The Social Justice Agenda: The Overlooked & The Underserved

When it comers to teacher preparation, the social justice agenda, as suggested by Kenneth Zeichner, is “under attack,” which is a seemingly appropriate way by which to understand the social justice agenda. Zeichner suggests in his article on teacher preparation that schools and governments are using the idea of multicultural education as a way to lower standards in the classroom, when instead the focus should shift to that of the more practical and micro-level issues; these students are products of poor homes, lack of access to resources such as food and transportation, and families may have a hard time even affording everyday necessities to run a household. There shouldn’t be an excuse to cover up the harsh realities of daily life for underserved students. Rather, we ought to view the social justice lens as a way by which to foster an understanding among novice teachers that this is a reality for students, not some phenomenon that is overlooked by these students. Furthermore, Zeichner mentions that teacher preparation programs and various action research projects have the ability to promote education with a social justice lens because the preparation that is happening among novice teachers is grounded with a multicultural lens. It’s how that lens is perceived and enacted in teacher preparation that is up for question.

Lee (2011),in their article What Does Teaching for Social Justice Mean to Teacher Candidates?, suggests that often time, we are playing a word game with this approach to teaching. For example, there has always been a debate, according to Lee (2011), in the discussion of what social justice means. Whether it is the attitudes and beliefs of a population of people, or if it is a process by which one understands a group of people, there is always question as to how to make sense of something that is seemingly subjective in definition. Lee suggests that once we step into the classroom, the teaching becomes complex through the lens of social justice. The complexities of relating one-to-one with students can be a difficult task, especially for both the novice teacher and the teacher whom does not parallel a student’s ethnic identity. To this point, there are several neo-liberal agendas that do not intersect well with the social justice approach to education, blocking teachers from learning about their way of teaching, and thus, impeding the improvement their relationships with their students. With the complexities of this approach, no wonder why the word game exists and it’s now clear as to why the agenda has been historically misinterpreted.

Baljit Kaur (2012) states in their article that the social justice agenda comes into contact with the rhetoric surrounding standardization, and that the neoliberal approach is taking over what seems to be a critical element to the discussion on how to better prepare effective teachers for strong classrooms. The measurement by which to gather the data could be present, although the teacher is simply giving the assessment without the human element, teacher to student. What are the primary goals of establishing particular assessments, if at the end of the day, the social justice approach to teaching takes a back seat?