teaching social justice


  1. Describe Agrawal et al.’s  3 key markers of teaching for social justice.  How is the way they define teaching for social justice similar to or different from how other authors, whose work we have read, define it (e.g., Hackman in HW 5, Banks in HW 3, etc.)?
  2. What were the main findings from the Agrawal et. al. article?  In what ways are your views challenged or similar to the article?
  3. What barriers do you think exist to engaging in teaching for social justice as defined by Agrawal et. al.?  What might be some solutions or approaches to overcoming those barriers?
  4. Share possible idea(s) and resources you are thinking about for your final Teaching for Social Justice Lesson Plan.  Provide a brief description of a possible lesson including content/topic, grade level, and how you think it would align with teaching for social justice.  

From Ideal to Practice
and Back Again: Beginning Teachers
Teaching for Social Justice

Ruchi Agarwal 1, Shira Epstein 2, Rachel Oppenheim 3 ,
Celia Oyler 3 , and Debbie Sonu4


The five authors of this article designed a multicase study to follow recent graduates

Journal of Teacher Education
61(3) 237-2◄ 7
© 20 IO American Association of
Colleges for Teacher Education
Reprints and permission: http://www.
DOI: 10.1177/0022◄87 I0935 ◄52 I


of an elementary preservice teacher
education program into their beginning teach ing placements and exp lore the ways in which they enacted social justice
c urricula. The a uthors highlight the stories of three beginning teachers, honoring the plurality o f their conceptions of social
justice teaching and the resiliency they exhibited in translating social justice ideals into viable pedagogy. They also discuss
the strugg les the teachers faced when enacting socia l justice curricula and the tenuous connection they perceived between
thei r conceptions and their practices. The authors emphasize that such struggles are inevitable and end the article with
recommendations for ways in wh ich teacher educators can prepare beginning teachers for the uncertain journey of teaching
for social justice.

Keyword s

social justice, teacher education, teacher reflection, curriculum

Many teacher education programs across the United States
express co1n1nitments to social justice and accordingly attract
prospective teachers who seek to work for social change.
These social justice commitments are certainly broad and
diffuse but stem in no small part from the structural inequal­
ities in our society that are reflected in- and perpetuated
by-our schools. We know, for instance, that students in
low-income communities are more likely to receive fewer
resources and a qualitatively substandard education compared
to their middle-class counterparts (Ferguson, 2000; Kozol,
1991; Rothstein, 2004). So too, students of color are often
denied adequate educational resources, are overrepresented
within special education contexts, and are subject to harsher
forms ofpunish1nent than their White peers (Losen & Orfield,
2002; Mukherjee, 2007; Oakes, Wells, Jones, & Datnow,
1997). Of course, these are not new trends, as U.S. schools
have historically failed to adequately serve students outside
the White, English-speaking, middle-class, nondisabled, main­
stream culture (Zollers, Albert, & Cochran-Smith, 2000). To
combat such inequalities, social justice is emphasized as an
integral part of many teacher education curricula.

When seeking to transform inequities inherent in society
and expressed so sharply in schools, classroom teachers can
be understood as “the 1nost essential element [as] they have
the ultin1ate responsibility to navigate the curriculum and
instruction with their students” (Lalas, 2007, p. 19). Conse­
quently, we, as teacher educators, feel the charge of this


responsibility, both in our university-based curriculum design
and in our research on the consequences of our justice-oriented
teacher education with preservice teachers. To that end, we
developed a 1nulticase study of recent graduates of our ele-
1nenta1y preservice program. We explored with these beginning
teachers their classroom enact111ents of social justice-oriented
curriculum to investigate ways that our university curricula
might better prepare teachers for the realities of teaching for
social justice within our current public school system. This
article discusses our graduates’ conceptions of teaching for
social justice , their curricular enactments, and their reflec­
tions. Although we were insistent that our classroom-based
data collection with beginning teachers be respectful and none­
valuative, we use our findings to highlight and critically analyze
some of the important possibilities and challenges we face in
our teacher education work when preparing teachers to advo­
cate for social change through their pedagogy. Our work was
inspired by our understanding that a commitment to social

1University of California, Santa Cruz, CA
2City College of New York, NY
3Teachers College, New York, NY

•Hunter College, City University of New York, NY

Co rres po nding Aut ho r:
Rachel Oppenheim , Teachers College, 525 W. I 20th St., New York ,

NY 10027
Email: rlo2 I O l@columbia.edu





238 Journal of Teacher Education 61 (3)

justice teacher education 111ust be partnered with a con1111it­
ment to self-study and self-reflection. Thus, this work is born
from a position of self-criticism and critique that undergirds
various social 111ovements (Hale, 1991 ).

We begin the article by fran1ing our work in relation to the
literature on beginning teachers and teaching for social jus­
tice. Next, we describe our 111ethod of study. This is followed
by three cases, each of which highlights a different begin­
ning teacher and her conceptions and enactments of social
justice education. The cases illustrate son1e of the difficulties
beginning teachers face when seeking to enact social justice
curricula and teach in a way that reflects their ideals. 1n spite
of these struggles, these cases also reveal the potential that
many new teachers have to teach toward justice curricula,
even as they doubt their own ability to do so. We conclude
with a set of recommendations for ourselves and other teacher
educators who are dedicated to supporting new teachers in
creating socially just curricula.

Framing and Researching Social
Justice Teacher Education
The phrase social justi ce has proliferated in teacher educa­
tion in recent years and is an u111brellaten11 enco111passing a
large range of practices and perspectives (Adams, Bell, &
Griffin, 2006). These highlight the i111portanceof multiple
concepts, including but not limited to: building classroom
communities of dialogue across and with difference (Sapon­
Shevin, 1999), critical multicultural and antibias education
(Derman-Sparks & Ramsey, 2006; Schniedewind & David­
son, 2006; Sleeter, 2005), culturally relevant pedagogy
(Ladson-Billings, 1994), culturally responsive and compe­
tent teachers (Irvine, 2003), antiracist teaching (Berlak &
Moyenda, 200 I), equity pedagogy (Banks & Banks, 1995),
anti-oppressive teacher education (Kumashiro, 2004), dis­
ability rights (Linton, I 998), ableism (Hehir, 2002), and
access to academics for students with disabilities (Kluth,
Straut, & Biklen, 2003). There is an increasing nu111ber of
books that are designed specifically for social justice~riented
teacher education building on the missions of teaching for
social change (Darling-Hammond, French, & Garcia-Lopez,
2002; Oakes & Lipton, 2007), teaching and learning in a
diverse world (Nieto, 2005; Ramsey, 2004), and critical,
social justice teacher education (Cochran-Smith, 2004; Sleeter,
2005; Soohoo, 2006; Wade, 2007).

Clearly, the idea of teaching for social justice can be related
to a range of different practices and values. Although the ope­
nness of this ten11 offers teachers 111any entry points into the
endeavor of social justice teaching, it also poses problems
for teachers and teacher educators. Teachers can feel over­
\vheh11ed by the expectation that they 111ust undo a long list
of discriminatory social structures if they are to fully teach
for social justice. Teaching for social justice can be seen as an
unattainable idea, not linked to particular classroon1-based

practices. Or because it is an un1brella tern1, any teacher 111ay
be able to claim that she is teaching for social justice after
enacting certain elements of the above practices. For exam­
ple, a teacher can explain that she is teaching for social justice
if she allows for conversations about cun·ent events, noting
that she is enacting culturally relevant pedagogy.

