Advocacy for Social Justice
Educators who embrace a social justice perspective are attentive to inequalities associated with race, social class, gender, language, and other social categories. They consciously look for alternatives to established educational practices that support the learning, development, and academic achievement of children whose backgrounds place them outside of the dominant culture. They employ multicultural, anti-racist, anti-bias educational practices that foster deep engagement in learning and high academic achievement among all of the nation’s children.
The advocacy for social justice standard tells me that good educators need to consciously and consistently create their curriculum with the culture of their students, as well as students of the world, in mind. They also keep in mind that different cultures have stereotypes associated with them and that students are affected and shaped by those gross generalizations. Good educators hold high academic standards for all their students regardless of race, socio-economic class, and other social categories.
This standard is important to all educators because it challenges us to think outside of the box and really look for ways to ensure that all of our students succeed. Many scripted curricula and older teaching practices do not emphasize ways to reach or educate minorities. As a result, students outside of the dominant culture could become disconnected to the curriculum and lose interest in learning, because they think it doesn’t apply to them. When teachers are aware of the inequalities that minority cultures face, they are able to make the learning more positive for their students, and they become better teachers.
Educators also need to think of ways to include students’ cultures in our teaching. According to Sonia Nieto (2008), even teachers who are trying to be nice sometimes “convey, even unwittingly, a deep disdain and disrespect for families by suggesting that home cultural values have no place in school” (p. 29). As educators, we need to be aware that our students are never all going to come from the same cultural background. Students feel much more connected and invested in the curriculum when it reflects their cultural backgrounds. It is also key that as educators we never hold students to lower standards than others based on their cultural, ethnic, class, or gender groups. We may think that we are making accommodations in their best interests, but in truth we would be doing them a disservice.
When I was developing my unit for my full time practicum I was a bit stuck at first as to how I was going to make a unit on fairy tales multicultural and integrate the many backgrounds of my students. Growing up, when I thought of fairy tales I always pictured the Disney princesses or Rapunzel. None of these fairy tale characters had a background close to my Hispanic or African American students at the Joseph Lee in Dorchester. Luckily, when I broached the topic with my supervising practitioner she mentioned that she had a collection of Cinderella stories from many different cultures. After looking through many of them I selected a few for various read alouds and placed the rest in the classroom library for the students to read during Independent Reading or Fun Friday. This way, the various cultures of my students would be represented and they would get a chance to learn about other cultures.
The students were very interested in the Cinderella story that I read which talked about a young girl from an African village and the boys in my classroom got a kick out of “Prince Cinders” which put a further spin on the classic fairy tale by starring a boy. They laughed out loud later in the week when I read the story “Ashpet” because it was about a girl from a community in the Appalachian Mountains (and the story was written in that dialect so I had a great accent going on during the readings). Artifact 1.3 is a copy of all the different book covers for the stories we read during the unit.
During my sophomore year, my Racial and Cultural Identities class was asked to think about the many aspects of our own identity, what helped to shape our identity, and the inequalities of the different cultural backgrounds that make up our nation. I grew up in a white, upper to middle class, and non-diverse neighborhood, so these were not topics that I often thought about. However, I now realize that these are issues that my students face on a daily basis and are biases that they deal with their entire lives. Artifact 1.1 is a copy of my identity paper. This assignment helped me to realize what shaped my identity, as well as the advantages that I have over those from a minority background.
Even long after the class ended I still find myself thinking about these issues and relating them to what my students in both my practica face. Those in the majority do not feel these inequalities. However, as an urban educator it is essential that I am aware of the discrepancies in race, ethnic group, class, and gender among my students. I am a privileged, White, female. Not all of my future students will have that luxury.
However, I have also learned over my four years at Wheelock that racial categories are not something that can be ignored. Patricia Gandara (2008) discusses how teachers who say things like “I don’t see color, I see children” are actually ignore key aspects of a student’s development. She writes that “membership in a racial group shapes experience, access to social and cultural capital, and perspectives” (p. 44). Racial categories are not something that teachers can ignore, we just can’t use those categories as a basis for what we feel our students should be able to accomplish.
Advocacy for social justice also reminds me that when I am thinking about possible field trips, not all my students may be able to afford the bus fare or the cost of admission. I also need to think about whether I am promoting any gender stereotypes when I purchase gifts for my students (e.g. buying the boys books about sports while getting the girls books about shopping). When teaching I need to be constantly aware of how I am presenting information, what material I am using, and if I am making my teaching culturally relevant to my students.
While I feel that I am aware of the challenges that minority students face, my teaching needs to better reflect this knowledge. When I enroll in a graduate program, I plan on taking a more advanced version of the Racial and Cultural Identities class. I want to learn specific strategies that will help me to promote cultural equality in the classroom, and how to make sure that my lessons reflect the varied cultures of my students.
Gandara, P. (2008). Everyday Anti-Racism: Getting Real about Race in School. In M. Pollock (Ed.), “Strengthening Student Identity in School Programs” (p. 44-49). New York, NY: The New Press.
Nieto, S. (2008). Everyday Anti-Racism: Getting Real about Race in School. In M. Pollock (Ed.), “Nice Is Not Enough: Defining Caring for Students of Color” (p. 28-31). New York, NY: The New Press.