At the very least, it’s crass to say that social justice and equity are now “trendy” in education. While it’s clear that these topics are now popular, this notion of social justice or equity as currently “trending” among educators worries me. The word trend connotes ephemerality and impermanence, and when we’re talking about flexible seating or personalized learning, that’s okay. But when we’re talking about equity and social justice, it’s simply not.
When we emphasize equity in our classrooms, all students get what they need to succeed, and when equity and justice work in tandem, we go beyond giving all students what they need and actively remove barriers to learning in our classrooms and schools. The need for discussions about how we might achieve this in our classrooms and the school system at-large is long overdue and should not be reduced to a fleeting trend in social media circles.
The current reality of our school system is that we live, teach, and learn in one that was not built for everyone to succeed. This very idea is alarming, and it should be calling us all to act immediately to make our classrooms and schools places where all are welcome and are able to succeed. To call the hard work of social justice and equity trendy is an insult to the many people who are victims of systemic oppression and discrimination in schools.
The fact of the matter is that social justice and equity should be at the center of our agenda for 21st century education. The future of our country depends on it. And here’s what responsible educators in the 21st century should do to make sure this happens:
1) Start having courageous discussions about identity in your classrooms and on social media.
Our students will begin having courageous conversations about identity if we invite them to do so. We must prioritize it in our curriculum. Developing a nuanced and intersectional understanding of identity is critical in today’s culture. It’s as important as learning to read, write, and compute.
I’m not going to make the argument that it’s important because diversity matters in the work place. Privilege is likely far more powerful in securing a job in a society that rewards cisgender, white, male privilege. It is, after all, far more about who you know than it is about what you know.
Instead, I’m going to make the argument that the systems and structures that define our country are in disarray because of the outright lack of awareness around privilege, identity, and diversity. We need the future of our country to understand this so they can counteract it. They won’t do this unless we model it for them, and that includes modeling for them how we acknowledge and unpack our privilege.
2) Acknowledge your privilege and the role you play in systemic oppression.
Privilege is intersectional and relative. We all have it in some way. I, for example, am a cisgender, white man, and there’s a lot of privilege that comes with that. But I’m also an openly gay man, and there is a lot of oppression that comes with that.
I know that as a white man, my silence about racism, sexism, and classism speaks volumes. It further solidifies power structures and otherwise enables the oppressive tendencies of the past and present. My job, then, is to use my privilege to speak with other cisgender white people about it–to challenge their privilege and implore them to do better, my students included.
3) Do something with your privilege. Leverage it to benefit others.
There are many ways we can use our privilege to benefit others. Back in August, I penned a post entitled How Can White Male Teachers Be Better Allies for People of Color? Through speaking with some amazing female teachers and teachers of color, together we came up with the following:
Cultivate awareness of whiteness and white supremacy by talking about it.
Accept that systemic oppression exists, but not as an unsolvable problem. Accept that it exists so you can actively work against it.
Amplify voices of marginalized communities, specifically the LGBTQ community and people of color.
Advocate for people in the way they need you to advocate. If you don’t know how, just ask them what they need.
Hold others accountable, especially those who share your privilege.
De-trending Social Justice and Equity
Teaching and learning on social media shouldn’t be about leveraging trends and further promulgating American capitalism. It should be about supporting people by giving them the resources they need to enrich the lives of those within their spheres of influence. It’s bad enough that we’ve allowed money to dilute the education to the degree that is has; it’s even worse now that we see corporations and educators further capitalizing on stories of oppression for the purpose of amassing more followers and promoting more products.
But the worst part is that so many of us support it through our complacency and complicity. We support it through our follows, our likes, and otherwise rewarding educators who are unwilling to bring the real work into their classrooms. We can only work towards social justice and equity if we make a commitment to actually do the work and have courageous conversations about identity, privilege, and oppression.
And the time for that is now.