Given these proble111s, we want to be clear about what we
see as the key markers of teaching for social justice. Educa­
tors who teach for social justice (a) enact curricula that integrate
1nultiple perspectives, question do111inant Western narratives,
and are inclusive of the racial, ethnic, and linguistic diversity
in No11h A111erica; (b) support students to develop a critical
consciousness of the injustices that characterize our society;
and (c) scaffold opportunities for students to be active partici­
pants in a democracy, skilled in fon11s of civic engagement
and deliberative discussion. These practices 111ay challenge
and alter an educational system that is not adequately serving
large numbers of children, particularly poor children, chil­
dren of color, and children with disabilities.

This vision of social justice teaching reflects an understa­
nding that teachers can work to address and ameliorate systemic
inequities with their students. We draw from the knowledge
that “individual experience n1ay be shaped by issues of
oppression” (McDonald, 2007, p. 2076), placing the lives of
students into a sociohistorical educational landscape charac­
terized by trends of inequity. Moving beyond teaching
tolerance or appreciating diversity, we want teachers to grad­
uate from our teacher education program with not only
knowledge about how racism, sexism, ableism, heterosex­
ism, nationalis111, and linguistic privilege operate in schools
and society but also the skills for interrogating how these
fon11s of oppression are commonly expressed in school prac­
tices and in the curriculum. This perspective assun1es that
classroorns are too often sites of cultural and social repro­
duction and that they must be examined carefully for the
ways that they produce and perpetuate injustice. Ultimately, we
resonate with a social reconstructionist multicultural approach
to schooling (Sleeter, I 993). From this approach, teachers
work to situate pedagogical practices within analyses of
structural inequality and prepare their students to underst­
and injustice on this level.

Teacher educators can e1nphasize the i111portance of social
reconstructionist approaches to social justice education and
assist preservice teachers in enacting related teaching prac­
tices in their own classrooms. Our program begins with critical
autobiographical analysis, which asks preservice teachers to
reflect on their identities and social locations to critique the
implicit values, long-held assumptions, and biases that under­
lie their ways of understanding children, con1munities, and
knowledge (Genor & Goodwin, 2005). Along with this self­
reflection, our teacher education program includes coursework,
literature, and assignments designed to explore issues of power,
oppression, equity, and social change. Finally, our preservice
teachers are asked to design curricula and lesson plans that

Agarwal et al. 239

integrate marginalized knowledge, allow for civic participa­
tion, and provoke students to question discriminatory social
norms. Such teaching is, of course, never neutral, and profes­
sors and instructors in the progran1 do not shy away fron1
sharing perspectives with their students, actively disagreeing
publicly with each other and also encouraging students to
constantly explore the possible effects of their own beliefs
on their classroom pedagogy.

Once preservice teachers leave their university programs
and enter their own classrooms, their co1nmit111ents some­
times collide with the realities of being novice teachers in a
harrowing and unforgiving school system. Authors reveal a
range of dilenunas these novices may confront in their day­
to-day practices, describing challenges in areas such as
curriculurn, lesson planning, assessn1ent, n1anage1nent, tin1e,
and school culture (Feiman-Nernser, 2003; Oakes & Lipton,
2007). The current age of standardization and accountability
significantly increases the demands and pressures for teachers
in the classroom. Given these obstacles, teaching for social
justice can in particular be a daunting and cornplex endeavor
for new educators. To teach for social justice requires one not
only to manage the steep learning curve that all new teachers
rnust face but to be able to navigate through a school context
laden with hindrances such as instructional pacing, test prep­
aration, and rnandated curriculum, rnany of which work directly
against a social justice agenda.

Our Study-Assumptions and Method
We, the five authors of this article, met in the fall of 2005 to
discuss our university’s master’s preservice elementary inclu­
sive education program (three ofus were involved in running
that program) and to design a study that would investigate
whether and how recent graduates of the progra1n were emp­
hasizing social justice in their curricula. Although we were
confident that some beginning teachers graduated from our
prograrn with a commitment to social justice, we knew little
about how these teachers translated their conceptions and
co1n1nitn1ents into actual classroon1 practices. Few research­
ers have conducted follow-up studies of teacher education
graduates to explore how social justice is integrated into instruc­
tion and the day-to-day activities of teachers and students in
schools. Therefore, we identified such a study as irnportant
to pursue.

We launched a n1ulticase study by asking, for beginning
teachers who are cornrnitted to teaching for social justice,
how does this comrnitment affect their lesson plans and their
classroom instruction? We view these lessons and instruc­
tional moves as a part of the curricular enactn1ents in their
ele1nentary classrooms. Curriculum enactrnent is defined as
not just the delivery of information or adaptation of curricu­
lum but rather as the interactions between and a1nong students
and teachers as they interpret and construct meaning through
classroom content and pedagogy (Snyder, Bolin, & Zumwalt,

1992). Rather than viewing curriculum as information that is
transrnitted fron1 teacher to student, we perceive it as “the edu­
cational experiences jointly created by student and teacher”
(Snyder et al., 1992, p. 418). This broader conception of cur­
riculurn allows us to recognize the ways in which social
justice curricula can be regularly enacted, even when they
are not part of a prerneditated lesson.

We created a weekly research seminar to engage a srnall
group of doctoral students in our research efforts. The five
authors of this article were the seminar’s teaching team, and
12 students joined us as coresearchers. We knew that within
the scope of one semester, we would not be able to complete
the study fully and chose to emphasize the processes of data
collection and data analysis within the seminar. Therefore,
before the semester began, we determined that the study would
be centered on multiple cases of beginning teachers and that
each doctoral student would learn about the practices of one
beginning teacher through observations and interviews.

This research design grew fron1 our assumption of the
uniqueness and storied nature of teachers’ experiences
(Clandinin & Connelly, 2000). In particular, political under­
standings are the result of one’s life story and socia l location;
therefore, we knew that the teachers \.vould articulate a wide
range of personal, evolving, and time-bound beliefs about
social justice. We expected that these differences would be
exacerbated by the different teaching contexts in which the
teachers were working. Although they were mainly in urban
settings, the graduates ,ve studied were working in schools
with differing levels of racial and socioeconomic diversity.
Only one participant taught in a suburban school. We chose
to collect and analyze case st11dies so that the “local particu­
lars” of each teacher’s experiences could be studied (Dyson
& Genishi, 2005, p. 3).

To recruit beginning teachers to participate in the study,
we sent an invitation to all graduates of the previous 2 years
of our program for whom we had current ernails and who
were teaching in the geographical area of our teacher educa­
tion program (11= approximately 50). We explained in our
invitation that we were interested in looking at how begin­
ning teachers who had graduated from our teacher education
program enacted social justice cun·icula in their classrooms.
Frorn our perspective, a response to the invitation indicating
desire to participate in the study suggested that these teach­
ers had an acknowledged co,nmitment to teach for social
justice. Twelve teachers ultimately committed to the study,
and each was paired with a graduate student researcher.

Before the doctoral student researchers rnet the beginning
teachers, they engaged with relevant academic readings, includ­
ing rnethodological texts and literature related to teaching for
social justice within the context of the seminar. The teaching
team and the doctoral students also collaboratively devel­
oped observation protocols as well as interview protocols.
The first interview was designed to help researchers farnil­
iarize the1nselves with their participating teachers and get a

240 journalofTeacher Education 61 (3)

sense of their backgrounds and their conceptions of social
justice. Although the researchers worked with a set of focus
questions, the questions were seen as tentative, and as a class,
we discussed the importance of keeping our attention on the
issues that the participants raised (Glesne & Peshkin, 1992).
Ultimately, the interviews were active, enabling each teacher
to refer to personal, and potentially alternative, knowledge and
perspectives (Holstein & Gubriun1, 1995). After the inter­
view, each participating teacher identified examples of social
justice teaching for the researcher to observe. The researcher
then conducted from one to three observations in the
teacher’s classroom, aiming to collect “unobtrusive data”
(Hatch, 1995, p. 214). The observations were followed by
informal interviews in which the researcher asked the teacher
to describe the lesson and explain how the lesson was an
exa1nple of social justice teaching. The entire field-based
research experience was then concluded with an exit inter­
view in which the teacher explained how her lessons reflected
her conceptions of social justice and the hindrances that she
experienced when doing this work.

