Social Justice in Education, is it working?
Education is a common place to push a social justice agenda. There are many reasons for this. First, all children are legally required to go to school. It is the first, and only, time citizens are mandated to be in the care of the government unless you have committed a crime. Second, children are malluable. There is a belief that change is still possible with children where it is not in adults. Third, educators often want to make change in society. Many (not all) teachers get into the profession with the desire to improve the world. Fourth, the disputed purpose of schools is to improve the whole student. Society’s expectations of schools is to address the academic, social, emotional and physical needs of every child. All of these reasons create an ideal place for social justice to breed and grow.
When we step back and look at our work as educators it is painfully obvious that what we are doing is not working. A recent article by Clark and Cummins (2014) revealed that social mobility does not change over time. The study examined surnames and university attendance from 1170 to 2012 in England and found that elite universities are frequented by the same families. Similar studies were done for Sweden, USA, India, Japan and China, all with similar results. To put it in perspective the study said “social status is more strongly inherited even than height”.
What does this mean?
The results of the study by Clark and Cummins (2014) are depressing because it shows how little impact schools have had on the socioeconomic class of children. The nihilist in me wonders if there is a point to trying, but I am also strangely encouraged. People before us have solved so many problems maybe I should be thankful they saved our generation one.
Our lack of success at implementing social justice tells us there is no clear road map for how to implement social justice into schools. De-tracking, school meal plans, program focused schools, restorative justice, and accountability are all reforms that will help, but individually they will not solve the problem.
The answer is likely that we need to employ a range of strategies, and invent some new ones. One strategy that deserves more focus is early childhood education (ECE). TD Economics (2012) produced a special report that examined the research on ECE and found it had many benefits for the economy and society. ECE gave students many of the essential skills required to be successful in school and later for the job market. ECE should be one strategy that is examined more closely.
The bottom line for educators is that we have an uphill battle with no end in sight. Sorry for being the bearer of bad news!
******* Please feel free to provide any comments or suggestions on my writing or content. I would love feedback!
Clark, G., & Cummins, N. (2014). Surnames and social mobility in England, 1170–2012. Human Nature, 1–21.