Why Is Social Justice Important In Education?
Benefits of social justice in education – The goals of social justice in education include more empathy, more justice, and more equality. Students taught with this framework will ideally have a stronger sense of what’s just and fair, and choose careers and lifestyles that support their communities.
- Since social justice in education is relatively new, there isn’t a lot of research into the benefits, but what there is is very promising.
- A recent Pennsylvania State University study examined transformative social-justice education looked at the long-term impact that a social justice course had on black adolescents.
The study revealed that even after many years post-graduation, former students expressed that the class changed their sense of justice and even their own identity.11 out of the 13 said that as a result, they began exploring careers that would help their community,
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- 1 What is the goal of social justice education?
- 2 What are the core concepts of social justice education?
- 3 Why is social justice important?
- 4 What does social justice mean in core values?
- 5 What is the key concept of social justice?
- 6 What are the three pillars of social justice?
- 7 What are objectives of social justice?
- 8 What do social justice education theories believe?
- 9 What is the motive of social justice?
- 10 What are the goals of social work for social justice?
Social Justice as a Process & a Goal – Social Justice is both a process and a goal. “The goal of Social Justice educations is full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs. Social Justice includes a vision of society that is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically saf e and secure,” The process of attaining the goal of social justice, we believe, should also be democratic and participatory, inclusive and affirming of human agency and human capabilities for working collaboratively to create change,
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What Is Social Justice in Education? The social justice in education definition is the equal distribution of resources and treatment to make all students feel valued and safe physically and mentally. Since their inception, education systems (particularly public ones) have engaged in socially unjust practices.
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Learning Objectives: –
- Differentiate between diversity and social justice as frameworks.
- Define key social justice concepts: oppression, privilege, intersectionality, social identity, matrix of oppression.
- Describe their own experiences of privilege and oppression.
- Identify concrete plans to apply a liberatory consciousness to their own lives.
There are four interrelated principles of social justice; equity, access, participation and rights.
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The four principles of social justice – As a term, “social justice” is vague and often misunderstood. To become a reality in every part of society – healthcare, education, employment, etc – social justice needs clearly-defined goals. With clear goals, solutions for change and progress are possible. A definition must consider : access, equity, participation, and human rights.
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Fostering a classroom community of conscience – The first way to promote social justice in the classroom is to create a community of conscience. This environment ensures that students’ voices, opinions and ideas are valued and respected by their instructor and peers.
Teachers can establish a community of conscience by creating rules that teach fairness in classroom discussions and behavior. Productive conversations can be created by teaching students to share their ideas and respond to the ideas of others in a way that allows for disagreement but still values the student’s perspective.
Teachers can model questions and answers that illustrate ways to thoughtful conversation rather than making students feel bad or devalued by their classmates. By providing model responses, teachers can illustrate to students how a good response helps to enrich a conversation whereas some responses can shut discussions down.
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Social workers are passionate about serving others. They apply this passion to advocating for vulnerable groups of people like children, seniors and those with disabilities. Because of this, social work is tied to social justice, which often leads efforts to protect the rights of the previously mentioned groups.
- This article discusses what social justice is, why it’s important, and how social justice applies to the social work field.
- Social justice has to do with the belief that all people should have equal rights and opportunity.
- However, there is a lot of confusion about what exactly this means.
- To more fully understand social justice, it helps to examine its history.
The concept of social justice has religious roots, originating in 1843 from the Italian philosopher and priest Luigi Taparelli d’Azeglio, according to the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), a nonprofit educational organization. ISI notes that the Catholic Church formally adopted “social justice” as part of its teaching through Pope Pius XI’s 1931 encyclical, ” Quadragesimo Anno,” These early discussions of social justice addressed the growing gap between the rich and poor after the industrial revolution and into the progressive era.
After the Great Depression, the social work profession experienced a shift in priorities and adopted a social justice focus. In his Social Work Today article, ” Keeping Social Justice in Social Work,” Dr. Frederic Reamer explains how many social workers “worked primarily in public welfare agencies and other social programs begun under the New Deal and designed to address society’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens.” The idea of social justice received more attention after John Rawl, an American political philosopher, published ” A Theory of Justice ” in 1971.
Its guiding principle was that people have “an equal right to the most extensive system of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty for all.” Rawl’s ideas and theories of social justice have continued to be pertinent in economics and politics.
For example, the United Nations and The International Forum for Social Development mention Rawl’s justice ideas throughout the 2006 publication, ” Social Justice in an Open World: The Role of the United Nations,” Definition of social justice: Social justice is a type of justice rooted in the idea that all people should have equal rights, opportunity and treatment.
Definition of social injustice: Social injustice is when actions are taken that infringe upon a group’s rights, marginalize their opportunities or treat them unfairly. Social justice promotes fairness and equity across many aspects of society. For example, it promotes equal economic, educational and workplace opportunities.
Concentrate on diversityConfront the implications of oppressionLearn and address the attitudes and behaviors that sustain oppressionAdopt an inclusive mindset
Social workers apply the above strategies to advance growth and change among vulnerable groups, such the senior, LGBTQ, homeless, veteran and refugee communities. Social justice issues span many areas. The Pachamama Alliance, an organization that advocates for indigenous and nature rights, says social justice issues can stem from prejudices in areas such as race, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, nationality, education and mental or physical ability.
Social workers must engage these issues as they promote social development and change. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) notes five areas of social justice priorities : voting rights, criminal justice/ juvenile justice, environmental justice, immigration and economic justice. Other common social justice priorities are related to health care, education and workers’ rights.
While liberals and conservatives feel differently about social justice issues and how to address them, social workers are committed to addressing the social injustices they encounter. Social justice and social work cannot be separated. Social workers use their strong communication and empathy skills to relate with patients undergoing stress and trauma, which could be related to social injustices.
ServiceSocial justiceDignity and worth of the personImportance of human relationshipsIntegrityCompetence
Each value is tied to an aspirational ethical principle. For social justice, the ethical principle is “Social workers challenge social injustice.” The Code of Ethics expands upon this principle: Social workers pursue social change, particularly with and on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed individuals and groups of people.