We recognized that by asking teachers to de1nonstrate spe­
cific instances of social justice teaching, we would be narrowing
the types of curricular enactments that we would be able to
see. In addition, we may have put a binary in place by sug­
gesting that some lessons reflect ideals of social justice and
some do not. This does not reflect our belief, and we see the
potential drawbacks of this decision. Furthermore, as we
explained above, curricular enactments are the interactions
and joint experiences between teachers and students (Snyder
et al., 1992)and include educational interactions beyond the
enactment of classroom-based lessons. That said, each rese­
archer had a limited amount of time in her participant’s
classroom, and we agreed that asking teachers to identify
their own examples of social justice teaching would be the
most efficient way to view these enactments in action. In
addition, this methodological decision illustrates our dedica­
tion to ” insider” rather than “outsider” knowledge (Emerson,
Fretz, & Shaw, 1995, p. 30) in that the beginning teachers
directed us to particular aspects of their work. We studied the
curricular enactn1ents they flagged as reflecting their con­
ceptions of teaching for social justice rather than analyzing
lessons based on our conceptions.

The doctoral students and the teaching team engaged in a
series of postdata collection activities. First, each of the
audio-recorded interviews was transcribed. Second, the doc­
toral students created lesson plans and narrative vignettes, or
storied accounts of the classroom experiences, based on their
field notes from the lesson observations. We saw these docu­
ments as “interim texts” that are positioned between the field
texts and the researched texts (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000,
p. 133).Creating these texts helped us deepen our familiarity
with the beginning teachers’ experiences. Finally, in the last
month of the se1ninar, we conducted preliminary and rudi­
mentary data analysis across the cases, focused on generating
themes through a process of open coding. We identified codes

to describe the supports and hindrances the teachers experi­
enced in schools, their personal backgrounds, and their views
of justice-oriented pedagogy and content. Some themes of
special interest were vvhat we identified at the time as consis­
tencies, contradictions, and uncertainties in the participants’
conceptions and enactments of social justice teaching. Many
of the participating teachers reported shifts in their views of
teaching for social justice as they entered the classroom, and
some see,ned unclear about how they were teaching for social
justice. We shared all data and the emergent codes by posting
all documents on the university’s class Web system.

Fro1n the start of the project, we felt that it was important
that our research be of immediate benefit to the research par­
ticipants. Specifically, we hoped that our participants would
gain “self-understanding and, ideally, self-detennination,” add­
ing to the validity of our study (Lather, 1986, p. 67). Accordingly,
at the end of the semester, we organized a dinner for the par­
ticipants, performed a readers’ theater comprising interview
quotes, and presented them with a book of vignettes and
lesson plans from their teaching. We hoped that this book
would help them further develop their knowledge of teach­
ing and ability to teach for social justice.

Although the course officially ended with the se,nester,
we, as the teaching team, systematically dove back into all
transcripts and vignettes. We focused on the teachers’ varying
and evolving conceptions and enact1nents without co1nparing
them to theoretical frames so as to stay close to their “phe­
nomena of experience” (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000, p. 128).
First, we worked to identify the different conceptions of social
justice that the beginning teachers held. Then, we looked to
how those conceptions transfom1ed in their classroom expe­
riences and related to the ways that they created and enacted
social justice curricula. We continued to read the data in a
relatively “open” way, yet we began a process of “selective
open coding” (Emerson et al., 1995, p. 155) in which we
looked to trace the translation of the teachers’ conceptions
into practice. We center this finding in this article, discussing
the ways their visions shifted in the context of their begin­
ning teaching placements.

The Teachers’ Cases

In this section, we highlight 3 beginning teachers: Lucy, Jane,
and Allison. These cases were chosen from the original 12
because of the teachers’ clear articulations of the tensions
between the ideals of teaching for social justice and class­
room practices. Each teacher experienced different struggles
when working to enact a curriculum based on her conception
of social justice. Also, these 3 teachers worked with different
student populations and in varying school settings. There­
fore, in spotlighting their work, we illustrate how teaching
for social justice can unfold in divergent social locations. Yet
despite their varying teaching contexts and struggles to teach
for social justice , Lucy, Jane, and Allison all engaged in deli­
berate attempts to explore social differences and injustices in

Agarwal et al. 24 1

their elementary classrooms. We surface the teachers’ con­
ceptions of social justice and the 1nanifestation of their social
justice ideals in their practices- in reference to both their
own social locations and those of their students. These cases
highlight a number of opportunities and struggles that begin­
ning teachers may encounter when translating conceptions
into pedagogy.


I want them to realize that it’s a hard world out there.
Especially because you’re deaf. … I try not to sugar­
coat anything in the class. I let them know about 1ny
experiences being Black, and then I let then, know that
they’re going to face the same things because they’re
deaf. … I want them to know that they do have rights
and everybody should be equal, but- it’s not that way.
It’s not.

When asked to elaborate on her conceptions of social
justice, Lucy, a coteacher in an English-American Sign
Language bilingual public elementary school, explicitly
connected social justice to the concerns that she has about
the stratification and marginalization that exists within society.
At the time of this study, Lucy was teaching in a dual language
(A1nerican Sign Language-spoken English), fifth-grade
classroo1n con1posed of deaf and hard-of-hearing students,
hearing students with deaf fan1ily members, and hearing
students with no previous affiliation with the deaf community.
Lucy’s commitment to creating an inclusive and critically
aware environment in her classroom is therefore closely rel­
ated to the unique context in which she teaches. Troubled by
social hierarchies and normative ideals, Lucy spoke with
passion about fighting the repercussions of both racism and
ableism in the lives of her students. She was motivated to
address the1nes of rights, responsibility, and respect-key
components of her conceptions of social justice- to prepare
her students for the injustices they wi II face in their daily lives.
Despite the pressures of accountability, Lucy, in collaboration
with her deaf coteacher, argued that issues of discrimination
are too pressing in the I ives of their students to ignore.

Lucy drew heavily on her personal experiences as a Black
Haitian woman when explaining her conceptions of social
justice. When describing the in-depth social justice- related
discussions she has with her students, she indicated,

I ask the1n if they have had any experiences not being
treated fairly, and I tell them my own experiences.
Everything I do, I try to relate it back to something that
has happened to me or something I went through.

In addition, she shared how the low expectations communicated
to her as a young Black child have pushed her to hold high
academic expectations for her deaf students. Developing str­
ength and resiliency against social marginalization, as well as

the capacity to advocate for the rights of others, are subjects
so i1nportant to Lucy that she sometimes forgoes mandated
curricula to address them when they emerge in the classroom.
With respect to those classrooms that do not center stories of
discrimination, she speculated that they were led by teachers
who had been protected and privileged in their lives: “They
haven’t been through it. We talk about it a lot because we’ ve
both been through it.” Clearly, Lucy addressed memories
from her past in conceptualizing what it n1eans to foster stu­
dents’ critical consciousness.

Lucy also praised her teacher education program for
fostering honest and emotional class discussions through
autobiographical self-reflection. She candidly described the
mo1nent in which she first spoke out in class about the perva­
siveness of racism today, an en1otional turning point in her
studies that solidified her commitment to social justice and
teaching. Lucy explained, “Until people realize what’s going
on, we can’t come up with a solution .. .. We’re saying
everything’s all great now, and just last year somebody called
me a nigger.” Likewise, her student teaching experiences
working with children from a gifted classroon1 forced her to
interrogate her own prejudices around privilege and White­
ness, biases she admits she never recognized about herself.
Lucy viewed teaching for social justice as a process through
which discriminations reproduced by social stratification are
urgently addressed.

