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To Teach About Social Justice, Understand Injustice

An initial examination of how teachers understand and teach about social justice confirmed that “it is critical that teachers understand social injustice before teaching about social justice,” according to educator Sung Choon Park.

Park examined how teachers understand social injustice and how it is related to their pedagogical practices.

He asked 35 educational professionals to nominate teachers who incorporated social justice in their classroom both as subject matter and as a process. From the pool of nominees, eight teachers, including five women and three men, from eight schools in five districts volunteered to take part in an extensive study of their backgrounds, attitudes and teaching practices.

Of the eight participants, five taught social studies, English or art in different high schools, one taught social studies and English in a middle school, and two taught kindergarteners and 5th graders in different elementary schools. Three identified themselves as “white but” with a distinct racial or ethnic origin.

The data collected from each teacher included five interviews, 10 classroom observations and one or two observations of the teacher working with others in the school or community.

Among the teachers studied, a mix of experience and empathy influenced how they understood social justice and injustice and how that understanding influenced their teaching practices.

When individuals came from bicultural backgrounds, they showed greater understanding of social injustice.

“Different experiences bring different perspectives on social justice issues,” Park said, noting that when he interviewed teachers from bicultural backgrounds, they had a heightened awareness of others.

“They were always looking at themselves through the eyes of others. They have double consciousness,” he said.

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