Social workers’ social change efforts are focused primarily on issues of poverty, unemployment, discrimination, and other forms of social injustice. These activities seek to promote sensitivity to and knowledge about oppression and cultural and ethnic diversity. Social workers strive to ensure access to needed information, services, and resources; equality of opportunity; and meaningful participation in decision making for all people.
Social workers engage in social justice because they have to be attentive to the environmental and societal factors that contribute to people’s struggles. Reamer explains this in his Social Work Today article, writing about how social workers understand “that individual clients’ struggles with problems such as clinical depression, anxiety, domestic violence, substance abuse and poor health often stem from significant social and economic problems associated with poverty, unemployment, unaffordable housing, inflation and other environmental problems.” Aside from social work, there are several other careers in social justice.
Mental health worker: Related closely to the field of psychiatric social work, a mental health worker or counselor provides treatment and support for those who are experiencing mental or behavioral problems. Mental health workers evaluate clients’ mental health, develop treatment plans and goals and work with clients to assist them in their recovery. They may also conduct outreach to help community members recognize signs of destructive behavior. Most mental health counselor positions require at least a bachelor’s degree, but many require a master’s degree as well. Victim advocate: A victim advocate provides assistance to victims of crimes throughout the criminal justice process. They advocate on behalf of victims and ensure that their rights are not violated. Responsibilities may include offering emotional support, providing resources and referrals and assisting with criminal justice forms. Some schools offer certificate programs specifically focused on victim advocacy. Community developer: Community developers—sometimes referred to as community service managers—are responsible for coordinating community-wide programs that support public well-being. This may include identifying necessary programs and planning and managing outreach activities. Community developers often work for nonprofit organizations or government agencies. This position incorporates elements of macro social work, as it focuses on implementing large-scale solutions to community injustices. Lobbyist: Lobbyists represent certain political interests and work to sway politicians to vote for legislation that favors these interests. Lobbying may be considered a social justice career if you are representing legislation that seeks to address community injustices. To become a lobbyist, it may be beneficial to earn a degree in political science, journalism, law, communication or public relations. It can also be helpful to have work experience relating to the specific issues you want to represent. Lawyer: Lawyers represent individuals and businesses on a variety of legal issues, including disputes related to social justice. As a lawyer, you’ll advise clients, conduct research on legal problems and present facts to a court. In most states, lawyers need to earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree and pass a bar exam before practicing. If you’re interested in both social work and law, you may want to consider a dual Master of Social Work (MSW) and J.D. degree. These types of dual degrees are designed to provide you with an understanding of how legal policies affect complex social issues.
Social justice refers to a political and philosophical theory that focuses on the concept of fairness in relations between individuals in society and equal access to wealth, opportunities, and social privileges in a society. The concept of social justice first emerged in the 19 th century, as there were wide disparities in wealth and social standing perpetuated through the social structure of the era. The five main principles of social justice include access to resources, equity, participation, diversity, and human rights.
Last Updated: July 11, 2022 In the world of philanthropy, we hear the phrase social justice a lot. But what exactly does it mean? While you probably have a general idea of what social justice stands for, if you were put on the spot, would you be able to define it in a short soundbite? Several organizations and institutions provide their own definitions for social justice. Here are a few:
- “Social justice may be broadly understood as the fair and compassionate distribution of the fruits of economic growth.” United Nations
- “Social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities. Social workers aim to open the doors of access and opportunity for everyone, particularly those in greatest need.” National Association of Social Workers
- “Social justice encompasses economic justice. Social justice is the virtue which guides us in creating those organized human interactions we call institutions. In turn, social institutions, when justly organized, provide us with access to what is good for the person, both individually and in our associations with others. Social justice also imposes on each of us a personal responsibility to work with others to design and continually perfect our institutions as tools for personal and social development.” Center for Economic and Social Justice
Purpose of the social justice principles – The social justice principles seek to recognise and address both the health outcomes, such as:
incidence and prevalence of disease, anddeath rates
As well as the factors that influence health, such as:
socioeconomic status,environment, andcultural factors.
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The three pillars – The aforementioned objectives will be achieved through a long-term agenda based on three pillars:
Rights : States must be democratic, protect people’s rights and guarantee justice. In order for these essential elements to be guaranteed, it is important that the most vulnerable people have the opportunity to mobilise and give voice to their needs. ActionAid aims to support civil society groups and organisations in facing negative cultural and social norms and practices that foster discrimination and the violation of rights.
Re-distribution : the earth’s resources are enough to guarantee a dignified life for everyone, especially for people living in poverty and in a situation of social exclusion, but they must be re-distributed fairly. ActionAid operates to ensure that even the most vulnerable people, especially women, can increase their control over productive resources and ensure a fairer sharing of opportunities, as well as respect for workers’ rights. All of the above, for example, by working in countries to strengthen regulations on economic activities and increase their attention towards a more equitable re-distribution of resources; putting pressure on the implementation of progressive tax systems and working on the pre-distribution of resources that precedes the taxation of income; making every effort so that women have the right to financial compensation for care work and a reduction of the weight on their shoulders and for the redistribution of financial resources in favour of public services available to the less well-off.
Resilience : faced with an increase in conflicts and natural catastrophic events, people and communities need to increase their resilience to counter, react and decrease their vulnerability. This must take place both in urban contexts (where there are situations of rapid and often uncontrolled urbanisation) and in rural areas (where the impact of climate change is becoming increasingly significant); people must receive support to counter any emergency situations, for example by training those at the forefront in responding to them.
These pillars are closely linked and mutually supportive: rights cannot be upheld without the re-distribution of power and will continue to be threatened unless the resilience of communities and people is strengthened. : The three pillars – ActionAid
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The process of integrating social justice into group work can be understood in five distinct dimensions: naiveté, multicultural integration, liberatory critical consciousness, empowerment, and social justice advocacy.
