Teaching ‘Social Justice’ in K-12 Classrooms

Back to October 2012 Ed Reporter

Teaching ‘Social Justice’ in K-12 Classrooms

by Robert Holland and Don Soifer of the Lexington Institute

Advocates typically fail to define the term “social justice” with any clarity. However, from the writings of long-time University of Illinois/Chicago education professor Bill Ayers, and teacher workshops conducted by organizations like the National Association for Multicultural Education, the premise is clear: the United States is a culturally and economically oppressive nation in dire need of radical transformation. The objective is the redistribution of wealth and power by means of government action.

As Nobel laureate economist F.A. Hayek once observed, the price of such a course would be “the complete abolition of personal liberty,” but that does not deter social-justice advocates who value the rights of groups over individuality.

Parents and taxpayers deserve to know when and where teachers of their children are being indoctrinated to work for this radical-left agenda instead of teaching pupils literature, math, history, science, and computer skills. And school boards and governing bodies should guard against letting taxpayer funds be misused to support such propaganda.

Many schools of education have elements of social-justice advocacy in their curricula, but two examples that deserve special attention are:

The University of Massachusetts Amherst’s School of Education offers an entire “Social Justice Education Concentration,” complete with numerous required courses and a practicum for implementing social-justice initiatives in schools starting with kindergarten.

The menu of 3-credit courses begins with EDUC 522, an exercise in “self awareness” whereby students are to ponder their own group identity and analyze “multiple forms of oppression and [their] impact on leadership ability.” In EDUC 609, students explore the dynamics of working in small “multicultural groups.” EDUC 624, required for first-semester SJE majors and doctoral students, “focuses on a range of theoretical issues related to different manifestations of oppression,” with attention to “historical roots” and “contemporary constructions of social justice issues as they play out in educational contexts.”

As an indication of how deeply SJE’s tentacles are to reach into everyday education, EDUC 627 is all about how to plan, implement, and evaluate social-justice curricula for local schools. The would-be teachers visit schools where this ideology is practiced and then collaborate with classmates in designing their own curricula.

Among other courses of note is one (EDUC 691E) that requires students to attend a series of weekend seminars, each of which delves into a “different form of social oppression,” such as “sexism, heterosexism, anti-Semitism, ableism, and classism.” One Practicum (EDUC 693N) entitled “Social Justice in Schools” is designed “to guide students in implementing, evaluating, and reflecting upon social justice education initiatives in elementary and secondary schools. Among other things, this course promises students ‘an introduction to action research methods.'”

Clearly, this course of study is intended to send its graduates into classrooms to be agents of radical social change rather than as teachers of basic knowledge and upholders of values parents would like their children to hold dear.

At California State University Fresno (“Fresno State”), the Kremen School of Education & Human Development offers online a Master of Arts in Teaching that is heavily focused on social justice, multiculturalism, and action research. Plainly, so-called action research does not entail pursuing objective evidence wherever it may lead, but instead means strengthening one’s case to implement an agenda of radical social transformation.

One Fresno State course, “Social Justice and the Multicultural Classroom,” envisions “enhancing educational equity, providing a multicultural classroom, employing culturally responsive pedagogy, and using culturally appropriate assessment.” It places emphasis on using the Internet “to conduct classroom research” and to communicate with colleagues and members of the community.

Among other objectives of the online courses are: students learning to persuade each other and members of the community about tenets of social-justice multiculturalism; preparing to conduct their action research by “exploring various aspects of the movement in education where teacher-practitioners are viewed as researchers of their own practice and where teaching is viewed as a form of educational inquiry”; and completing the master’s candidate’s own action research study.

A unit on “Critical Pedagogy” calls on students to “develop knowledge and skills to critically examine and improve planning, instructional decisions, assessment, and student learning. Students engage in systematic reflection of teaching practices consistent with multicultural, social justice education.”

A final project “consists of a significant undertaking appropriate to multicultural, social justice education such as the development of curricula and instructional materials, educational policy, educational theory, and educational technology.”

Programs such as those at UMass Amherst and Fresno State clearly seek to have teachers carry a distinct sociopolitical agenda with them into their classrooms. Teachers with a conservative or politically neutral orientation or those who want to teach academic disciplines in a traditional way need not apply.