We need social justice in the classroom

By Shelbey Alaba

The recent stories exhibiting racist, sexist and violent acts in educational institutions sound like excerpts from a history book. It appears that the country is regressing to a time where othering those who are different than you is acceptable.

How do we tackle this epidemic before it becomes too difficult to manage and history repeats itself?

To make any sort of impact, the problem must be eliminated from the source. The tendency to be prejudiced may be innate, but what you classify as others is learned. Racist parents, for instance, will most likely raise their children to be racist, but positive interactions could bring change.

Social justice aims to eradicate injustice present in society by getting individuals to introspect and share a healthy dialogue with one another. It places an emphasis on diversity and working collaboratively rather than competing to instill a sense of empathy in people and create a community of conscience.  

According to Concordia University’s website, social justice should be taught in classrooms through in-depth discussion where students exchange dialogue regarding their feelings, concerns and desires. This is to get students to assess themselves, others and institutions to determine patterns of injustice and their consequences. By voicing their opinions and having healthy discussions, students can come up with possible solutions to help society become just.

Consider this: At the end of last year, the sudden appearance of the so-called “Alt-right movement” was making headlines throughout the U.S. One of the leaders of the Alt-right movement, Richard Spencer, openly declared Caucasians as the superior race saying, “America was, until this past generation, a white country, designed for ourselves and our posterity,” according to USA Today.

Spencer and his followers claim that white Americans are at a disadvantage and are being marginalized, referring to clauses like Affirmative Action and other “privileges” given to minorities, according to Mother Jones.

Spencer and his colleagues believe that quotas in education and employment as well as special grants and scholarships for minorities are curbing conservative white Americans from progressing. While the Alt-Right are a fringe group, the media still gave them a platform to spread their message and embolden those who have racist tendencies.

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Teaching social justice begins in the classroom. (Flickr)

The rise of white supremacists exposed the racism that still plagues the U.S. Social justice seeks to counter such movements by enabling all groups to partake in discussions in order to voice their concerns in a non-accusatory manner. For example, if a member of the black community was to explain how Affirmative Action positively affected their community and the country, a white supremacist may gain a better understanding of why it is important.

Understanding and accepting different religions has become important, as well. With the surge in Anti-Semitic and Anti-Muslim hate crimes up 67 percent, according to ABC News, the conversation on religious tolerance is a must. Schools can choose to enforce comparative religion courses and seminars, allowing students to gain a better understanding of difference religion. Handling the differences in school can lead to a more accepting society in the future.

According to Hatch Early Learning, a blog for educating people on early childhood education issues, schools should also incorporate more diverse material into the curriculum to promote multiculturalism.

For example, if more people understood why Native Americans consider the land in Standing Rock, N.D., sacred, then perhaps the Dakota Access Pipeline would never become an issue. As America is so diverse, the curriculum in schools should reflect that diversity.

Students also need to engage in conversations about bullying, specifically with roots in racism or sexism, and inter-personal relationships. Bullying results in isolationism, which is one of the leading cause of violence in schools, according to the Constitutional Rights Foundation.

Sexism also needs to be addressed in schools to prevent sexually abrasive language and treatment from becoming normalized. If students establish a sense of moral conscience, then incidents of rape on college campuses could go down.

Through fostering social justice in classrooms, you are endorsing an inclusive culture of greater conscience, consisting of compassionate individuals that seek to unify this polarized nation.