Empowerment is essential for social justice

“Engagement is more about what you can do for students. “Empowerment” is about helping students figure out what they can do for themselves.

George Couros

The last debate on the issue of teachers being responsible for using social media and technology to promote social justice involved a very engaging discussion. At a glance, I had an opinion, but the depth of conversation really got me thinking about what it actually meant. Mike and Jacquie were very polished and memorable in their argument for reasons why they agree. However, Brad and Michala had some interesting counter-arguments that got me thinking even more.

After all is said and done, I have to admit that I don’t feel teachers should HAVE to use social media and technology to promote social justice. Although it is a common avenue these days, I don’t feel students (depending on their age and maturity) have the skills YET to successfully navigate this open world full of criticism of free speech. Heck, I don’t feel most adults have the ability either. However, I do agree with Dean when he said that social justice can be as simple as showing kindness with no opinions or perceived hidden agenda attached.

As someone who doesn’t have a social media presence, I for one don’t feel comfortable promoting social justice on social media. That doesn’t mean I can’t learn how to start, but I don’t feel I have the knowledge to lead by example, yet. I compare this to teaching physics. I’ve taken it myself and know some basics, but I can’t teach and lead by example without the potential of leading my students astray.

However, this leads me to the point Jacquie made about remaining silent on social justice issues. I may remain silent on social justice issues online, but that doesn’t mean that I am silent in the classroom. Michala identified that communication, especially with regard to these types of societal issues, is better suited in person for which most aspects of communication can be used to understand others’ opinions. This includes tone, inflection, volume, and non-verbal cues such as body language and facial expressions. These aspects of very difficult to portray online.

Now that I have documented my stance on this topic, I still want to explore how I can promote social justice in the classroom more effectively. Jasmine made an interesting point when she said “I think our job is to make children question what is going on around them and have them search for answers that go with their values and beliefs… guiding them in seeing BOTH sides of issues.” Understanding perspective is key, but how to we go about teaching this in a quality manner, especially when we start to use social media as a platform?

According to this article by Caitrin Blake, there a number of different ways to promote social justice, specifically systemic inequalities, in the classroom. First, teachers can have students answer the following questions:

  • Who makes decisions and who is left out?
  • Who benefits and who suffers?
  • Why is a given practice fair or unfair?
  • What is required to create change?
  • What alternatives can we imagine?

By having them discuss these questions, they will likely start to understand injustice at many levels. Next, I have summarized some other essential steps to discussing social justice issues mentioned in the article.

  1. Foster a safe, classroom environment that allows students to share their ideas and respond appropriately to the ideas of others with understanding and respect (near impossible to curate this type of environment online).
  2. Model questions and answers that show thoughtfulness and acknowledgment of differing opinions. We always have to lead by example.
  3. Help students see each other as co-learners rather than competitors so they can approach a path to solving problems together. When we only see things from our own perspective, it is difficult to make positive changes. Collaboration is key even when opinions don’t exactly align.
  4. Include diverse experiences and backgrounds of the student population to represent multiple perspectives. Give voice to all students so that many angles are looked at and considered within the discussion. 
  5. Analyze and understand the biases in which resources are written from before using or use them as a way to dissect the social justice issue throughout history. These critical thinking skills will only aid in the development of empowerment in our students.
  6. Use real-world issues that affect students’ everyday lives and examine the messages that they are hearing on different media platforms (radio, newspaper, tv, social media, etc).

Regardless of how worldly, educated, or well-traveled we are, we can never know everything. But by recognizing our own biases and accepting that we can learn from others, we establish the groundwork for growth and promote the cultivation of independent and analytical thoughts. Opening ourselves to learning from other’s perspectives is the very foundation for developing more comprehensive views of the world around us.

Ashley Watters

I wanted to leave you with Jacquie’s eloquent and perfectly worded closing statement that left most of us in deep thought, but I was unable to figure out how to upload the audio file that I recorded. As a substitute for this, I would like to redirect you to Mike’s post for which you can read it over and over again.

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