as some possible solutions and problem-solving strategies educators can use to mitigate their negative effects:
One article from Social Work Helper notes that we do not live in a “post-racial” society. Therefore, instead of treating race as an unimportant part of someone’s identity or practicing “color blindness,” educators should acknowledge the racial differences between students and how race impacts their experiences. This means addressing the unique challenges presented to different students based on their races as well as celebrating the cultural facets of their racial identities.
For instance, the National Education Association highlights a Latino-focused after-school class in California called New Age Latinas. This class aimed to prevent gang activity and develop students’ leadership skills, college readiness, community service, personal growth, and networking skills with other Latina college students and professionals.
Due to the U.S.’s interconnected systems of education, employment, and inequality, the disparities caused by class and race share a great deal of overlap. The root causes of many non-white families’ lower-class status can largely be attributed to their non-white race. Policies such as redlining, predatory loan practices, gerrymandering, and many more served to maintain a status quo that was unfavorable to people of color. Educators must understand these realities and how they impact students and families. This can mean working to achieve access to technology for all students regardless of class or adjusting homework expectations based on a student’s home situation.
Further, the realities of living in poverty or near it are unforgiving and can profoundly alter students’ home lives, and thus, their ability to learn. Educators should always be mindful of this context when dealing with these students and accommodate them as best as possible. Social Work Helper also suggests teachers get involved with their communities to help create local networks that can more effectively address the challenges of poverty.
Gender and Sexuality
Gender and sexuality have been at the forefront of public social discourse for decades, but terminology and understanding of the topic have evolved drastically in recent years. Educators must consider students who express themselves outside societal norms — particularly regarding transgender individuals, the use of pronouns, and gender expression. LGBTQ students often face an intense stigma that can lead to increased dropout rates, homelessness, and even suicide. Teachers must be careful to watch for targeted attacks toward these students and create a culture of acceptance.
Educators should create an inclusive classroom environment for all students, regardless of race, class, gender, or sexuality. However, in order to be considerate of these elements and foster a space of safety and equity, educators must have a thorough understanding of these factors and how they impact student learning and success. An advanced education degree in educational leadership and administration can give educators the tools to emphasize social justice in the classroom.