Despite her personal beliefs about the importance of rais­
ing conversations about discriminatory social hierarchies,
the translation of her conceptions into classroom curricula
left her feeling ineffectual as a social justice teacher. Admit­
ting that classroom discussions were “not enough” to curtail
the travesties of discrimination, Lucy envisioned a long­
term project wherein her deaf students would move toward
greater activis1n. Struggling to describe what this social jus­
tice teaching could look like, she continued,

Like, something that … a lesson …. I don’t know
about one particular lesson … but like you know like,
maybe a long-term project. … I want them to do rights
for deaf people. And researching that and having some
type of project and presenting it to people at the end.

Interestingly, the social justice lesson she chose as an obs­
ervation was the type of long-term project she desired, alth­
ough Lucy did not associate this example within her ideals
of social justice teaching.

After missing the nationwide Penny Harvest deadline due
to standardized test preparation, Lucy and her students devel­
oped their own fund-raising effort, titled The Robin Hood
Project, with hopes of donating all proceeds to the local
homeless shelter. Students spent months collecting pennies
from other classrooms and writing letters to solicit donations
from companies. Despite the potential strengths of this proj­
ect, Lucy was occasionally unsure that she was enacting social
justice curricula and, in reference to one of her lessons, asked,

242 Journal of Teacher Education 61 (3)

“Would that be social justice?” The Robin Hood Project 1nay
be seen as separate from her expressed conceptions of social
justice as it did not address issues of racial and ableist 1nar­
ginalization. However, Lucy did admit to an increased sense
of activisn1 among her students due to The Robin Hood Proj­
ect. She said, “This project has helped the students to gain
confidence and has taught them important life skills that help
them to navigate within a hearing world.”


It’s hard to find that balance between n1y own anxieties
about how they’re treating each other or how they’re
doing and how I can actually help them and stay true to
a social justice-like 1nindset.

Jane grew up in Hawaii with a father who uneasily described
himself as Chinese and a grandmother who would becon1e the
first Asian An1erican teacher in her Michigan school district.
In this context, Jane admitted to a sense of angst and inadequacy
fostered by her grandmother’s stories of racism and her exp­
eriences as a 1nultiracial individual in American society. These
feelings n1ade her 1nore sensitive to the needs of her racially
diverse students. We met Jane when she worked in a school
with students fro1n a wide array of linguistically, culturally,
econon1ically, ethnically, and racially divergent backgrounds.
However, despite the diversity, she explained that her stu­
dents were “1nostly kids of color, but kids who are not as
wealthy as the others in the school.” She comn1unicated in
her interview her concerns about “the ties of power to wealth”
and “the link of race and privilege,” and the diversity of her
classroom gave her multiple opportunities to reflect on these
dynatnics among her students.

Jane’s conceptions of teaching for social justice involved
intentional efforts to undo unjust hierarchies of power. When
Jane was asked how social justice related to her specific
classroon1, she expressed her atte1npt to “incorporate multi­
ple perspectives” but followed up with, “Then, you go beyond
that, like, how do you change power dynamics so that people
who are always on top are sharing their power and every­
one’s kind of feeling like they can participate?” For Jane, a
1nore equitable distribution of wealth could lead to this shar­
ing of power. Her interest in “getting kids on the right track”
both acade1nically and behaviorally was tied to this social
vision. If education is linked to oppo1tunity, she rationalized,
then what she does in the classroom to bolster academic skills
1nay alleviate economic discrepancies on a wider societal basis.

Although Jane envisioned her students deliberating over
social justice issues such as race and privilege, her preoccu­
pation with a well-managed classroon1 at times inhibited her
fro1n actualizing this ideal. To this she declared, “lf I can’t
have my co1nmunity to run smoothly, if I can’t have them
treating each other appropriately, then how can I have them

talking about some topic that’s maybe going to be really
controversial?” Jane saw respect and order as precursors to
social justice-oriented dialogue, and she questioned her pre­
vious vision of “jumping in” and immediately provoking
discussions about relevant and controversial topics. Jane was
also focused on com1nunity building, as it was supported
within her school. When asked how aspects of social justice
may become folded into school life, she referred to the
school wide 4Rs program launched by an organization named
Educators for Social Responsibility. With a focus on conflict
resolution, the 4Rs program institutes policies for students
and teachers around anger 1nanage1nent, advocacy, and con1-
munity building. Jane did not think that the administrators of
her school would be interested in teaching for social justice
(as conceptualized by Jane) beyond these programs as they
would not want teachers to introduce “radica l changes or
thoughts that might get into families.”

Jane acknowledged that her teaching expe1iences prompted
visceral shifts in her conceptions of what social justice teach­
ing may actually mean. As she once believed teaching needed
to directly raise conversations that pertain to marginalized
groups in society, she ad1nitted that social justice for her
had now shifted toward “con11nunity and n1anagen1ent” and
“how to foster more appropriate treatment” among her stu­
dents. These efforts were in line with visions of teaching for
social justice forwarded by the adn1inistration and were in
response to her experiences v,iith her students.

Jane also recognized a disconnect between the messages
of her teacher education progra1n around teaching for social
justice and her practice. She co,nmented that although she
graduated from her teacher education progra1n no more than 9
n1onths prior to the interview, what she learned about teaching
was most certainly different from actually teaching in the
classroom. As she reflected on her years in the program, she
critiqued its theory-heavy orientation, co1n1nenting that even
as students developed a social studies curriculum, she failed to
see its practical value, stating, “It was still just theory for me.”

Despite these perceived disconnects, when Jane invited
us to observe a lesson addressing anti-imn1igration sentiment
in Texas, it see1ned apparent that both her initial and her
emergent conceptions were present in her teaching style.
Using a 1nethod she called Stand Up, she asked students to
stand if they associated themselves with the various groups
she na1ned. These groupings ranged from eldest children to
racial affiliation. Then she read an article to her students
about imn1igration and fostered a discussion about the expe­
riences of in1migrants in An1erica as highlighted by the
author. Her efforts to teach respect for marginalized experi­
ences and multiple perspectives were corroborated in a
statement she recalled making to her students about histori­
cal accuracy. She recollected, “In class we talked about how
we need to hear other voices speaking, so then, in history, we
need to hear other voices too.”

Agarwal et al. 243


Before you have a classroom, you think about how
you want your classroom to be democratic and you
want … everybody to have a place in it, and to feel
safe, and to feel like they can really talk about what
they’re thinking about.

During the time of this study, Allison was a fifth-grade
teacher and self-proclaimed “classroom 1nanager.” Working
in a racially diverse classroo1n in a co1nmunity she described
as “very liberal, very artsy, with very artsy, open kind of
parents,” Allison was drawn to ideals that highlight fain1ess,
inclusion, voice, and participation. Moved by readings fron1
her teacher education program, particularly those that examined
language use and student silencing, Allison ad1nitted to an
overly cautious desire to develop safe learning spaces where
1nultiple perspectives and diversity were valued. Describing
herself growing up, Allison explained that even as a White,
middle-class girl from the suburbs, she always felt as if she
did not belong. Calling this the root of her social justice con­
ception, it n1ay be clear to see how her childhood experiences
burgeoned into a need to create safe classroom spaces.

