Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Social Justice Teaching Debate on Eduwonkette

Interesting back and forth about "social justice teaching" on Education Week's eduwonkette.

Definitely worth reading the entire three posts on eduwonkette, starting with:What Is Social Justice Teaching, Anyway?

She mentions Sol Stern's article in City Journal criticizing Bill Ayer and social justice teaching. Stern says that Ayers "has a political agenda that, if successful, would make it impossible to lift academic achievement for disadvantaged children." (His social justice teaching agenda, that is.) Bill Ayers is a Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and was formerly a Weatherman, a group that emerged out of opposition to the Vietnam War and support for the Civil Rights movement. Stern criticizes:

As Ayers puts it in one of his course descriptions, prospective K–12 teachers need to “be aware of the social and moral universe we inhabit and . . . be a teacher capable of hope and struggle, outrage and action, a teacher teaching for social justice and liberation.” Ayers’s texts on the imperative of social-justice teaching are among the most popular works in the syllabi of the nation’s ed schools and teacher-training institutes. One of Ayers’s major themes is that the American public school system is nothing but a reflection of capitalist hegemony. Thus, the mission of all progressive teachers is to take back the classrooms and turn them into laboratories of revolutionary change.
Bill Ayers responds as a guest blogger on eduwonkette:

The one true assertion he makes about my actual work—and he repeats it several times—is that I am in favor of teaching for social justice. He never explains why that’s a bad thing—Stern favors teaching for social injustice?—but simply calls it the “social-justice teaching agenda.”

So a brief word on schools and social justice: all schools serve the societies in which they’re embedded—authoritarian schools serve authoritarian systems, apartheid schools serve an apartheid society, and so on. Practically all schools want their students to study hard, stay away from drugs, do their homework, and so on. In fact none of these features distinguishes schools in the old Soviet Union or fascist Germany from schools in a democracy. But in a democracy one would expect something more—a commitment to free inquiry, questioning, and participation; a push for access and equity; a curriculum that encouraged free thought and independent judgment; a standard of full recognition of the humanity of each individual. In other words, social justice.
From Sol Stern's guest post on eduwonkette:
Perhaps Stanley Fish put it best: “Teachers should teach their subjects. They should not teach peace or war or freedom or obedience or diversity or uniformity or nationalism or antinationalism or any other agenda that might properly be taught by a political leader or a talk show host.”

Sol Stern suggests that the works of Maxine Greene ,Paulo Freire, Jonathon Kozol, Henry Giroux, and Bill Ayers are the mainstays of teacher education schools, while "among those education writers who are almost never included on course lists are advocates of a knowledge-based and politically neutral curriculum, such as E. D. Hirsch Jr. or Diane Ravitch."

Here appears to criticize the following topics included in one of Ayer's syllabi's:

Ayers offers these comments about the role of K-12 teachers for his course on Urban Education: “Homelessness, crime, racism, oppression—we have the resources and knowledge to fight and overcome these things. We need to look beyond our isolated situations, to define our problems globally. We cannot
be child advocates . . . in Chicago or New York and ignore the web that links us with the children of India or Palestine.” So, not only should public school teachers be working to overcome racism and oppression in Chicago but they should be advocating for the “children of Palestine.” Considering that Ayers’ website includes rants against Israel and Zionism, we can just imagine what he means by that exhortation.
I'm not really sure what is suggested by a politically neutral curriculum - as I believe it is pretty much nearly impossible to be politically neutral in the classroom. Schools are political places.

I agree with Stern in that schools should not be places of indoctrination. Learning should be student centered, and the teacher should support the student journey as they pose problems and come to conclusions. However, this does not mean that the classroom is a neutral place where social justice issues can't be discussed.

To support a status quo, to advocate against "social justice teaching" is equally as political as to advocate for it.



narrator said...

Schools are NOT in favor of social justice, as Sol Stern and Stanley Fish insist. Schools exist for the purpose of social reproduction. That's why capitalists pay for them, that's why governments insist that students attend.

Schools which actually encouraged "better societies" - would be encouraging change, and doubt in institutions, and questions. In other words, they would be completely different from what they are.

Dave said...

I hope you are not advocating enriching our schools with the teaching of Bill Ayers. He is a homegrown terrorist. Regarding his involvement with the Weather Underground, he is quoted as saying, ""I don't regret setting bombs" and "I feel we didn't do enough", and, when asked if he would "do it all again" as saying "I don't want to discount the possibility."

Due to his involvement with the Weather Underground, he can not be considered an expert on social justice any more than Timothy McVeigh.