Academic Exchange Quarterly
Volume 22, Issue 2    Summer 2018
Extending Social Justice Beyond the Classroom   According to the Attorney General’s National Task
Force on Children Exposed to Violence, 46 million of the 76 million children living in the United States “can
expect to have their lives touched by violence, crime, abuse, and psychological trauma this year” (p.15)
(U.S. Dept. of Justice, 2012). Recent epidemiological studies have revealed that about 71% of children aged
2 to 17 were exposed to at least one victimization event in the past year (e.g., maltreatment, assault, criminal
victimization, etc.), where most were exposed to more than one (Zygmunt & Clark, 2016). As professionals
of education and preparers of future teachers, we should be concerned with how our children are faring
emotionally and spiritually, as well as scholastically. The need for teacher preparation and professional
development and educational leadership programs to inspire advocates and agents for social justice is greater
today than ever.
The ideal social justice programs teach students to recognize and act upon the power they have for become
agents of change in their communities by incorporating educational projects centered on social transformation.
This transformation must reshape students’ perceptions of society both of wellness and suffering rather than
personal, individual stories of inequity. Educators need to contend with a lived experience of trauma by many
of our nation’s children, which is exacerbated by the backdrop of social and political challenges of our time.
These exceptional times require an even deeper measure of commitment to the development of young people
because they are participants in movements for social justice in ways that adults are not. Several articles
published in Academic Exchange Quarterly provide ideas for incorporating social justice programs. Peggy
Johnson (2017) describes how her exceptional social justice component was incorporated into a composition
class. Salient social justice themes were identified and included in class discussions and composition assignments.
The course encouraged all students to participate as they discussed and reflected upon experiences that shaped
their values and beliefs. Perspectives regarding sense of self and of others were positively changed by using this
composition curriculum with a social justice framework. Delaney and Concannon (2011) addressed how
“inappropriate” language use can be used as a language of oppression, working with students to recognize and
challenge social and political realities. Gilbert Park (2011) described how genuine celebrations of diversity must
go beyond cultural celebrations by becoming intentionally and deliberately designed to bring citizens from different
backgrounds together as Americans, instead of promoting separateness.
In the context of teacher preparation, school district stakeholders must move far beyond the traditional preparation
model using partnership schools. Perspectives must include the care of children given their lived experience in the
social, political and cultural landscape which moves beyond the school classroom and/or the university classroom.
This means reaching out to the key community members and not only including them in the educational experience
of the child but making them an integral and specific part of that education.
So how to involve the community? How to extend classroom walls where social justice and social change can
be addressed? First, educators and administrators must begin to understand that in order to build on children’s
lived experience, they must discover what it is, and the only way this is possible is by exploring, experiencing,
and interacting with the community in which children live and learn. Preservice teachers, inservice teachers and
administrators must establish relationships and learn that issues of race language, socioeconomic status, power
and privilege are complex factors impacting the teaching and learning process. They must question previously
held assumptions and open their minds to new possibilities they have yet to consider. As in Johnson’s work, social
justice themes and causes for that particular community must be identified. A common non-derogatory language
should be used, removing the language of oppression from all conversations as indicated by Delaney and
Concannon (2011) and intentional celebrations that identify and elevate the positive attributes of all cultures should
be designed as Gilbert Park’s (2011) work describes.
This model includes active engagement, intentionally connecting to the community, its members, and its knowledge
base to learn the things that will effectively reach and teach the children they will educate. Direct contact with
systematic study of students’ families and communities should become the basis for instructional planning. There is
no better time to begin than now as we reassure students with hope, not with fear. There are many programs in the
US where schools and communities are intentionally creating relationships through programs with characteristics such
as the ones that are described herein.
Research, find the model that can be adapted to your schools and community and organize a collective voice to begin
creating agents of change in these educational reform efforts. Extend this model to ensure that all of school district
stakeholders have access to opportunities through which to learn the work of community engagement and to internalize
how utilizing the funds of knowledge within the context of children’s lives can transform teaching and learning. Without
a collective of committed teachers and administrators who are willing to extend the stakeholders into the communities
in which children live and learn, our work to ensure a just education for all children will not be realized. It is only through
transforming education with social justice that we can “enact the just and equitable future for students that was the
original promise of public education” (Zygmunt & Clark, 2016).
Delaney, S. and Concannon, K. (2011). Affect and social justice pedagogy. Academic Exchange Quarterly 15 (1), 12-20.
Johnson, P. (2017). Social justice and the composition classroom. Academic Exchange Quarterly 21(1), 78-85.
Park, G. (2011). Beyond Celebrating Diversity in Schools. Academic Exchange Quarterly, 15(1), 25-29.
U.S. Department of Justice. Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence.(2012).
Report of the Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence. Washington, DC.:OJJDP.
Zygmunt, E. and Clark, P. (2016). Transforming Teacher Education for Social Justice.
New York: Teachers College Press.
Cherie A. McCollough, PhD., Professor
Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi, TX