Allison struggled to detern1ine how she could develop a
safe space-which she believed was a key 1narker of social
justice education-while raising in1portant topics of social
concern. On one hand, she seen1ed co1nmitted to pro1noting
open conversations despite the potential for conflict, stating,
“Isn’t it okay for a kid to have so1ne strong opinion about
another race, or something that I personally would get really
upset to hear?” On the other hand, this conflict and discord
deterred her from stn1cturing such dialogue. When speaking
about controversy in the classroom, she remarked, “What do
you say? What do you not say?” and continued to explain her
confusion as to how to address issues of class, race, and the
achieve,nent gap.

In addition, although Allison wanted her students to believe
in a democracy where all voices are heard, she questioned
how this could be done in an elementary school classroom.
She said, “I don’t think a classroom can be a co1nplete den1-
ocracy because you-as the experienced adult, educator,
teacher, person responsible- need to be a figurehead, so
then the question is, Hovv n1uch power do you design to give
them?” In her atternpts to elicit divergent thinking among
her students, her concern for teacher voice and authority at
times silenced her from openly sharing her opinions. Allison’s
apprehension around teacher power and control surfaced
throughout her interview. At one point she noted, “I i1npose
certain values on 1ny class; 1’111 confident that those are val­
ues that I want to impose,” then four turns of talk later, she
said, “There’s still that question of how much do you really
impose or not. If you really want your students to be thinking
for themselves then do you really need to tell then1 what you

should think?” Allison recalled that the professors in her
teacher education program modeled a value-laden cunicu­
lun1 through which they aired their opinions. She seemed
appreciative that they displayed ways in which authority fig­
ures can openly express their ideals. However, she continued
to wo1Ty about how this ,nay contradict tenets of participa­
tion and open-1nindedness.

Other school-oriented factors posed obstacles to Allison
as she sought to create a safe learning space for her students.
First, Allison described the mandated curriculum required by
her school as a ve1y real detriment to exploring content
around social justice issues. She proclaimed, “You really do
have to follow the standards and what unit you ‘re supposed
to be on.” Second, she explained that the lack of supplemen­
tal resources had become even more problematic. For example,
as Allison attempted to teach Westward expansion through
1nultiple perspectives, she struggled to locate materials that
spoke to the positionalities of more marginalized groups
such as Mexicans, Asians, and women.

Maneuvering around school mandates, Allison adhered to
adn1inistrative demands while working to foster safe, open
dialogue vvith her students. When she invited us into her
classroom, there was a notable fervor and energy in the air.
The students were work ing in small groups , discussing
how their lives would have been affected if they had lived
during the ti1ne of the civil war. This fit her i1nage ofa lesson
for social justice. She explained, “The kids’ voices should be
in there. There should be conversation back and forth. It’s
not the kind of lesson where I feel the teacher \.Vould be
giving a lecture or something.” When discussions becan1e hea­
ted during her lesson about the civil war, she insisted that her
students move past their own opinions and build off each
other rather than refuse to listen.

As is evident in each of the cases described above, begin­
ning teachers demonstrate an i1npressive ability to reflect on
their practices, to measure conceptions of social justice agai­
nst the realities of classroo1n teaching, and to name their
struggles. In the next section, we reflect on the beginning
teachers’ stories and elucidate common themes from which
i1nplications may be drawn.

Reading Across the Cases

In studying the teachers’ reflections on their work to teach
for social justice , we are able to explore the beginning teach­
ers’ conceptions of teaching for social justice along with their
perceptions of their practices. Their conceptions revealed that
the teachers were 1notivated by ideals of open, deliberative
dialogue and a realignment of problematic social hierarchies.
Their practices, as observed in their classrooms, often reflected
aspects of their visions. Yet the teachers all a11iculated differ­
ent disconnections they felt between their ideals and their
practices. This suggests that beginning teachers enter a

244 Journal of Teacher Education 61 (3)

complex enterprise wrought with tensions, conflicts, and
contradictions when they ai1n to translate their conceptions
into viable pedagogy. Many of the hindrances they described
are attributable to the complexity of everyday teaching, which
is intensified for beginning teachers, yet they reflect the even
greater ambiguity around teaching for social justice. Given
this, we celebrate the teachers’ efforts to embrace and grap­
ple with the conflicts at work in their practices, all while
enacting curricula that displayed markers of teaching for
social justice. We question how and if they may have joined
in our celebration, as they seemed more likely to frame their
efforts as inco1nplete. In this section, we first review Lucy’s,
Jane’s, and Allison’s experiences, highlighting their perceived
stn1ggles, and then review the overarching implications of
their stories.

Lucy felt unsure about her ability to challenge systemic
injustice through school curricula. Although she was faithful
to her beliefs that institutional racism and ableism posed dif­
ficulties for her deaf students, Lucy felt that what she was
doing in her classroom was just “not enough.” Comparatively,
we were struck by her sense of urgency and her willingness to
push the core curriculum aside to make room for discussions
about social inequity and injustice. These conversations show
her commitment to redistribution of power in society, reflect­
ing a social reconstructionist approach to curriculum (Sleeter,
1993).We also see reason to praise The Robin Hood Project
in its expectation that students act as activists and advocate
for the common good. Despite these strengths of her pedagogy,
at this point in her teaching career, Lucy showed concern
about her inability to be the teacher activist that she wanted
to be, that she felt her students needed her to be, and that her
preservice teacher education program promoted.

Jane’s goals changed as she developed more teaching expe­
rience. She entered the classroom with a belief that social
justice teaching should raise awareness of particular issues
of injustice and foster dialogue that welcomed multiple
perspectives. Concerned about classroom management, she
deliberately placed an emphasis on community building and
collaboration so as to make these kinds of conversations pos­
sible. She distanced her present pedagogy from her ideals
and from those communicated in her teacher education pro­
gram. However, despite her perceived disconnect, the Stand
Up lesson reflected her dedication and possible success in
teaching students to engage in rich dialogue about relevant
topics as she enabled students to think about immigration from
different points of view.

Allison’s case raised issues of authority and voice in de1n­
ocratic classrooms. She articulated a commitment to ideals
of sharing authority (Oyler, 1996)and promoting open dia­
logue, illustrating her dedication to student voice and relevant,
yet potentially controversial, issues. Allison reflectively delib­
erated about the power dynamics present in her classroom and
became concerned that she was imposing her own voice and
“privileging” her opinions (Hess, 2005). Her thoughtfulness
about these issues was notable and showed a sophisticated

level of reflection. She did not praise herself in this way,
however, and was bothered by the possibility that she might
be alienating students and using her power in problematic
ways. Overall, she ad1nitted doubts about how her vision of
shared authority and open dialogue could be applied to a
classroom setting.

The teachers’ reflections on their conceptions and prac­
tices show their desire to advocate for social change through
classroom pedagogy, build cooperative classroom communi­
ties, and monitor their authority to allow for the expression
of student voice. Clearly, they set standards for their ideal
classrooms. We believe that teachers are theory builders who
establish connections between their conceptions and prac­
tices (Schoonmaker & Ryan, 1996). Our experiences with
Lucy, Jane, and Allison illustrate their abilities to engage in
this work. The beginning teachers analyzed their practices in
reference to their conceptions of teaching for social justice.
As their classroom practices reflected markers of their par­
ticular ideals, it is clear that all the teachers studied were
engaged in a journey toward teaching for social justice.

Furthermore, as these educators raised questions about social
justice pedagogy, their reflections suggest potential next steps
for themselves in their practices. Lucy’s next step involved
enacting a curricular unit revolving around an essential ques­
tion that highlights a form of systemic inequity. Jane wished
to continue developing new strategies to help her students
build community, listen, and ultimately advocate for each
other. Allison may establish an open dialogue with her stu­
dents on a controversial topic and experiment with different
models of teacher disclosure to feel more security about what
she can and cannot say in the classroon,. The limitations
that they identified in their teaching are illustrative of their
forthcoming development as teachers.

