Elevating Voices: Social Justice Education for Our Times

October 29, 2020

Social Justice

A high school friend of mine, Deion, had immigrated to the U.S. from Jamaica as a small child. His mother worked tirelessly to support them; as soon as Deion was able to get a work permit, he found an afterschool job. Deion was committed to making his mother proud, yet to succeed at our large DC public high school, he needed an expensive educational tool that was financially out of reach: a personal computer.

My parents had instilled in me the belief that public education was the great equalizer, yet I became increasingly unconvinced and angry: How could this be true if the resources required to succeed were not available to all? In Deion’s case, another friend’s wealthy parents gifted him a computer and he ultimately went to college on a full scholarship, computer in tow. But what if he had not been so lucky? As a young adult, it became impossible for me to not see the ways in which a young person’s race, class, gender, and immigration status, among other identity markers, affected which opportunities and resources they had access to. What could my peers and I do to change this unjust reality rooted in centuries of -isms?

Take a minute right now to reflect on one situation from your childhood or young adulthood in which you knew without a doubt that something you were witnessing, experiencing, or learning about was unfair or oppressive. Did you have peers, educators, and other community members in your life who supported you in cultivating critical consciousness, meaning the ability to identify, analyze, and challenge the socio-political forces that produce inequity and oppression? Critical consciousness is fundamental to transformative social change. This is why building critical consciousness is the goal of social justice education.

During blended learning, in the midst of COVID-19 and a nationwide racial reckoning, social justice education is essential for our students’ well-being and development: How do we ensure that in the midst of such uncertain and challenging times, the young people in our care see themselves as informed, empowered agents of social change? How can we provide opportunities for students to collaborate on authentic project-based opportunities grounded in the tenets of social justice education? And perhaps most importantly, what if we care deeply about this but are currently feeling either overwhelmed or unsure of how to begin?

You are not alone. To support middle and high school educators, Teaching Matters has developed Elevating Voices, a blended learning social justice education program that centers the cultivation of teachers’ and students’ critical consciousness, especially around race, racism, and anti-racist actions. Elevating Voices integrates the following:

    • Comprehensive, cross-curricular book study materials, including detailed Teacher Pacing Guides and Student-Facing Lessons, for highly-acclaimed young adult works of fiction and nonfiction written by writers of color. These books feature protagonists of color who courageously navigate racist realities. A highlight of the Teacher Pacing Guides are the social justice-based project options that directly relate to the books’ themes.
    • Virtual events with the books’ authors and relevant experts
    • Webinars that dive into teachers’ frequently asked questions about implementing social justice education, including and especially pedagogical practices for project-based, social justice learning
    • Virtual coaching support via asynchronous screencasts
    • Pen pal opportunities

Scholar-activist Zaretta Hammond writes that social justice education “concerns itself with creating a lens to recognize and interrupt inequitable patterns and practices in society.” Teaching Matters is committed to supporting you and your students during this process, one blended learning lesson, one coaching session, one webinar at a time. We’re here for you.

If you’re interested in learning more about Elevating Voices, please get in touch: LaTrice Carter, lcarter@teachingmatters.org

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