The trial of Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis has focused our nation’s attention on issues of social justice and racial equality. These questions can form the basis for classroom discussions and assignments in our classrooms yet making those assignments and leading discussions can pose a challenge for teachers. Students could offer opinions that will trigger other students, and even reflect badly on the teacher who was in charge when those opinions were expressed.
How Can Teachers Respectfully Use These Events to Teach Concepts of Social Justice?
Here are some suggestions that Caitlin Blake, who teaches at Arapahoe Community College, makes in, “Teaching Social Justice in Theory and Practice,” an article she wrote for ResilientEducator.com:
- Establish the classroom and class as a “community of conscience.” She writes, “Productive conversations can be created by teaching students to share their ideas and respond to the ideas of others in a way that allows for disagreement but still values the student’s perspective.”
- Help students see each other as co-learners rather than adversaries. “This perspective allows students to understand that while disagreements may occur, they must work together to increase their knowledge,” Blake suggests.
- Turn social justice learning into opportunities for community action and service. “Once students are able to recognize and discuss social injustice, teachers can help them act upon the issues they see,” she suggests. “Teachers can use service-learning projects to connect their classroom to the surrounding community.”
Still, more issues pertaining to social justice are very much on people’s minds now. While they can serve as vibrant, controversial topics for class, they too can heighten emotions and lead to controversy. Among these other issues are:
- Regional variations in the U.S. about the fairness of how Covid-19 vaccinations and tests are being administered.
- International news about how different populations are being vaccinated against Covid-19 in countries around the world.
- Issues surrounding the status of transgender students, athletes as well as others.
- Attacks on Asian-Americans across the United States.
- Political divisions that are more deeply felt in our country than in prior years.
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