Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Social Justice through a School Psychology Lens: Definition and Applications

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Social Justice through a School Psychology Lens: Definition and Applications

Article excerpt

Abstract. Social justice is an aspiration that most, if not all, school psychologists likely support, yet there is a lack of research delineating how this term translates to school psychology practice. This article presents the results of a Delphi study of 44 cultural diversity experts in school psychology regarding (a) defining social justice from a school psychology perspective, (b) identifying priority social justice topics, (c) identifying social justice advocacy strategies, and (d) identifying opportunities and barriers to social justice work in school psychology. Results indicate a need for school psychologists to engage in advocacy and equity work that both supports the rights and opportunities of all and recognizes potential obstacles to this work, including the lack of diversity in the profession and institutional power structures that work against justice in education.

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The profession of school psychology has been grounded in a concern for equal access to education for all children since its inception (Fagan & Sachs Wise, 2007). Much of modern school psychology has its origins in the special education rights movement and the subsequent passage of legislation such as the Education of All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (PL 94-142) that has sought to provide legal protection for students with various disabilities. This law and its subsequent revisions, as well as the continued aspiration within the field for school psychologists to serve as academic and mental health leaders in schools (Ysseldyke et al., 2006), has spawned considerable research and advocacy that has focused on crucial topics such as children's rights (Hart & Prasse, 1991), strategies to conduct nondiscriminatory assessment practices (Ortiz, 2008), and ways that school psychologists can act as systems change agents for the benefit of children and families (Sheridan & Gutkin, 2000).

These topics all arguably fall under the umbrella of the term social justice, a construct that has been the subject of significant attention within numerous professional fields related to school psychology (e.g., American Counseling Association Governing Council, 2003; American Psychological Association, 2003; Cambron-McCabe & McCarthy, 2005; Goodman, Liang, Helms, Latta, Sparks, & Weintraub, 2004; North, 2006), but as yet has not been a primary object of study in school psychology. Experience from other fields in education and psychology strongly suggests that a scholarly focus on social justice typically is preceded by a commitment to cultural diversity and to culturally responsive practice (Arredondo & Perez, 2003). It would appear that the field of school psychology might be poised for such a transition. For example, over the past several decades there have been a number of individuals and groups within school psychology who have done significant work toward making cultural diversity an accepted topic for study, discourse, training, and practice guidelines (Rogers, 2005). There also is evidence of a continued increase in diversity-related content in leading school psychology journals (Brown, Shriberg, & Wang, 2007; Miranda & Gutter, 2002). In addition, a commitment to providing culturally competent practice has become increasingly important within school psychology. For example, there have been numerous efforts toward providing models of culturally responsive and capable practice (Lopez & Rogers, 2001; Rogers et al., 1999; Rogers & Lopez, 2002). In addition, cross-cultural competence in the form of diversity awareness and sensitive service delivery has been identified as one of the foundational competencies in School Psychology: Blueprint for Training and Practice III (Ysseldyke et al., 2006).

Many scholars have argued that the concepts of cultural diversity, multicultural competence, and social justice are directly linked. For example, within psychology, Arredondo, Tovar-Blank, and Parham (2008) state that social justice has always been a core principle of the multicultural competency movement. …

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