Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

Social Justice as a Conduit for Broadening Curriculum Access: Stories from Classroom Teachers

Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

Social Justice as a Conduit for Broadening Curriculum Access: Stories from Classroom Teachers

Article excerpt


The field of social justice has grown immensely. However, this growth has evolved with challenges in deepening and broadening understanding of social justice. In most instances, conceptualisation of social justice has been framed within binary, 'either or' understandings of identity. That is, identity construction positions people either as oppressors or oppressed depending on the social identity group that one belongs to. Such binary understandings have resulted in many individuals' being positioned or actively positioning themselves as working for or against social justice, while being oblivious of the complexities involved in working for social justice. This often makes it difficult for identity to be conceptualised and understood within frameworks that allow for intersectionality, simultaneity and saliency (Crenshaw, 1993; Jones & McEwen, 2000). The notion of 'social justice' is used quite prolifically, with almost all teachers branding themselves as a social justice teacher. In a sense, the notion of social justice has become a catchphrase for political correctness and is in itself incapable of assisting teachers to interrogate and explore patterns of their internalised dominance in their attempt to broaden access to and in the curriculum for all learners.

Since the advent of democracy in South Africa, with its formulation of the new constitutional promise of social justice, equity and equality, the concept of social justice has generally been used as a politically correct term to express one's allegiance to the new constitutional promise - far removed from the ideals of the new constitutional framework (Ramphele, 2012). The conceptualisation of social justice in this paper is that social justice denotes something more than a label such as being a social justice teacher - social justice is a political commitment that requires action and activism. Social justice is less about declaring oneself as being 'saved,' and more about the activism to live and work towards fairness, equity, peace and equality.

In our work in in-service education for social justice, we have recognised that our students come with a complex matrix of social identities. These identities often texture the way in which our students view the world, others and their teaching spaces.

The contested nature of schooling often seduces teachers to participate in struggles that invite them to meddle in identity construction politics. As a foundation for living and working for social justice, it is vital for teachers to engage critically with issues of social justice in relation to how they position themselves in these struggles. As teachers working to teach for social justice, we often hear stories from our students of being confronted with situations that require them to traverse borders of dominant discourses. Our reading of their stories is that this is often preceded by an awareness of a particular way in which society is constructed - that is, an awareness of the existence of oppressive practices and attitudes. As authors of this paper, we acknowledge that the extent to which their social identities are shaped, constructed and reconstructed by their experiences as students in the ACE: Values and Human Rights in Education is a matter of further investigation. We know from our experience of working with the students that when they begin participating in this specialisation, they are usually unaware of what it means to teach for social justice. It is only in the journey that they begin to develop alternative lenses for viewing the world, which often carries a promise about the way in which they might eventually think and act in the world.

From our experience as lecturers, we have learned that students often join the ACE: Values and Human Rights in Education specialisation with a generally uncritical understanding of their roles as teachers working in schooling contexts that are affected by a complex matrix of social, political, historical and economic factors. …

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