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Education as social justice

The fundamental question then, is: Can a society remain free in the face of constant external threat? And the corollary question is: Can a system of education maintain freedom of inquiry in a society filled with fear? One may argue that the freedom to teach is dependent on the answer to the first question; however, the answer to the first question may very well depend on the second-whether this society can educate a citizenry that is alert enough and that values freedom enough to withstand the erosion of individual liberty in the name of a crisis. -Karier (1986, p. 358)

Karier, Clarence. 1986. The Individual, Society and Education: A History of American Educational Ideas. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Personal Educational Theory

    The modern day educator is faced with a number of issues when attempting to meet the needs of her students. This task becomes increasingly difficult in the more metropolitan areas of the country, where the population has no clearly defined majority. Historically, the majority population served as a reference point for instruction. From this base-line, the teacher can modify instruction based on the individuals needs. However, the modern urban classroom may have multiple cultural identities. It is through a sincere attempt to identify with and teach through these lenses and languages that the educator can truly reach her students.

     My personal educational theory is continuously developing. After two years in the public school classroom and two years in administration, I still struggle with identifying exactly where I am coming from in a theoretical standpoint. For the purposes of this paper, and as a reflection of where I stand today with regard to my theoretical perspective, I reserve the right to identify four guiding theoretical perspectives. My personal educational theory would incorporate bilingual instructional models taught within a social justice framework, from a multicultural perspective as a manifestation of democratic education.

     The importance of fostering acceptance of multiculturalism in the classroom can not be understated. As our schools continue to grow and diversify in population, teachers will need to address the issue of multiculturalism in an informed manner. Our schools cannot afford to propagate an Anglo-centric agenda. Within the last ten years, the number of Hispanic students enrolled nationwide grew by 34.5% (Nora, 2000). Yet, bilingual education is currently used as a political tool rather than a curriculum builder. In 1995, one in twenty children born in the U.S. was of mixed race. There are regions of the country where this number is even higher. Mixed-race births account for the third largest category of births, after Hispanics and Anglos (Krebs, 2000).

      Although there has been a huge upsurge in the amount of attention given to the notion of multiculturalism in the last several years, the classroom libraries, school functions and district curriculum have not kept pace. Multicultural classrooms must reflect the diverse student body in U.S. schools (Lee & Johnson, 2000). It is from this common ground that each of our students will have access to meaningful education for themselves, as well as, their communities. It is in this way that we will succeed in engaging the community in the process of educating our children. This means to an education is, in and of its self, an example of an ethic of caring.

     An “ethic of caring” supports bilingual education programs in that it provides a natural avenue to the creation of authentic relationships between teacher, student, parent and peers. Bilingual education programs provide teachers who can communicate with their students and the parents of these students. Many studies provide support for the notion that parent involvement is key to student success. Bilingual education is truly an avenue for promoting “an ethic of caring (because it) assumes that every child in the U.S. has the right to an education that affirms children’s identity while preparing them to take their places in American society” (Zimmerman, 2000).

      Paolo Friere (1985) says: “The pursuit of full harmony cannot be carried out in isolation or individualism, but only in fellowship and solidarity; therefore it cannot unfold in the antagonistic relations between oppressors and the oppressed.” This statement clearly encapsulates my personal educational theory. American society is made up of factions of people. The success of our culture lays in the notion that “our culture” is a complementary blend of global cultural mores and folkways. An essential element to effective instruction is the ability to teach tolerance and acceptance for all facets of our society. In addition, recognizing the need for a caring, self-esteem building classroom environment can only increase our effectiveness and affective-ness in the classroom.

     Central to my educational theory is the notion that, if we as a society are to indeed prosper, we must reject “the oppressive aspects of the Anglo-centric culture of the past (in favor of) a new model that validates all the cultures within this diverse society” (Zimmermann, 2000). Students who perceive themselves to be outside the dominant culture can suffer from alienation which, in turn, can lead to a loss of compassion for others lowered self esteem and low performance in academics (a construct of the dominant culture to which they do not belong). As authentic relationships with trusted adults can provide the support system needed by these “at-risk” students, an ethic of caring is vital in the classroom.

     The social justice framework has the possibility to be one of the most effective tools for motivation and transformation of the young mind that a teacher has to work with. From this paradigm, all education has the power to transform a community, not just the individual. The notion of reciprocity has recently been explored as a viable means for engaging student involvement and garnering community support. It is for this reason that teaching from a social justice perspective speaks to me.

     I believe that all of these perspectives: multicultural education, a social justice paradigm, bilingual instruction and democratic educational institutions are integral pieces of the current educational puzzle. Educators must continue to embrace the notion of community involvement as the key to student success. It is through understanding the communities’ needs through language and culture and demonstrating respect for differences within our communities that we can truly reach every student. When careful consideration is given to these concepts, education becomes a democratic process that will engage and prove to be meaningful for all participants. It is time to move away from the teacher-centered, Euro-centric model of education for the sake of our students and the sake of our communities.


Freire, P. (1985). The politics of education: culture, power, and liberation. South Hadley, Mass: Bergin & Garvey.

Lee, G. & Johnson, W. (2000). The Need for Interracial Storybooks in Effective Multicultural Classrooms. Multicultural Education 8(2), 27-9.

Karier, C. (1986). The Individual, Society and Education: A History of American

Educational Ideas. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Krebs, N. B. (2000). For students with multicultural heritage: a refreshing, confrontative approach. Multicultural Education 8(2), 25-7.

Nora, J. (2000). Bilingual education: Portraits of Success. NASSP Bulletin v. 84 no.619 pp. 28-33.

Zimmerman, L.W. (2000). Bilingual education as a manifestation of an ethic of caring. Educational Horizons, 78, 72-76.

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