Teaching Toward Social Justice

As part of the readings for my Educational Core Studies 210 course, I will be reading Against Common Sense: Teaching and Learning Toward Social Justice (2nd edition) by Kevin K. Kumashiro and The New Teacher Book: Finding Purpose, Balance, and Hope During Your First Years in the Classroom (2nd edition) edited by Terry Burant, Linda Christensen, Kelley Dawson Salas, and Stephanie Walters. The first reading that I will be reflecting on is from Against Common Sense.

In this text Kumashiro defines common sense as “the assumption that improvement comes when schools are put in competition with one another, like businesses in a so-called free market” (page 22). This assumption typically favours middle-to-upper class families because they are being offered choices of the best schools while low income families do not have these choices available due to the expense of travelling or the tuition needed to attend certain schools.

This “common sense” has been created and promoted by business and conservative forces in North America. While this education reform based on standards and testing may have started as a Conservative proposal, Liberals now shape their ideas based on these concepts that are now referred to as “common sense”. Although teachers may recognise that this system reinforces social hierarchies, they may fear going against standards due to the threat of school closure, teacher turnover, student non-promotion, and other repercussions. One of the ways to work around these standards is to teach students to search for gaps in the standards and attempt to see these standards from different perspectives.

Within schools, teachers need to find the balance between teaching standards and teaching students to think independently about the school system, the gaps that exist, and how they can better their educational experience. Part of the role of a teacher is to teach students specific mandated standards, but there must be more learning within the classroom environment in order to motivate students to rise above this mandated learning to find their own truths.

It is important that students and teachers pay attention to “common sense” because this thinking regarding education oppresses many students within the school system by reaffirming social hierarchy. While policies such as “No Child Left Behind” sound wonderful as proposals, many students suffer due to school closures and not having enough resources to engage in the education system and advocate for change. As future teachers, it is our role to speak for these students who are being systematically oppressed within the school system by teaching with social justice in mind.

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