Social Justice and School Psychology

Article excerpt

Despite attention in other social sciences and within other areas of psychology (e.g., community psychology; Nelson & Prilleltensky, 2005), social justice has received minimal attention in school psychology literature. The two studies by Shriberg et al. (2008) and McCabe and Rubinson (2008) represent significant developments in exploring school psychology's commitment to social justice. The studies address important questions regarding individual and collective professional development for promoting social justice in schools. Shriberg et al. examined perspectives of multicultural/diversity experts in school psychology regarding social justice in general. McCabe and Rubinson examined the attitudes, perceived norms, and behavioral intentions regarding social justice for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) school-age population among graduate students in childhood and early childhood education, school counseling, and school psychology. Both populations were expected to have had unique opportunities to develop awareness, attitudes, and skills related to social justice. In the former case, the experts were viewed as well positioned to promote social justice given their experiences working with diverse populations; in the latter, graduate students were studying in a program with a mission of social justice. Together, these studies are important initial steps in exploring the status quo of school psychology and providing directions for future research and action.

The purpose of this commentary is to discuss the findings of these two studies in the context of school psychology's future role in social justice. The discussion is organized around three questions (themes); What is social justice (definition)? Where do we currently stand in school psychology (status quo)? How do we move forward as a profession (future directions)?

Guiding interpretation and inference is a participatory, interdisciplinary, and action-oriented framework, consistent with the social justice work of Prilleltensky and Nelson (2002; Nelson & Prilleltensky, 2005) in community psychology, the international development work of Eade (1997), and health promotion work of Nastasi (2000) and Nastasi, Moore, and Varjas (2004) in school psychol- ogy. The models guiding these efforts share several key values related to (a) promoting the well-being of ail people by transforming existing power structures, (b) critically examining the status quo of society and the profession, (c) involving stakeholders in guiding and enacting social change, and (d) personal responsibility and accountability of professionals for promoting social justice. Certainly these values are within the realm of current thinking in school psychology. As reflected in the findings from Shriberg et al. (2008) and McCabe and Rubinson (2008), however, school psychology is not yet prepared to fully participate in social justice work. The key question we return to at the conclusion of this commentary is what steps we need to take individually and collectively to fully participate in promoting socially just institutions and societies.

Defining Social Justice

The research by Shriberg et al. (2008) specifically addressed the question of definition by asking a group of "cultural diversity experts" (based on their record of publications and presentations related to diversity) to define social justice in the context of school psychology. The resulting definitions included equity (equal rights and protection for all), an ecological or systemic perspective, advocacy, and personal responsibility, with equity being the primary concept. As Shriberg and his colleagues pointed out, this primary focus on equal protection is consistent with accepted definitions of social justice, with professional standards of practice (e.g., American Psychology Association [APA] and National Association of School Psychologists[NASP]), and with the major premise of special education legislation that has played a central role in school psychology since the 1970s (PL 94-142). …