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The Goal of Social Justice – Typically, those who strive for social justice seek the redistribution of power to enhance the well-being of individuals through equal access to healthcare, justice and economic opportunity. While activists have been part of the push toward social justice, the proactive changes required often fall to public administrators—in government, non-profit organizations, foundations, public health and regulatory agencies—who are responsible for shaping policies and proposals.
The work of public administrators is often quieter and less dramatic than that of the activists pushing for reform or politicians making promises to constituents. Progress toward social justice requires carefully crafted public policies. In today’s highly polarized political climate, effective policies also require a nuanced understanding of political, economic and social systems, as well as a strong grasp of the legal and social implications of any action.
Access to resources is a fundamental principle of social justice. Unfortunately, in many areas of society, communities have had different levels of access based on factors such as socioeconomic status, education, employment and environment. Education, for example, is associated with better opportunities for employment, higher-paying jobs and economic advancement.
- It follows, then, that when quality, equitable education is not available, that lack feeds the cycle of unemployment, low-wage occupations and poverty, limiting access for future generations.
- By leveling the playing field, we expand underserved communities’ access to resources affecting health, education and the community.
In broad public policy terms, that could mean offering free public education for everyone, thereby eliminating the financial barriers created by economic disparities in the educational system. We could implement more equitable funding distribution for essential resources, improving the quality of education for students in disadvantaged communities.
It’s easy to confuse the terms ‘equity’ and ‘equality,’ but those things which are equitable are not always equal. The effort and resources required for two different people to achieve a common goal can vary widely. For example, in order to complete a college degree, some students may need more support and educational resources than their peers do.
To achieve social justice and ensure equal opportunities for success, it is important to provide equitable resources that focus on the specific needs of communities and the individuals within them. Advocating for justice could mean promoting policies that address systemic barriers.
- Implementing policies for inclusive education and adding more educators for students, based on their needs, would be important first steps.
- Public administrators will be better equipped to craft policies that address everyone’s needs when they acknowledge the differences that exist between individuals and groups.
To be effective, policy-makers must recognize and accept all factors that create barriers, then work on ways to overcome them. By understanding diversity and embracing cultural differences, we expand opportunities and access. We can improve access to healthcare by increasing diversity among administrators and requiring written resources in multiple languages.
We can reduce employment discrimination by implementing policies that bar it when it’s based on race, gender, gender identity, religion, marital status, sexual orientation, age, physical ability and a host of other human traits. Social justice requires that individuals have the opportunity and platform to participate in making the policies that affect their well-being.
Even well-meaning public administrators can create exclusionary policies when they fail to bring diverse voices to the table. Policies are often created by a select group of people in powerful government positions. Public administrators can prevent this by carefully considering who will be part of the decision-making process, purposely inviting advocates for groups not adequately represented, and encouraging them to apply for long-term and permanent positions.
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Your social justice goal should primarily help improve your ability in one or more of these areas: demonstrating care for others, educating others, empowering others, including others, or gaining knowledge about diverse identities and backgrounds.
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Social Justice Values Statement We work to resist and interrupt systems of oppression that marginalize individuals and communities based on social identities.
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ARTICLES Teaching for social justice education: the intersection between identity, critical agency, and social justice education Dennis Francis * ; Adré le Roux * ABSTRACT In line with national policy requirements, educators are increasingly addressing forms of social justice education by focusing on classroom pedagogies and educational practices to combat different forms of oppression such as racism and sexism.
- As all educators have a role to play in dismantling oppression and generating a vision for a more socially just future, teacher education has the responsibility to capacitate pre-service teachers to work in areas of social justice education.
- It is, however, difficult to conceptualise programmes for social justice education without considering the interconnection between various social identities and how such identities can feed into critical agency and education for social justice.
Working with the assumption that white women teachers must be part of the solution to bring about social change in South African education, we used in-depth interviewing to explore pre-service teachers’ emerging identities as teachers, and how these identities are connected to notions of critical agency and a stance towards social justice.
Keywords: agency; anti-oppressive education; identity; social justice education; teacher education; white women pre-service teachers Introduction In 1995 the White Paper on Education and Training envisaged that “ew education and training policies to address the legacies of under-development and inequitable development and provide learning opportunities for all will be based principally on the constitutional guarantees of equal educational rights for all persons and non-discrimination, and their formulation and implementation must also scrupulously observe all other constitutional guarantees and protections which applyto education” (Department of Education, 1995: Chapter 3, Section 16).
Central to all education acts and policies that followed 1995 is the call for teachers to advocate for social justice, human rights and inclusivity. Increasingly, teachers and researchers are addressing forms of social justice education by focusing on classroom pedagogies and educational practices that seek to deal with and combat different forms of oppression such as racism, sexism and heterosexism (Adams, Bell & Griffin, 2007; Francis & Hemson, 2007; Francis, Hemson, Mphambukeli & Quin, 2003; Hemson, Moletsane & Muthukrishna, 2001; hooks, 1994; Kumashiro, 2002; Richardson, 2004).
- If national policy requires that all teachers are socially just teachers, the problem for teacher education of ‘unexamined areas of the self’ is general, and not limited only to those who teach about oppression (Francis & Hemson, 2007).
- Our paper seeks to explore pre-service teachers’ emerging identities as teachers and how this identity is connected to notions of critical agency and a stance towards social justice.
We address two critical questions pertaining to pre-service teachers’ conceptions as “agents of change” and how their perceptions as change agents frame their teacher identities and understanding of teaching for social justice. Before proceeding, it is necessary to clarify the ways in which we understand and use identity, agency and social justice education.
Conceptual framework Identity Research on teacher identity and particularlypre-service teacher biographies is seen as relevant to teacher educators in order to better understand and conceptualise the support that student teachers need (Beijaard, Meijer & Verloop, 2004). Identity has become one of the unifying frameworks of intellectual debate and discussion: Everybody, it seems, has something to say about it: sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists, psychologists, geographers, historians, and philosophers.
