Teaching social justice is no easy task as I found out in my internship. Right away in my internship I had came up with questions such as, how far can teachers take their views on social justice? Can teachers share their views on social justice? How can teachers be protected from parents that feel as you are pushing a “social agenda”?
Teaching in a predominant white school, I was excited to tackle and critique some of the privileges that I felt that my students had (as social justice is a passion to me). At the University of Regina we have a social justice based education program that focuses on recognizing discrimination and focuses on teachers critiquing their own status and privilege as well as analyzing social constructs around us and in schools. However, my views on social justice and my role of a social justice educator were not always shared with my other teachers, or majority of my hometown. 2015 was an election year, and thus we had plenty of issues pop up that we needed to tackle, ISIS, racial profiling, the niqab issue, Syrian Refugees, the changing drug policies, indigenous peoples rights, housing issues, and women’s rights. I found it very difficult to try to present these issues in a non-biased way because we are taught about critiquing privilege and the importance of empathy in university.
As a new teacher I was unsure how to tackle some of these issues how to talk about them in a way that would get students to think critically about social justice, without having parents complain that we are pushing a “left-wing” perspective. One of the major issues we talked about in our school was the Syrian Refugee crisis, and how we need to show empathy towards these people. A grade 8 class decided to send a letter in support of Trudeau in bringing the refugees over that students could sign. As a result, our school was slandered on Facebook because we supported Justin Trudeau and bringing the Syrian refugees over, the letter was pulled and the grade 8 students were unable to send their support because parents felt as the kids were forced into supporting a petition. Based on our education at the U of R I was shocked to see the tension that this issue brought to our school. I became confused after we had parents come in and complain that these issues were being taught at school and my role as a social teacher orientated teacher. I became confused how that we can teach about inequality and injustice in our world if we can’t teach empathy.
Do we take social justice education to far? When is too much education turn into indoctrination? How do you have a healthy conversation on these issues and to critique some of the opposing racist, ignorant comments and perspectives that our some of our students have?