Educational Justice

Last year, I attended a discussion based around the theme of Justice. I was curious to attend because the discussion was facilitated by 3 members of the Harlem Children’s Zone administration – their goal was to look at justice through the lens of education. I received my masters degree from an institution that prides itself on training teachers to go out into the world and pursue social justice through education. So this was right up my alley!

As food for thought, we began our discussion by watching this TED talk by Geoffrey Canada. Mr. Canada gives a great speech, his passion for quality education is inspiring and infectious. That being said, in practice, Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) has been given very mixed reviews from several of my friends who have worked at the school. I could talk endlessly about different points from Mr. Canada’s speech but I was really interested to hear what my fellow attendees would have to say.

I was most struck by someone’s comment about the lack of justice in current classroom behavior management. While we have been making great strides in terms of progressive pedagogy, behavior management is the area that continues to lag behind. Anyone who has worked in public schools will tell you that yelling remains a key tool for behavior management in classrooms. No matter what strides we make in other areas of education, we are forever held back if we ignore behavior management. This is a key piece in the struggle for justice and if we are truly striving towards justice for all students then we can no longer ignore it.

Truth be told, I started writing a blog post about this conversation days after attending the discussion and only now, months later, have come back to revisit my writing and thoughts on the conversation. I am no closer to answering the many questions I have swirling around my head about behavior management and justice in schools – even the idea itself that the behavior of young people must be “managed” sparks many new questions. But nevertheless, it remains something I am dedicated to thinking more about.

Here are some of the questions I’m pondering at the moment:

What do the environments we create in schools say about how we value children?

If we know, from brain studies, that children cannot learn when they feel threatened, why do we see such little progress in teacher management techniques?

Are teachers fully supported in their own education to practice progressive management strategies?

Are the vast differences in school culture reflective of the social and cultural differences in our larger society?

When you walk down the halls of a charter school like HCZ or a private school in Tribeca or a public school in East New York, what do their differences say about social justice in education?

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on any of the above or otherwise!

-S

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