At every turn we encounter discourses about identity; and not only identity. The talk is also about change: the emergence of new identities, the resurgence of old ones, and the transformation of existing ones (Jenkins, 1996:7). South Africa is a society undergoing rapid social change and accordingly there has been resurgence in issues of identity reflecting this change.
Singh (1997) argues that, since the abolition of apartheid, South Africans have had the historic opportunity of transcending and reshaping new identities and fashioning a new set of understanding who they are and what they consider to be of fundamental value to themselves. While some contemporary writers use identity as a basic datum that simply “is”, others use it to refer to ways in which people define themselves.
Newman (1997:20) offers a useful way of thinking about how individuals make sense of “who they are”. Identity, on the one hand, is our most essential and personal characteristic and, on the other hand, it consists of our membership in social groups (race, ethnicity, religion, gender, etc.), the traits we show, and the traits others ascribe to us.
- For Newman (1997), identity has become a medium for defining the self as a unique individual and thinking of oneself as a member of a social group.
- How one’s identity is experienced will be mediated by social group or category memberships, such as race, ethnicity, religion, gender, age, class, language, sexual orientation, physical ability and language.
Our identity locates us in the social world, thoroughly affecting everything we do, feel, say and think in our lives. Identity construction is not passive and, as Giddens (1991:52) points out, it is not something that is just given as a result of the continuities of the individual’s action system; rather, identity is “something that has been routinely created and sustained in the reflexive activities of the individual”.
- Deaux and Ethier (1998:305) explain that identity is an on-going, negotiated process.
- Not only do identities shift over time in a long-term sense, but people often also make choices among various identities as they move from one circumstance to another.
- Within this understanding of identity there are two clear implications: firstly, that a person may have multiple identities, and secondly, identities are shared with others who have the same attributes.
Thinking of oneself as a unique individual and thinking of oneself as a group member are both parts of the self. How a teacher’s professional identity is constructed is subsequently linked to the interconnections between personal identity, social identity, context and the roles teachers play in schools.
- Agency Bhasker (1979:46) writes about the active subject who conducts his or her life in varying degrees of submission or resistance to the possibilities offered by society which “provides necessary conditions for intentional human action”.
- Bhaskar suggests an active concept of the subject, actively participating in shaping the course of a person’s life in the process of ongoing choice of behavioural options in the face of social demands.
Teachers have a role to play in dismantling oppression and generating a vision for a more socially just future (Adams et al,, 2007). Agency is a crucial aspect of teacher identity, which translates that teachers have to be active in the process of professional development (Coldron & Smith, 1999).
- In using the term agency, we are not suggesting that teachers always exercise such deliberate self-conscious choices.
- We use the term with our commitment to an understanding of the dynamic and dialectical nature of the interaction between individual and social context, and the active role of the individual in the process of identity construction and teaching for social justice.
Social contexts can either enable or hinder the degree of agency that teachers have. Giddens (1991: 175) argues that human agents “never passively accept external conditions of action, but more or less continuously reflect upon them and reconstitute them in the light of their particular circumstances”.
- Thus, agency is “action-orientated; it is critical; it is the way that teachers use power, influence, and science to make decisions that effect positive social change” in schools (Moore, 2007:591).
- We are keen to explore the ways pre-service teachers can exercise agency in working for social justice.
Social justice education and anti-oppressive education We understand social justice education as a process and goal that allow for the full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs. Social justice education: envisions a society in which individuals are both self determining (able to develop their full capacities) and interdependent (capable of interacting democratically with others).
Social justice involves social actors who have a sense of their own agency as well as a sense of responsibility towards and with others, their society and the broader world in which we live (Adams et al,, 2007:1-2). Teachers are thrust into a position in which they must prepare children and communities for participation in an anti-oppressive society.
As William Ayers (1998:1) reminds one, teaching for social justice is teaching that arouses students, engages them in a quest to identify obstacles to their full humanity, to their freedom, and then to drive, to move against those obstacles. What Ayers suggests is that teachers can change the context they reside in.
- There is a widespread misconception, however, that only students of colour, or so-called disadvantaged students, should be involved in social justice education (Nieto, 2004:352).
- We think differently on this and work with the assumption that white pre-service teachers need to be part of the solution to bringing about social change in South African education.
In summary, our study is concerned with white women pre-service teacher identities and how this intersects with agency and their stance on education for social justice. More specifically, though, our study is a thick description of (1) how white women pre-service teachers perceive their roles as agents of change; (2) how their perceptions of change agents inform the construction of their professional identity; and (3) the relationship between their social identities as pre-service teachers and their understanding of teaching for social justice.
We have drawn on the concepts of identity, agency and social justice education to create a framework that will guide us in understanding the experiences of white women pre-service teachers working in the area of social justice education. In presenting this conceptual framework it is not our intention to bring the different bits and pieces together in a “grand theory”, but rather to provide us with a lens through which to examine white women pre-service teachers’ emerging identities as teachers and how this identity is connected to notions of critical agency and a stance towards social justice.
Research strategy The critical questions that drive our study are: (a) How do white women pre-service teachers perceive themselves as agents of change? and (b) How do these perceptions as change agents frame their teacher identities and their understanding of teaching for social justice? More specifically, we attempted to understand how this group understood their roles as teachers of social justice education.
- Participants We used purposive sampling and three criteria were used in the selection of our participants.
- Firstly, all eight participants were fourth-year BEd students in the Faculty of Education at the University of the Free State.
- Although seen as an on-going process of negotiation and mediation, we regard the professional identity formation and development of pre-service teachers as individual maturity processes that start during training for the profession (Brott & Kaijs, 2001).
In our attempt to establish an understanding of how emerging teacher identities interconnect with critical agency and a stance towards social justice education, we considered the exploration of emerging identities informed, formed and re-informed by several years of professional training and practical teaching experience as important.
Working with pre-service teachers in their final year of training enabled us to illuminate their experiences as student teachers working in social justice education. Secondly, all the participants were women and thirdly, they were all white, The majority of students enrolled for teacher education at the University of the Free State are white women.
