Educators and Social Justice

Image by tiday from Pixabay

Thursday was the last edition of The Great EdTech Debate, and the topic couldn’t have been more fitting for our current times. The last debate posed the following statement: Educators have a responsibility to use tech and social media to promote social justice. Before sharing my own thoughts and feelings, let’s take a quick look at the debate my classmates presented.

Debate Recap

Team Agree

Mike and Jacquie took on the task of arguing FOR the debate statement. In their video (posted below), Mike and Jacquie stated how social justice in education includes 4 components:

  1. Challenges, confronts, and disrupts misconceptions, untruths, and stereotypes
  2. Provides students with resources needed to learn to their full potential
  3. Draws on students talents and strengths
  4. Promotes critical thinking and supports agency for social change

They also outlines how using tech and social media to promote social justice allows students to foster:

  • Problem Solving
  • Critical Thinking
  • Collaboration
  • Perseverance
  • Historical Context
  • The idea that schools can, and should, be bigger than its four walls

Their video ended with a POWERFUL, goosebump worthy, video clip called “Martin Niemoller’s Words: First They Came For. . .” (I found the clip so powerful, I believe it deserves its own link!)

Team Disagree

On the opposing side, Brad and Michala argued how educators DO NOT have a responsibility to use tech and social media to promote social justice. Through their video (posted below), Brad and Michala stated that using social media and tech may not be the best places to promote social justice because:

  • Teachers can use their students as “tiny foot soldiers” to promote their own personal beliefs and agendas
  • Students can become “internet trolls” if they are not well-informed on social justice topics, yet choose to post online. Causing harm to their digital footprints.

They did not argue that educators should NOT teach about social justice. Rather, they argued that the education on social justice should take place IN the classroom, face-to-face, rather than through social media.

My Thoughts

This debate, once again, had me torn.  Both sides presented arguments that I found myself agreeing with, or that caused me to second guess my own thoughts/beliefs.

Arguments From Team Disagree

I think the main issue I found myself having with this debate was the wording of the debate statement itself.  I do believe that teachers should be teaching about social justice, but I don’t know if I agree that it should be done via social media or tech use. I strongly agree with Michala’s argument on how there needs to be a more face-to-face component when teaching a subject area that can be very emotionally taxing. Classrooms are supposed to be a safe place for students, which makes it the perfect setting to discuss such sensitive topics. The article Teaching Young Children About Bias, Diversity, and Social Justice has 5 great alternatives to teaching young children about social justice without the use of social media, such as; using children’s literature, or giving familiar examples such as gender stereotyped toys.

The second point Brad and Michala stressed that really stuck with me was the idea of teachers pushing their own beliefs and agendas on students. I would hope no one would do this on purpose; however, I also know it can happen from habit.  When you are passionate about something, or have strong roots in your beliefs, it can be difficult not to lead with that. Teachers, in my opinion, have an obligation not to steer students in the direction they believe in, but, rather, fully educate them on the situations and injustices of the world as unbiased as possible. Granted, this may be easier said than done, but there needs to be a strong effort to do this.

Arguments From Team Agree

The main point that stood out to me from the agree team was the idea of teachers moving beyond the idea of staying neutral.  The curriculums we teach are not neutral, and, often times, students look to us (as educators) to help guide them through scenarios that are scary or unknown. Teachers being complacent does not benefit anyone, in my opinion.  That being said, it can also be scary to step out of that comfort zone and talk about subject areas surrounding social justice, as there is always the possibility of upsetting someone. As we talked about in our discussion during class, it can be a fine line. On one hand, if you speak out, you risk upsetting/offending someone in the process. On the other hand, if you don’t speak out, you also risk offending people for being seen as complacent. In the end, you are never going to please everyone; however, as mentioned above, I believe if teachers try to give a holistic view when teaching social justice, that is all we can ask.  Teacher are also humans, who will grow and learn, just like everyone else.

I really appreciated the article Teachers must Hold Themselves Accountable for Dismantling Racial Oppression, as it outlined 3 rather simple, yet effective, ways that teachers can hold themselves accountable in schools to dismantle oppression. As Mike mentioned in his rebuttal, teaching about social justice to our students allows them to become justice oriented citizens. Hopefully, in turn, this will allow them to go on and educate others on how to do the same, and cause a ripple effect.

I think, as teachers, or at least for myself, all I want is my students to be good, respectful, citizens in this world. I want them to feel valued and accepted, and, in turn, give others the value and respect they deserve. If we shy away from teaching them about the injustices, or oppression, other people face, I believe we are doing our students a disservice. I heard on the news one night, from a protestor in Boston, that “our world is broken, and we need to change.” As educators, we have the power, platform, and, often times, privilege, to promote and model that change for our young students.

Social justice issues can be hard to tackle. They can be uncomfortable, taxing, or cause your heart to ache. However, to quote Jacquie in her closing argument, “when we lean into uncomfortable conversations, the magic that can happen, the opportunities, the connection, and the growth. . . [perhaps] it’s those little things and those little moments of leaning in to what breaks your heart, and creating ways and places that we can act in service, in kindness, and in compassion.” This statement was beautiful, and I think everyone needs to hear it, because it sums out the power of teaching social justice beautifully.

2 thoughts on “Educators and Social Justice

  1. Amy, I am in total agreement with you that there is a responsibility in using our platform to create reflective, critical, aware learners. I believe social justice in the classroom gives space for that type of learning and critical thinking. But, like you, I want to ensure the well being of my students and ensure that as a teacher I am cognizant of presenting all sides to ensure that diverse voices are represented in my space and the hiccup is when/how to use social media as part of that platform of engagement. I am still unpacking my perspectives, privileges and therefore how I see the world, how I interpret justice and injustice, so this debate and your points in your blog of reflecting on my why, the how and when is what really is my main take away from this. And like you I want to give students space to be fully seen,heard and acknowledged for all that they are and to understand their responsibilities as citizens in our classrooms, their communities and the world. I will walk that line of how and when to use social media in that journey more fully because of this conversation. Thank you for your thoughtful blog post and your kind words about our debate.

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  2. Great reflection on both sides of the argument. I agree with you that we need to promote social justice, but using the platform of social media and technology can be a slippery slope. Perhaps, instead of sharing opinions on social media, we can help students navigate what is on social media to help them understand all perspectives on the topic in order to make their own informed decisions. This will allow us to also find good and bad examples of how people voice their opinions in this space as a guide for when students, or even ourselves, start to feel comfortable doing so. Lastly, I like your point on how “teachers, in my opinion, have an obligation not to steer students in the direction they believe in, but, rather, fully educate them on the situations and injustices of the world as unbiased as possible.” Thanks for the great read!

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