Positioning Social Justice Education as Something “Extra”
“We have to prepare students for the test; that’s just the way it is.” “Dealing with social justice in the classroom (or workplace) takes time away from the real work we have to do.”
We often hear this rationale for inaction in school (or workplace) contexts wherein teachers (or leaders) explain that they wish they had time to deal with social justice but they have to deal with the curriculum (or the bottom line) first, and there just isn’t time in the day to do everything. Because dominant institutions in society are positioned as being neutral, challenging social injustice within them seems to be an extra task in addition to our actual tasks.
Yet, as we have argued, the way we act in the world is based on how
we perceive the world. Our worldviews are not neutral; they are shaped by particular ideas about how the world is or ought to be. For example, if you believe that we are all unique human beings, that our group memberships are irrelevant, and that the best remedy for injustice is to attempt to see everyone as an individual, then that perspective will be visible in everything you do and how you do it.
If, on the other hand, you believe that our group memberships are important, that different groups have different levels of access to resources, that this inequitable access is shaped by institutional forces, and that we have agency to positively influence those institutions for the betterment of everyone, then that too will be evident in everything you do.
Although it does take ongoing study and practice before a social justice framework will fundamentally shape your work, to decide not to take on this commitment does not mean you are being neutral. Indeed, to decide not to take on this commitment is to actively support and reproduce the inequitable status quo. When we have developed a critical social justice consciousness, it is evident in all that we do and no longer seen as outside our job description.