Both these attributes, however, are significant when working in the area of social justice education. It was cautiously assumed that the emerging identities of white women student teachers are informed by their interpretation and re-interpretation of experiences (albeit often unconsciously) of gender oppression and white privilege.
As Mark Perry (2000:11) asks: Who am I, who are we, these white teachers who choose to teach students of colour? Are our responsibilities any different from those of other teachers? What does it mean when we are the only white faces in the classroom? How does this impact on our work with colleagues who are teachers and administrators of colour? We understand that to talk about race and racial categories, is to use terms and habits of thought inherited from the very race science that was used to justify oppression and marginalisation (Erasmus, 2001).
Some may argue that to continue to use these categories and terms is to continue that oppression. We respect this argument. Yet it is difficult to talk about what is essentially a flawed and problematic social construct without using language that in itself is problematic (Tatum, 1997).
- In this study, we view and use race as a social construct and not as indicator of absolute, pure strains of genetic material or physical characteristics.
- Also, while we will make reference to racial categories such as ‘White’ and ‘Black’, it should not lend legitimacy or credibility to the many popular cultural stereotypes and caricatures that often accompany these descriptors.
By using White, it affords us an opportunity to engage a select group of students to establish how they make sense of and how they communicate about identity, agency and social justice, noting and reflecting on the possibility that our use of the terms and the ways of thinking that accompany them, may influence our research methodology and analysis (Francis, 2006).
- Data sources It was our desire to encourage intensive interviews where the participants were able to ‘dig deep’ and communicate their understanding of how they see and understand their roles as agents of change and as teachers of social justice.
- To facilitate this, we used a qualitative approach, because it is well-suited to gain an in-depth understanding of the phenomenon under study.
For data collection we used in-depth interviewing. At the root of in-depth interviewing is an interest in understanding the experience of people and the meaning they make of that experience (Seidman, 1991). In-depth interviewing assumes that meanings, understandings, and interpretations cannot be standardised and can therefore not be obtained with a formal, fixed choice questionnaire (Denzin, 1989).
During the eight in-depth interviews of approximately 40 minutes each, open-ended questions were used to ensure a conversational dialogue between the researchers and participants. The conversational style of the interview process was further enhanced by the fact that both researchers and participants are part of the same Faculty of Education.
All the interviews were conducted in Afrikaans by the second author. The data were then translated and transcribed, again by the second author, so that the possibility of misunderstanding or misinterpretation was minimal. We sought and gained permission from the participants whose responses we report.
- In order to protect the identity of the individuals involved, all names used in this article are pseudonyms.
- Data analysis In analysing the in-depth interviews and the content of the data sets, the purpose was to expand, refine, develop and illuminate a theoretical understanding of the emerging identities of white women pre-service teachers, and how these identities intersect with agency and a stance for social justice education.
The analysis involved a cross-case analysis for the purpose of theorising about the experiences drawn from the in-depth interviews. We were reliant on Merriam’s (1998) within- and cross-case analysis. We first considered the responses of individual participants to learn as much as possible about how each set of data responded to our critical questions.
Working with the complex configurations of identity, agency and a stance towards social justice within each data set helped us to not only identify themes relating to these notions, but also to build a descriptive framework that was extended to our cross-case analysis. With the help of a cross-case analysis, abstractions in the form of general patterns were built across the data sets (Merriam, 1998:195).
The general patterns were refined into meaningful associations to provide an explanation of the interconnection between the emerging professional identities of white women pre-service teachers, their critical agency, and their understanding of teaching for social justice.
- While the interviews with the pre-service teachers provided rich data, our research and methodological approach brought with it limitations and challenges that need to be mentioned.
- The interviews were conducted during the participants’ practical teaching and we found that they tended to relate their examples to their immediate experience.
We do not think that this is necessarily a limitation, but perhaps it should be noted. For example, Anna, who was not enjoying her practical teaching, related most of her ideas to problems with discipline. Secondly, the students had little experience of racially diverse learner groups.
This is because of the schools’ composition – English classes are predominantly black and Afrikaans classes predominantly white. Findings Our findings in this study are organised around three themes, each with related sub-themes that highlight the interconnection between the emerging identity of white women pre-service teachers and their activism as agents of change for social justice education.
Identity Conceptions as agents of change All the participants perceived themselves as agents of change and their perception seems to coincide with a perception that the school is responsible for bringing about social change. Apart from Anna, who related her conception to didactical concerns such as her willingness to change her way of teaching and ” not like the old teachers who are no longer prepared to change “, all the other participants linked their conception with the notion of equality.
- For Susan social change is the school’s responsibility, ” especially if you think about the history of our country.
- The teachers and schools are in the perfect role to teach learners that things are not right,” As a change agent it is important for her that ” as a teacher I have to push away my own pre-conceived ideas about race, or gender, of jocks versus geeks.
in my classroom it is about treating everybody equal “. In terms of change she argues that ” the whole stigma that rugby and sport are more important than academic work and culture must really be addressed “. Although Rita regards social change as the responsibility of the school, she is concerned with the possibility of ” stepping on somebody’s toes “.
- She feels that “if we want things in society to change, then start with the children” ; however, ” it can cause conflict between the household and the school and then I feel you must not do it “.
- Rita frames her conception of herself as a change agent within the context of an education system informed by various principles.
In this regard, she argues that ” we have been taught in the new principles. you can instil the principle of equality in your class, you can create such a classroom environment “. One change that she would like to bring about is a classroom atmosphere where ” I would like them to feel safe, and they must feel one is as good as I.
- There must be no distinction in class “.
- Christa links the reason for the inclusion of Life Orientation with the school’s responsibility to bring about social change: ” Included in the curriculum that the learners are taught are things like human rights, social relationships.
- The school must give these types of things to the learners; the school must bring about change “.