Their analyses of their practices are particularly praise­
worthy given the well-researched obstacles facing beginning
teachers who are committed to social justice in today’s schools.
Most salient is the current context of standards and account­
ability in schools, where teachers face pressures of mandated
curricula, inflexible daily schedules, and i1nposed test prepa­
ration. Moreover, beginning teachers are at a particularly
challenging stage of their professional development. They
are experimenting, possibly for the first time, with the tenu­
ous connections between their conceptions and their practices,
and as a result, there are unexpected challenges. In the face
of these hindrances, Lucy, Jane, and Allison saw a place for
socially transforrnative pedagogy. They took steps and iden­
tified how their practices could be improved. They were not
willing to be derailed by the i1npact of imposed systems of
curricular regulation or overly consumed by their status as
beginning teachers.

However, the teachers did not always praise their struggles
in this way. Conversely, they more often seemed to dismiss their
important work as not good enough or potentially problematic.
Rather than seeing their doubts as opening moments for
learning or self-growth, they looked down on aspects of their

Agarwal et al. 245

teaching that were different from or did not yet reach their
ideals. They did not necessarily see their questions as push­
ing then1 forward toward greater disruption of the stah1s quo.

This distance between the strengths of Lucy’s, Jane’s , and
Allison’s pedagogy and their own perceptions of their teach­
ing raises a number of questions for teacher educators. How
can teachers be encouraged to see their work as constitutive
of a larger ideal without dismissing it through an overly criti­
cal evaluation process? Do grand notions of social justice
teaching and phrasing such as teaching to change the world
force idealistic goals on teachers that thwart their efforts to
reflect on and honor their lived experiences and their steps
toward an ideal? To address these questions, teacher educa­
tors could work to help teachers identify the context-specific
connections between their conceptions and their practice and
to value their own commitments to social justice as they exist
within any one classroom experience. Given the plurality of
teacher experiences, student identities, and classroo1n dynam­
ics, it should be expected that teachers teach for social justice
differently at different moments in their careers. Teachers
can value a social reconstructionist approach and work with
the goals of systemic change in mind without uniformly
fitting into any one model of teaching for social justice at all
times. If Lucy, Jane, and Allison were co1nfortable with this
idea, they may have been able to value their own context­
specific iterations of teaching for social justice and recognize
the connections between their conceptions of teaching for
social justice and their pedagogy.

We acknowledge that our participants’ outlooks about social
justice curricula and their perceptions of their own abilities
as educators most likely changed significantly as they entered
their 2nd and 3rd years of teaching. Indeed, a teacher’s I st
year of teaching is a time that is comn1only identified as
trying, if not painful. Focusing on this group points to a pos­
sible limitation of this research, as readers may ask how
I st-year teachers in particular could teach in accordance with
their ideals. However, we chose to observe beginning teach­
ers because we noted that there was a paucity of studies
following up with recent graduates of teacher education pro­
grains and exploring the ways in which they have integrated
social justice into their curricula. We felt that it was impor­
tant to capture these crucial moments in their development as
educators to pinpoint ways that preservice programs can sup­
port nascent teachers and encourage them to enact social
justice curricula even in their first classrooms. Lucy’s, Jane’s,
and Allison’s stories illustrate the potentially powerful work
of beginning teachers and can offer helpful feedback for tea­
cher education progra1ns.


As a research team and as a group of teacher educators com­
mitted to supporting curricula that emphasize social justice,
we hope to support beginning teachers and teacher educators
to create avenues for classrooms that challenge racist, sexist,

classist, ableist, and heterosexist nonns. We also seek to help
beginning teachers understand that such goals are both fea­
sible and realistic, even within the harrowing I st years of
teaching. To reinforce these goals, we argue that preservice
teacher educators consider the following recom111endations
as we prepare beginning teachers.

Elucidate the inevitable struggles around teaching for social
justice.Preservice graduates should be armed with the knowl­
edge that their conceptions of justice-oriented teaching will
change in accordance with their struggles around and reflec­
tions on their pedagogy, students, and school contexts. We
suggest that teacher education progra111s carve out space for
discussions that help teachers to see teaching for social jus­
tice as a journey, not a finished product. This will help
beginning teachers understand or even deflect their frustra­
tions when they face the hindrances that will get in the way
of their visions. Teaching- it must be understood- is no dif­
ferent from any other human endeavor: Our efforts can be
guided and sustained by our greater vision, but our daily
behaviors often fall short of our lofty ambitions.

Often, preservice programs present remarkable, experi­
enced teachers as the ideal to which their students should
aspire and fail to explain that such teaching does not come
easily and that nearly all new educators stn1ggle during their
I st years in the field. Instead, teacher education progra1ns
might present the stories of beginning teachers, such as those
of Lucy, Jane, and Allison, to demonstrate both the possibili­
ties and the challenges of enacting social justice curricula in
the 1st years of teaching. These programs might also invite a
panel of recent graduates to speak candidly with students
about both their trials and their successes. Preparing teachers
to see teaching for social justice as an uncertain and tumultu­
ous process n1ay aid them to overco1ne, acknowledge, and
cope with the myriad constraints they may face as they work
to enact social justice curricula. Rather than be disappointed
because they continue to struggle with their practices, we
wish to cultivate an expectation for struggle and even an
appetite for such struggle. Indeed, it is only through collec­
tive struggle that major social moven1ents exercise their power
and change the course of human events.

Scaffold opportunities for student teachers to practice re~ective­
thinkingskills.This research confirms once again the importance
of preparing teachers to be reflective about their practices.
We see much hope in the beginning teachers’ abilities to
name and grapple with aspects of their own autobiographies
and the questions facing them in their first classrootn teaching
positions. Yet although Lucy, Jane, and Allison demonstrated
practices that reflected a social justice orientation and vision, all
three had trouble recognizing this and instead expressed that
their visions were presently incongruous with their practice.
Thus, they were able to reflect on their practices, but they often
did so in a disappointed way, criticizing their own efforts as fall­
ing short of their greater visions.

The teachers’ tendency to critique led us to reconsider
how we teach the process of reflection. As almost all teacher

246 Journal of Teacher Education 61 (3)

education progra1ns require student teachers to keep a daily
or weekly journal, we want to recommend that student teach­
ers’ reflections be scaffolded with an eye toward the specific
consequences and outcomes for learners when teachers n1ake
pedagogical decisions. That is, rather than focusing on how
the teacher’s performance falls short of his or her vision, we
would like teachers to be able to take careful stock of what
the students learned and accomplished. We want teachers
who can carefully assess the outcomes of their pedagogical
decisions rather than rely on any external conceptions of cor­
rect social justice pedagogy that they may have picked up in
their teacher education program. When teachers reflect in
this way, they 1nore often 1nay be able to celebrate their suc­
cesses and abilities to teach for social justice.

Explore resources in teacher education classrooms to plan
social reconstructionist curriculaenactments.Teacher educators
should make space in their syllabi for texts, materials, and
speakers that either detail a social justice curricular vision in
action or can be used to create such plans. We are hopeful
about the power of texts to offer specific images of social
justice-oriented pedagogy from inside individual classrooms.
We use books such as Black Ants and Buddhists (Cowhey,
2007) and Writing in Rhy thm (Fisher, 2007) and those by the
Rethinking Schools collective, all of which detail curricula
that question injustice and scaffold opportunities for st11dents
to envision and advocate for a better world. Although 1nany
of the practices illustrated should be questioned and tailored
to different classrooms, they can foster conversations about
the possibilities and li1nitations of social justice curriculun1
enactments in schools today. These types of books can be
used as examples for curriculum planning as a precursor to
group curriculum planning starting with local artifacts and
experiences. For instance, teacher educators can arrange field
trips (to museums, cultural events, or the offices of a com­
munity-based organization) and then come back to campus
and engage in writing instructional plans making the link
between a variety of social justice-o riented goals and state
learning standards. In this way, student teachers’ social justice­
oriented curricular planning can be coached and supported
through peer interaction. Furthermore, teacher educators can
demonstrate that the same materials and lean1ing experiences
can be used to reach a range of differing socia l justice
goals, which ultimately rnay help student teachers consider
the relationship between their own ideological orientations,
the pedagogical choices they 1nake, and the subsequent
possible learning outcomes for children.

