WITH GREAT INTEREST, I read the afterward of the re-released biography Farewell to Manzanar, just months after September 11, 2001. The authors comment that these attacks, seen by some as the Pearl Harbor of the twenty-first century, give Farewell to Manzanar a new timeliness.
The big difference, sixty years later, was the response of the media and the federal government. In 1942 the flames of racial blaming were fueled and fanned by radio broadcasters and major newspapers. The president of the United States signed the executive order authorizing the forced confinement of an entire ethnic group.... In 2001 the widely scattered threats and acts of reprisal against Arab Americans had no encouragement from national or local media nor any support from any level of government. Indeed, the president expressed strong disapproval of such behavior, as did the major networks and large metropolitan papers. (2)
The authors observe that this is a dramatic change, one clearly in the tenor of what it means to be a democratic nation. However, that early responses to September 11 moved us as a nation to consider all Arabs a threat, just as we did with the Japanese in 1943, means that we still have issues of justice to address. They remind us that we must never forget our history as we forge a future.
In particular, I strongly feel that educators cannot be silent. Educators have the opportunity and, I believe, the responsibility to help build a more just society.
One of the goals of our Constitution, explicitly stated, is to "establish justice." (3) Certainly, every human being deserves justice in all its forms, but just what exactly is justice? Is it equal access to food, clothing, shelter, and education, as well as love and a sense of belonging-which provide the foundation for a self-sufficient or fulfilling life? Is it "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights" among which are "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness" as listed in our Declaration of Independence? (4) Or is it defined by one of many current issues, as featured on the website, www.justicelearning.org, such as affirmative action, civil liberties in war, the death penalty, gun control, or juvenile justice? (5) Is the concept of justice easier to understand than the practice of justice? I would argue that justice is indeed easier to define than to deliver, but defining it is no easy task either. Nevertheless, the first is necessary if we are to achieve the second--creating a more just world. Clearly, this is crucial to building our students' civic competence, a major purpose of social studies programs. (6) Expectations of Excellence, the standards set by NCSS, further elucidates this perspective:
As citizens of a democracy, we support our republic's most important ideals: the common good, i.e., the general welfare of all individuals and groups within the community. The common good is supported when all citizens become aware that the meaning and purpose of education in a democratic republic is the intellectual and ethical development of "student-citizens," young people who will soon assume the role of citizen. Individuals must understand that their self-interest is dependent upon the well-being of others in the community. Attention to the common good means putting first things first. If educators address the ethical and intellectual habits of students, other priorities will be realized. (7)
So, as educators, how do we help our students first conceptualize justice and then live this understanding in community--specifically in schools, the world where our existence with students plays out?
Literature that honors, raises awareness of, and advocates for social justice may be just the means. It's critical that in our classrooms we nurture a "just" perspective, both in word and deed. …