However, she feels that this responsibility must not be limited to Life Orientation only. As a change agent she argues that it will be easier to identify oppressed learners if she works with them on a daily basis. In terms of change, she feels that ” everybody must get equal opportunities, fair opportunities “.
In terms of the school’s responsibility for social change, Willemien feels that ” we have been given this opportunity and I think it will be wrong not to live up to this opportunity “. For her the notion of a change agent has to do with the calling of a teacher: ” I have been called to the teaching profession to make a difference, and so I have the responsibility to make a difference “.
Change is for her all about helping learners ” that have misconceptions about themselves. to show them that they can fulfil their full potential “. Consciousness of their whiteness During the interviews it became clear that the participants had not consciously thought about their whiteness having an influence on the way they perceived themselves as teachers, or as change agents.
- Although various perceptions regarding the influence of their whiteness came to the fore, all of them indicated that their roles as white teachers were different from those of their black counterparts.
- For Sandra, who has taught both white and black learners during her practical teaching, being white plays no role, as ” the way I teach remains the same “.
As a white teacher she foresees no problem working with black learners, ” as there was no difference. they had a black Biology teacher and I was the student teacher; there was no major difference because of our race “. However, Sandra does indicate that ” as a white teacher it will be easier to identify with white learners and it will be easier for them to identify with me.
- Black learners will identify with a black teacher “.
- On a personal level she does not feel she is privileged because of her whiteness: “.
- We are all the same “; however, she acknowledges that her peers at university ” didn’t have the same opportunities as I did because their parents couldn’t afford it, because they were not privileged “.
Christa ” does not take her skin colour seriously “, and she has no idea if her being white will have an influence on the way she will teach. Although she indicated that ” black children like to be taught by white teachers, I don’t know if they think they are better trained that black teachers, but I don’t see myself.
Better than another teacher “, she doesn’t want to teach at a black school. She is scared of teaching at a black school because of ” the standards, the environment. and because it is high school. there are black men who are in matric and are much older; they might be dangerous “. She feels that white teachers are in a difficult position as ” we see things differently as black teachers.
I don’t think black teachers are so aimed at bringing about change as us,”, because ” they have already gotten what they wanted “. When asked whether she feels she is privileged as a white person, she answered, ” yes, definitely, although some days it doesn’t feel that way, some days I feel that they are really discriminating against whites.
But I see myself as privileged “. Esmé also refers to the perception that ” many times people accept that white people are better trained. but it is not that I feel that white teachers are better than black teachers. I think we are often labelled that we are better trained “. She feels that ” it is more acceptable when black teachers bring about change, it is regarded as normal as they have specifically undergone so many more changes than us.
You have to justify more your actions as a white teacher than a black teacher “. She does not see herself as more privileged because of her whiteness; in fact she is annoyed with such a perception and asks questions such as: ” How much time do they need for affirmative action? How much more time do they need to see us all as equal? ” In contrast to Sandra, who is scared of working with black learners, Esmé does not mind working with either white or black learners.
However, it will not bother her to work with only black learners, as it ” is more satisfying for a teacher to work with learners who are more grateful that there is actually somebody who wants to teach them. while many white schools, especially in rich white schools the learners have an attitude of ‘my father pays your salary’.
white learners tend more to take you for granted “. In a similar way, Anna also indicated that black learners are more appreciative of what is done for them, while white learners tend to be more snobbish. Nadia does not ” like to teach white children, it is very irritating, they have such an attitude.
they have an idea of ‘I am better than you’, In terms of being a white teacher, she feels ” to teach any other racial group will be difficult. I think there will be issues “; however, ” it plays a role but I prefer not to allow it to play a big role “. In terms of her role as a white teacher, as opposed to that of a black colleague, Nadia thinks ” we have all an equal role to play.
depending on the environment, if it is predominantly a black school. you will need the help of your colleagues of that race, culture. you will make mistakes because of ignorance “. Being white did open a few doors for her, but ” I grew up very poor, I very seldom got something for free, you worked for what you wanted to get “.
- Nadia is also of the contention that ” at this stage we whites feel we are clinging to the rear wheel.
- For life and death “.
- Susan, who has worked with both white and black learners, indicated that although she has never thought about the influence of her whiteness on the way she perceives herself as a teacher, ” I have never experienced that I am treated differently because I am white “.
However, as a white teacher she argues that ” if I have a black class in front of me and I tell them something that is to their advantage, they see it differently than if it were said by my black colleague. when I stand in front of a white class it will not have the same effect as my black colleague “.
Initially Susan said that she ” will not say I am more privileged because I am white “. However, after thinking about the possibility of white privilege and deliberating the latter, she concluded: ” Apartheid made that whites were better cared for. Yes, I think I was privileged “. She also feels that ” I prefer working with black learners.
not specifically black learners. I personally feel it is my calling rather to work with disadvantaged learners than with a lot of rich peoples’ kids “. Gender consciousness Anna, Rita and Willemien linked their identities as woman teachers to traditional and stereotypical beliefs: For Anna, ” women must be more like a mother for the children at the school “, and in similar fashion, Rita indicated that ” a woman is softer, like a mother, the nurturer and this has an impact on how I see myself as a teacher “.
Willemien sees herself ” as a nurturer and a helper and I have been like this since I was small. I think I fulfil my role as a woman. At times I care too much “. Sandra sees her role as a woman teacher ” as a difficult task. Especially in black schools. many of the black cultures expect from a woman to be inferior and the boys don’t want to be taught by a white woman “.
Susan refers to the fact that “. there are still stigmas and stereotypes that cling to women. I did my practical teaching at a black school and in their culture boys may not be taught by a female, it is not about being white. so the moment I stand in the class then they don’t care “.
- Although Nadia thinks that ” children are at times more connected to a woman, they are less scared of a female “, she strongly indicated that ” it frustrates me if they see us as inferior “.
- Esmé firmly believes that as a woman teacher her position is not the same as that of a male teacher: ” You have to strengthen yourself against these types of things, ‘you are a woman, you don’t know how’.
you have to put in more effort to get equality. to get rid of those stereotypical beliefs “. Christa, on the other hand, feels that being a woman has no bearing on how she perceives herself as a teacher; however, she acknowledges that ” perhaps men teachers are being privileged and I have not noticed it because I was not that long at schools during practical teaching “.