When teacher educators embrace these steps, their gradu­
ates may be prepared for the journeys they will face as they
1nove with their social justice commitments into the world of
public schooling. Each year, thousands of teachers depart
fron, their preservice programs, certificates in hand, eager to
use the skills that they have learned to effect change and
interrupt the racial and social norms that have long plagued
our school systen, and our society. During the course of
this research study, we found that educators with fervent

co1nmitments to social reconstructionist education can ques­
tion their abilities to teach in accordance with their values.
Yet we also found that these new teachers are more than
capable of enacting social justice curricula in significant
ways. As teacher educators, we must take concrete steps to
support our students’ dedication to social justice and to pre­
e1nptively prepare the1n for their self-doubts and help them
celebrate their successes. Our own con1mitments to social jus­
tice should impel us to equip our preservice students with the
curricular, theoretical, and psychological tools to pursue
their justice-oriented ideals in their classroo1ns.

Declaration of Conflict ing Interests

The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interests \Vith respect
to the authorship and/or publication of this article.

Financial Disclosure / Funding

The author(s) received no financial support for the research and/or
authorship of this article.


Ada1ns, M., Bell, L., & Griffin, P. (2006). Teaching/or diversity and
social justi ce: A sourcebook (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.

Banks, C., & Banks, J. ( 1995). Equity pedagogy: An essential com­
ponent of n1ulticultural education. Theo,y into Practice. 43(3),

Berlak, A., & Moycnda, S. (200 I). Taking it personally : Racisn1
in the classroo1n .fro111 kindergarten to college. Philadelphia:
Temple University Press.

Clandinin, D. J., & Connelly, F. M. (2000). Narrative inquhy : Erperi­
ence and story in qualitative research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Cochran-Smith, M. (2004). Walking the road: Race, diversity and
social ju s tice in teacher education. New York: Teachers College

Cowhey, M. (2007). Black an/s and Buddhis1s : Thinking critically
and teaching dijj’ere111ly in the prin1a1y grades . Portland, ME:
Sten house.

Darling-Han11nond, L., French, J., & Garcia-Lopez, S. P. (2002). learn­
ing to teach/or socialjus1ice. New York: Teachers College Press.

Demian-Sparks, L., & Ran1sey, P. (2006). What if all the kids are
While? Anti-bias, 11111llicullural educa1ion 1-vith y oung children
andja,nili es. New York: Teachers College Press.

Dyson, A. , & Genishi, C. (2005). On the case: Approaches to lan­
guage and literacy research. New York: Teachers College Press.

En1erson, R. M., Fretz, R. 1., & Shaw, L. L. ( 1995). Writing ethno­
graphic ji eld1101es. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Feiman-Nemser, S. (2003). What new teachers need to learn. Edu­
cational Leadership, 60(8), 25-29.

Ferguson, A. A. (2000). Bad boys: Public schools in the 111aki11g
of Black 111asculinity. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Fisher, M. (2007). Writing in rhythm: Spoken 1vord po eflJ’ in urban
classroon1s. New York: Teachers College Press.

Genor, M., & Goodwin, A. L. (2005). Confronting ourselves: Using
autobiographical analys is in teacher education. Ne1v Educato1;
1(4), 311-331.

Agarwal et al. 247

Glesne, C., & Peshkin, A. ( 1992). Becon1ing qualitative research­
ers. White Plains, NY: Longman.

Hale, S. (1991). Fe1ninist n1ethod, process, and self-criticism:
Interviewing Sudanese \Vomen. In S. Gluck & D. Patai (Eds.),
Wornens,,vords: The.ferninist practice oj’oral histo,y (pp. 121-136).
London: Routledge.

Hatch, J. A. ( 1995). Ethical confl icts in classroom research:
Examples from a study of peer stign,atization in kindergarten.
In J. A. Hatch (Ed.), Qualitative research in early childhood
settings (pp. 213-222). Westport, CT: Praeger.

Hehir, T. (2002). Eliminating ableis1n in education. Harvard Edu­
cational Review, 72(I) , 1-32.

Hess, D. (2005). How do teachers’ political views influence teach­
ing about controversial issues? Social Education, 69( I), 47-48.

Holstein, J. A., & Gubrium, J. F. (1995). The active interview.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Irvine, J. (2003). Educating teachers for diversity: Seeing 1vith a
cultural eye. New York: Teachers College Press.

Kluth, P., Straut, D., & Biklen, D. (2003 ). Access to acade,nics
for all students: Critical approaches to inclusive curriculu,n.
instruction, and policy. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbau1n.

Kozol, J. ( 199 1 ). Savage inequalities. Nev, York: Crown.
Ku1nashiro, K. (2004). Against co1111non sense: Teaching and learn­

ing to1vard social justice. Ne\v York: RoutledgeFahner.
Ladson-Billings, G. ( 1994). The drea,nkeepers: Successful teachers

of ~frican Arnerican children. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Lalas, J. (2007). Teaching for social justice in 1nulticultural urban

schools: Conceptualization and classroorn implication. Multi­
cultural Education. 14(3), 17-21.

Lather, P. ( 1986). Issues of validity in openly ideological research:

Between a rock and a soft place. Interchange. 17(4), 63-84.
Linton, S. ( I 998). Clain1ing disability: K1101vledge and identity.

New York: New York University Press.
Losen, L., & Orfield, G. (2002). Racial inequality in special educa­

tion. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
McDonald, M. (2007). The joint enterprise of social ju stice teacher

education. Teachers College Record. 109(8),2047-2081.
Mukherjee, E. (2007). Cri,ninalizing the classroon,: The over­

policing oj·Ne1v York Ciry schools. New York: Ne\V York Civil
Liberties Union.

Nieto, S. (2005). Public education in the t\ventieth century and
beyond: High hopes, broken pron1ises, and an uncertain future.
Harvard Educational Review. 75( I), 43-64.

Oakes, J. , & Lipton, M. (2007). Teaching to change the 1vorld (3rd
ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Oakes, J ., Wells, A., Jones, M., & Datnow, A. ( I 997). Detracking:
The social construction of ability, cultural politics, and resis­
tance to reforn1. Teachers College Record, 98, 482-5 10.

Oyler, C. ( 1996). Making roon, for students: Sharing teacher author­
ity in roon, 104.New York: Teachers College Press.

Ramsey, P. (2004). Teaching and learning in a diverse world (3rd
ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.

Rothstein, R. (2004). Class and schools: Using social. econo,nic,
and educational re(onn to close the Black-White achievernenr
gap. Washington, DC: Economic Policy Institute.

Sapon-Shevin, M. ( 1999). Because 111ecan change the 1vorld: A prac­
tical guide to building cooperative, inclusive. classroo,n co,n,nu­
nities. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Schniedewind, N., & Davidson, E. (2006). Open ,ninds to equality:
A sourcebook o_f activities to a.f]irrn diversity and pro,note equity
(3rd ed.). Mihvaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools.

Schoonrnaker, F., & Ryan, S. ( I996). Does theory lead practice?
Teachers’ constructs about teaching: Top down perspectives.
Advances in Early Education and Day Care. 8. 117-151.

