What is Social Justice?
Recently, through my Leadership in Social Justice class, I had the opportunity to sit in on a presentation by Dr. Ira Bogotch, Department of Educational Leadership and Research Methodology at Florida Atlantic University. During his talk, Dr. Bogotch outlined his view points on social justice in education and offered his expertise on the subject, of which he is quite distinguished. You can check out his site here, and here is my offering on the matter…
To the uninformed, the term social justice can take on many interpretations. When first enrolling for this course this semester, I was highly uncertain of the topics of discussion and discourse that we would be investigating regarding the idea of social justice as it pertains to leadership and education. After only a few briefs readings, as well as an impactful discussion with Ira Bogotch, a leader on topic, however, I feel that I am quickly coming to a general understanding on how this highly impactful, social structure has upon us within the institution of education, but more importantly, how it impacts us all as human beings. A term that comes to mind when comparing social justice to a more familiar idea, at least from my perspective, is that of democracy. When I consider the notion of living in a democratic society, and what promises this political and social construct promise to it’s citizens, I am quickly reminded of the injustices and fallacies that our current system of education and society hold, most notably as it applies to the concept of social justice. Additionally, Bogotch also references terms such as “diversity and fairness and phrases such as ‘No Child Left Behind’” as they refer to social justice. As he also points out, “the term ‘social justice’ is simply not part of the everyday vocabulary of either teachers as leaders or school administrators” The following constitutes a brief summary on the concept of social justice, through which I have become informed through the articles and discussion from Bogotch, as well as how I see these principles applying to my current professional role, and a future role in leadership.
Approaching the concept of social justice from an outsider’s perspective, one could assume that this topic bring about a discussion relating to the inequalities and unfair constructs that are currently represented in our society, most notably within the institution of education. As Bogotch justly points out, “There is no one right and just path to the pursuit of social justice within the context of education”. This topic presents itself at every level of the educational construct and cannot be secluded to a specific definition or realm of being as it pertains to the the school system. Bogotch also reminds us, “Social just, as an educational intervention, is relevant in every era”, that emerges and presents itself not only in educational constructs as they refer to the past, but also to the present and foreseeable future. The primary statement that Bogotch makes time and time again regarding his research into the topic of social justice, is that, “There are no permanent or universal meanings to any of the constructs of this discussion”, referring to the notion of social justice, particularly as it pertains to education leadership. It is up to the educational leader to identify areas within his or her building or district where this negative and deconstructive practice presents itself and interferes with the learning and developmental process of all individuals. By adhering to many of the current ignorant and blindsided mandates that have been forced upon districts, schools and educators, we are ignoring and turning a passive, blind eye to this monumentally decisive idea as it applies to all human beings across all societal norms and populations.
In my current role, I serve as a Technology Instructional Coach, for which my primary responsibility is to facilitate and work with teachers regarding the integration of effective technology-based teaching and instructional practices as they occur in the classroom. Through this role, I interface with teachers, students, administrators, and other various district personnel. I am privileged to take part in the process of instructional and curriculum design, as well as professional development as it relates to best practice across all content areas and grades levels. Through this broad-scoped position, I am presented with situations, examples and issues of social justice (and injustice) on a regular basis. Actually, on this note, I’d like to reference an insight that Bogotch presented in which he stated, “Human experiences, even when mediated by virtual communications, will always be an essential element in education”. I feel that this quote is inherently applicable to my position, as many of the discussions and environments through which I communicate with other professional educators around my district happen through digital mediums, whether it be telephone, email, videoconference or Twitter, among others. To that end, I also see issues of social justice present themselves within these virtual, nontraditional environments. When it comes to issues of technology, one of the primary and foremost topics that comes to mind regarding social justice involves that of equity, as is relates to student access to electronic devices and internet, both inside and outside of the classroom. Within our district, I feel that we have established an equitable and fair process when it comes to students gaining access to electronic devices, as well as being provided meaningful learning experiences regarding use of these devices in classroom. With over 3,500 student electronic devices available across the district (serving our 9,700 student population), we are nearly at a 1:3 device to student ratio, with that margin continuing to shrink as we bring in more laptops, Chromebooks and other devices from year to year. Where we will always struggle in this venture, however, is providing our 70% impoverished student population access to these types of services outside of the schools at home, where the process of learning is hoped to extend and continues. Although the practice of assigning homework or other course work that requires an Internet connection or electronic device, without providing an alternative, offline assignment is discouraged across the district, the means of delivering content and instruction online is quickly becoming standard practice among most educational institutions. As we exist in our district, however, we must accommodate our unique student population regarding this need distinct need at home, and in determining how we will move forward in providing the most rewarding learning experiences for all of our students. It has been established that through technology, we are able to get our students to take on more significant and applicable challenges as they relate to college and career readiness and also provide opportunities to apply higher-order thinking skills, including critical thinking, problem-solving and collaboration with their peers. One solution I could potentially see as a leader within my district to counteract this insufficiency at home, is to employ the use of extended hours for our technology labs, as well as providing needed transportation for our students, to and from the schools during the evening, past traditional school operating hours. This would obviously require a monetary commitment from the district as it applies to funding necessary for staffing, extended building hours, transportation costs, etc., but the gains that could possibly be attained might drastically outweigh these costs. With this notion, I am reminded of Bogotch’s quote regarding the importance of the school as it relates to the community, in which he states (referencing a principal from the Spreyer School in New York City), “We (the school) worked individually and collectively to push the school out into the neighborhood. ‘My School’ had become ‘Our School’. The teacher’s school had become the people’s school.” (Bogotch, 2000) These words take on such a profound meaning regarding the partnership between school and community, and I deem them extremely applicable as they relate to the situation described above.
At the start of my investigation into social justice, and the savage inequalities that are sure to come along with many of the topics of discussion we will engage in over our experience semester, I have taken on several conclusions, most notably through the discussion and research presented from Bogotch. The one overriding concept that I am quickly getting accustomed to, however, is that “There can be no fixed or predictable meaning of social justice prior to actually engaging in social and academic discourse”. What I take away from this statement is that, as is typically the case when it comes to educational leadership and administration, is that these concepts are extremely subjective in nature. This meaning, based upon the situations that present themselves from district to district, school to school and from individual to individual will bring about unique circumstances as they relate to social justice and injustice. It becomes the role of the administrator or school leader to evaluation these situations pragmatically, and look into the impacts that these issues may present in the teaching and learning process. Educators, most notably principals and administrators, can no longer accept the status quo and the ‘hard truths’, as Bogotch referred to them, when it comes to the injustices that our students and communities face. The buck can no longer be passed off to legislative and state reform, and these situations need to be addressed among district leaders, as we all know that we are bound to certain state initiatives and mandates. Situations that pertain to internal and external loci of control must be evaluated, and operational conditions established when it comes to correcting these inequities and injustices that impact our student’s ability to succeed, both in education and throughout life.
Bogotch, I. (2000). Educational Leadership and Social Justice: Theory into Practice.
Bogtoch, I. (2014). Key Questions for Edcuational Leaders: What is social justice?