- Agency Although the data show that the participants see themselves as agents of change, in terms of activism, they seem to shift the responsibility to bring about social change to the school and subjects like Life Orientation.
- In line with Susan’s belief that ” as a teacher I have to push away my own pre-conceived ideas “, she accepts the challenge to take part in anti-oppressive education: “.
teachers also play a role in oppressions and because so much oppression takes place in schools. it is so important that we from our side and also among our learners to eliminate it. you know to change that whole mindset of learners “. She thinks that she will be able to identify oppression to a certain extent: ” I don’t think it is so easy, perhaps in the corridors, there are certain things that will enable you to identity it and to address it “.
She is, however, concerned that ” they expect us to do all these things in the class, but once you have done that, there is little time left for teaching and academic matters “. She considers a subject like Life Orientation as ” the perfect subject to address these issues, but also by making a period available where these type if things can be discussed “.
For Willemien, who believes she has been called to the teaching profession to make a difference, anti-oppressive education is not an option, as ” oppression is a reality “. She acknowledges that it is easy to stereotype or to oppress: ” I think you can easily be racially insensitive, you must be sensitive, also in terms of gender “.
However, she is willing to try to identify forms of oppression in her classroom and would like to create the opportunity where ” learners must realise that oppression is a reality. perhaps it is sugar-coated, but it is still there and if you don’t empower yourself and if you are not aware of it you will allow yourself to be oppressed.
teachers have that responsibility “. Although she regards Life Orientation as an important subject, she feels teaching about oppression should be included in all other subjects, but in a subtle way. ” I don’t think we must overdo it, they must not make the same mistake as like with Aids and sex education, because.
- When the learners hear the word Aids, they close their ears and switch off.
- You must practise what you preach and not talk about it all the time.
- I think they must make it more applicable and not only focus on it “.
- Although Esmé thinks that as a teacher she will be in a position to bring about change, she does not ” think it is something that will happen overnight.
it is something you have to work on a daily basis. I believe and hope I will be able to do it “. Agency for Esmé lies in saying ” to yourself that whatever I do, I must do it in an anti-oppressive way. Sometimes one has a moment where you can oppress without realising it.
- It is something that you constantly have to work on “.
- Teaching to address oppression is ” one of those things that one has to slip in through the back door at times so that it is not so obvious.
- At times it is just that conversation, that life lesson you give to learners that sticks, when you do not focus on the work that you actually have to focus on “.
Rita not only sees herself in a position to ” instil the principle of equality ” in her classroom, but she relates this position to ” consistent and equal treatment of all, but with discretion for their unique circumstances and unique personalities “.
- For her, anti-oppressive education ” must be the starting point of each teacher.
- You must not exclude, you must not have favourites in the class.
- We must prepare our children from that perspective for the future.
- I think it is a good vantage point to work from “.
- She feels that Life Orientation is a subject where information about oppression can be transmitted; in fact, she feels it must be limited to Life Orientation.
However, ” you must not force your opinion onto the learners. you must give them information and ask them to choose for themselves “. Nadia, who ” definitely ” sees herself as a change agent, regards her task to break the cycle of oppression as an ” integrated multi-dimensional process.
- It is a process, a give and take “.
- She places the emphasis on communication, to talk to one another and to listen to one another: ” We all know about Apartheid, and we are sick of it, but until we got to do with multi-cultural education and gender education we didn’t realise how deep-rooted these things are.
you didn’t realise what you can do “. Although she thinks ” to undermine oppression is one of our biggest challenges. it is your class against society at large “, and information about oppression should be ” half the context in which you teach “, she does not see that every reading has to deal with prejudice.
Rather, ” what is most important is that we have children that leave the school who are literate. it doesn’t help we try to let oppression vanish and we have a generation who cannot read or write. there must be a balance. yes, you have to focus on it, teachers do play a role but it must not be your main aim “.
Anna, who relates her role as change agent to her willingness to change her way of teaching, not only finds anti-oppressive teaching very difficult, but also feels that the school curriculum ” privileges the previously disadvantaged “. Although she will try to identify forms of oppression in her classroom by ” looking at how learners interact with one another “, she is more concerned with academic work.
The latter relates to her perception of her role as a teacher, i.e. to provide guidance in terms of subject knowledge. Whilst she does believe teachers must help to break the cycle of oppression, she feels attention must rather be paid to academic work. Support for activism Without exception, the participants felt their training was too theoretical and not practical enough.
However, apart from Sandra, who linked school challenges and her training to the handling of oppression, the other participants were mainly concerned with issues of discipline, school violence, misbehaviour and learners that do not want to learn. Susan views school violence as one of the major challenges, although she also mentions concerns regarding sexual harassment, children that fail, those who do drugs and girls getting pregnant.
In terms of her training preparing her to take up the challenges, she feels that as she is now ” at the end of my training, I feel there are some things they could have addressed. we had all these subjects where they taught us how to assess, how to prepare lesson plans. but nothing tells me what do I do when I stand in front of a class when a child pulls out a knife “.
She regards her training as being more theoretical by nature and comments that ” theoretically they looked very good but it is impossible to apply it in the classroom “. In a similar way, Christa also indicates that her training focused more on theoretical work than on practical issues.
- In line with her concerns involving challenges such as behavioural problems, problems with discipline and other academic challenges, she indicates that ” we are not taught how to work with a learner who doesn’t want to work.
- They only teach us how to do group work, problem-solving skills etc., but not how to get learners to work “.
Rita, who is primarily concerned with problems of discipline, almost appeared desperate when she referred to her perception that there is nothing concrete in her training: ” They taught us a lot and we saw a lot during practical teaching. I would like to see them focus more on these types of things “.
- Anna, who is equally concerned with problems of discipline, indicated that ” they gave us the rules and not the ‘how’ “.
- Although Nadia listed various challenges of academic nature, she referred to ” subjects like cultural education, multicultural education, gender education, stereotypes.
- Those subjects were good because they were about things that you haven’t thought about earlier, things that you were not aware of now came to the fore.
you are more sensitive “. For Sandra, however, racism is one of the biggest challenges to be addressed by the school: ” I think it is a big challenge to get learners to work together. they are in a mixed class but still the blacks sit here and the white children and the Chinese and Asian children sit in a specific place.
- You can also see it during break time,” She feels that a module on Afrocentrism and Eurocentrism ” helped me to link the two with one another, not to be Afrocentric or Eurocentric, but to work with the positive points of both “.
- Social justice education and anti-oppressive education From the onset we worked with the assumption that our participants are familiar with the concept social justice,
Considering the national call for teachers to be socially just teachers, we assumed that the education of pre-service teachers will include educating them to teach for social justice. However, the participants had little knowledge of the concept and vaguely connected it with issues of equality.
- Susan indicates that ” we learnt about it in one of our subjects.
- I feel it has to do with the fact that everybody on social level, in their communities, must be handled in an equal manner “.
- In a similar manner Esmé refers to social justice as something that ” means that all people, irrespective of their gender, race and all of those, are equal, treated equally “.
While Christa vaguely recalls it but does not think it was that addressed much during her training, Sandra is also not ” really familiar ” with the concept. She thinks it has to do with the fact that ” everybody must be equal in a social context “, but it was not something that was really addressed during her training: ” We only addressed it lightly here and there in a subject,” Anna is also not familiar with social justice, but she thinks it has to do with ” boys and girls that must be equal “.
- In a similar vein, Willemien thinks she encountered it in some subjects and ” it is just about equality.
- All races and gender “.
- Rita also knows about social justice, but is not really familiar with the concept as ” it was not introduced in depth “.
- She recalls a module dealing with democracy and that social justice ” means everybody must get equal opportunities “.
Of all the participants, Nadia was the only one able to relate social justice to ” many of the subjects that were really worth it. transformation, democracy. in those subjects you were taught what is expected from you to be a responsible citizen and this is what you have to develop in children “.
Discussion and implications It seems that all eight participants are oblivious to how they experience white privilege and the currency this carries within South Africa. Solomon, Portelli, Daniel and Campbell (2007), and Tatum (1997) argue that those in positions of power and authority, for example, educators, construct discourses that are often academicallyand emotionally debilitating to the racial other.
If we want our student teachers to engage in culturally relevant pedagogy, the troubling of white privilege becomes a prerequisite – a deep commitment and connection to all learners’ success, including the building of relationships across cultural and racial differences, require the recognition of how white privilege operates in hampering the building of relationships across social and political differences (Hyland, 2009).
- We agree with hooks (1994:43) that “whiteness be studied, understood and discussed – so that everybody learns that affirmation of multiculturalism, and an unbiased, inclusive perspective can and should be present, whether or not people of colour are present”.
- In the same way, when it pertains to gender, some participants come across as being trapped in accepting stereotypical and oppressive roles as ” nurturers ” and ” caregivers “.
If student teachers are oblivious of how the invisible power of sexism permeates their perceptions and expectations of their role as teachers, how then will they be able to recognise and problematise their own complicity to gender oppression? The implication is that teacher education must help students to engage and understand their own identitydevelopment and formation and provide the learning space to work with the range of emotions and feelings of indignation that evolve from an exposure to internalised oppression.
Our study reaffirms the critical need for a systemic approach to how social identity is unpacked through curriculum, pedagogy and social relations in teacher education. Chabbuck and Zembylas (2008) raise the question of who is to be an agent of activism for social justice. They argue that socially just teachers will be activists in their classrooms, providing teaching, equitable policies, and critical exposure to justice-related issues.
Furthermore, they are also called to activism outside the school context (Chabbuck & Zembylas, 2008). All the participants perceived themselves as agents of change and their perception seems to coincide with an understanding that the school is responsible for bringing about social change.
There is a tension, however, in how the participants perceive themselves and how they see themselves acting as agents of change in the area of teaching for social justice. In other words, their actions and activism do not feed into their perception of themselves as bringing about social change. In instances where they do see themselves as agents of change, in terms of activism they defer such responsibility to the school and to subject areas like Life Orientation.
Perhaps Moore’s (2007) argument is broadly accurate that pre-service teachers do not see themselves as teachers or in sufficient positions of power and authority to effect change as pre-service teachers. What then, can be learned from our participant’s experiences that should be considered as we think about teacher education? We would argue that that the participants’ low commitment to action or activismand their low knowledge about social justice may explain the tension between how our participants see themselves and act as agents for social change.
- Teacher educators need to examine more critically how our teacher educator programmes create confidence.
- Such critical teacher educators can also consider encouraging students to see themselves as agents of change and as future educators who will bring about social change.
- Finally, if national policy requires that all educators are socially just educators, the problem for teacher education of ‘unexamined areas of the self’ is general, and not limited to those who teach about oppression (Francis & Hemson, 2007).
Programmes focusing on teaching such issues have to become more visible, and such visibility mandates compulsion. This will mean addressing education for social justice among pre-service teachers as deeply inscribed habits of feeling and thinking shaped by broad, discursive habits (Petrovic & Rosiek, 2003).
All students need to be exposed to critical multiculturalism, anti-oppressive education or education for social justice, as oppression affects everybody. Understanding the interconnections that exist between race, gender and other forms of identification may prove worthwhile as such understanding shifts quite powerfully away from essentialising identities to an approach that views all forms of oppression as important.
It is our contention that an understanding of the interconnection between various social identities can be useful in designing more holistic modules that will teach about anti-oppression and will teach for social justice. References Adams M, Bell LA & Griffin P 2007.
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Adré le Roux is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy and Policy Studies in Education at the University of the Free State. Her research focus is on anti-oppressive education. * [email protected] ; [email protected]
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