Sleeter, C. ( I993). Multicultural education: Five views. Education
Digest, 58(7), 53-57.

Sleeter, C. (2005). Un-standardizing curriculu,n: Multicultural
teaching in the standards-based classroo111. New York: Teachers
College Press.

Snyder, J., Bolin, F., & Zum,valt, K. ( 1992). Curriculun1 irnplernen­
tation. In P. W. Jackson (Ed.), Handbook o_(research on curricu­
lu111(pp. 402-435). New York: Macmillan.

Soohoo, S. (2006). Falling leaves: Narratives oj·otherness. Cresskill,
NJ: 1-larnpton Press.

Wade, R. (2007). Social studies/or social justice: Teaching strategies
for the ele111enta1J1 classroo,n. Ne\v York: Teachers College Press.

Zollers, N., Albert, L., & Cochran-Smith, M. (2000). In pursuit of
social justice: Collaborative research and practice in teacher
education. Action in Teacher Education, 22(2), 1-14.

About the Authors

Ruchi Agarwal is an assistant researcher and lecturer at the Uni­
versity of California, Santa Cruz, in the Departn1ent of Education.
Her research interests include issues re lated to social justice, teacher
education, and curriculu1n design.

Shira Epstein is an assistant professor at the City College of New
York in the Departrnent of Secondary Education. Her research
agenda focuses on citizenship education and what happens when
adolescents and teachers work together to advocate for social
change during the school day.

Rachel Oppenheim is a doctoral candidate in the Departn,cnt of
Curriculu111 & Teaching at Teachers College, Colun1bia University.
Her current research focuses on the educational lives of incarcer­
ated \VOmen. Other areas of interests include d isability studies,
inclusive education, and fen,inist poststructuralisrn.

Celia Oyler is an associate professor in the Depart1nent of Curricu­
lun1& Teaching at Teachers College, Colun1bia University. Her work
focuses on supporting teachers, researchers, and activists engaged in
inclusive education; critical rnulticultural education; and social action

Debbie Sonu is an assistant professor in the Departn1ent ofCurriculu1n
and Teaching at Hunter College (City College of New York). Her
research interests include justice and ethics in urban schools, poststruc­
tural thought, and critical theory. She is currently working on a piece
about friendship and ethical decision 1naking in the classroom and has
recently published on institutionalizing activisn1 in public schools.

This article was downloaded by:[University of Washington]

On: 28 January 2008

Access Details: [subscription number 758874194]

Publisher: Taylor & Francis

Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954

Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

Equity & Excellence in Education
Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:


Five Essential Components for Social Justice Education

Heather W. Hackman

Online Publication Date: 01 May 2005

To cite this Article: Hackman, Heather W. (2005) ‘Five Essential Components for

Social Justice Education’, Equity & Excellence in Education, 38:2,


– 109

To link to this article: DOI: 10.1080/10665680590935034

URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10665680590935034


Full terms and conditions of use: http://www.informaworld.com/terms-and-conditions-of-access

This article maybe used for research, teaching and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematic reproduction,

re-distribution, re-selling, loan or sub-licensing, systematic supply or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly


The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representation that the contents will be

complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of any instructions, formulae and drug doses should be

independently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss, actions, claims, proceedings,

demand or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with or

arising out of the use of this material.





















Equity & Excellence in Education, 38: 103–109, 2005
Copyright c! University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Education
ISSN 1066-5684 print / 1547-3457 online
DOI: 10.1080/10665680590935034

Five Essential Components for Social Justice Education
Heather W. Hackman

The question of how to teach effectively from a clear social justice perspective that empowers, encourages students to
think critically, and models social change has been a consistent challenge for progressive educators. This article intends
to shed light on this issue by demonstrating how educators can utilize a social justice pedagogical lens to treat their
content in ways that meet their commitment to empowering education. Specifically, this article clarifies what social
justice education is by introducing readers to five key components useful in teaching from a social justice perspective:
tools for content mastery, tools for critical thinking, tools for action and social change, tools for personal reflection,
and tools for awareness of multicultural group dynamics. While no pedagogical approach is a panacea, this approach
offers readers five specific areas to focus on in their teaching and their efforts at working toward social justice in their

This is a critical time in our world, in our nation, creates multiple points of entry in teaching for social jus-and certainly in public education. The tense polit- tice, it ultimately does the field a disservice by dilutingical discourse and hugely contrasting ideas about the essence of social justice education and weakening
the future of U.S. education leaves many families, teach- the call for teachers, schools, and communities to be true
ers, communities, and administrators at a loss for how to vanguards for change. I address this issue by presenting
best serve the students in their schools and our society as what I perceive to be most fundamental to social justice
a whole. In a climate characterized by well-intentioned education via a definition of it and then a presentation
but poorly funded policies like No Child Left Behind of five components I view as necessary for its effective
(NCLB), educators need to take a stronger and more implementation. These five components (content mas-
vocal stance against the furtherance of policies and ap- tery, critical thinking, action skills, self-reflection, and an
proaches that serve some at the expense of many. Instead awareness of multicultural group dynamics) represent
of trying to work with policies such as NCLB, educators neither an exhaustive nor an exclusive understanding of
need to demand educational environments conducive social justice education. They do, however, help clarify
to engaged, critical, and empowered thinking and ac- what constitutes a social justice educational approach,
tion. Equity and social justice need to move beyond be- and provide for socially and politically conscious K-12
ing merely buzzwords and instead become part of the teachers a clearer sense of how to focus their classroom
lived practice in the classroom. content and process.

Over the last decade, a number of authors have in-
cluded the concept of social justice in their work and

DEFINING SOCIAL JUSTICE EDUCATIONcalled for a commitment to social justice education (SJE).
And yet, a review of the literature reveals a range of Working in chorus with the goals of other educa-
definitions of social justice education and its manifes- tional theory bases, social justice education encourages
tation in the classroom. Those unfamiliar with it might students to take an active role in their own education
see social justice education as being about treating all and supports teachers in creating empowering, demo-
students equally, while others might think it involves cratic, and critical educational environments. Bell (1997)
the dismantling and reconstructing of education from defines social justice as being a goal and a process. “The
its very core. While having a broad definitional range goal of social justice education is full and equal partici-

pation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped
to meet their needs,’’ (Bell, 1997, p. 3) while, “the pro-

Address correspondence to Heather W. Hackman, Human Rela- cess for attaining the goal of social justice . . . should be
tions and Multicultural Education, B-118, CoE, St. Cloud State Univer-
sity, 720 Fourth Avenue South, Saint Cloud, MN 56301-4498. E-mail: democratic and participatory, inclusive and affirming
hwhackman@stcloudstate.edu of human agency and human capacities for working




collaboratively to create change’’ (p. 4). I have distilled components:
Bell’s goals of social justice education to include stu- ! Content mastery
dent empowerment, the equitable distribution of re- ! Tools for critical analysis
sources and social responsibility, and her processes to ! Tools for social change
include democracy, a student-centered focus, dialogue, ! Tools for personal reflection
and an analysis of power. Social justice education does ! An awareness of multicultural group dynamics
not merely examine difference or diversity but pays care-
ful attention to the systems of power and privilege that The diagram in Figure 1 reveals that solid work in
give rise to social inequality, and encourages students to any of these five areas will lead to more critical educa-
critically examine oppression on institutional, cultural, tional environments that benefit students and commu-
and individual levels in search of opportunities for so- nities. However, it is the combination and interaction of
cial action in the service of social change. Clearly, this all five components that creates an effective environment
definition goes well beyond the celebration of diversity, for social justice education. To illustrate, I briefly explain
the use of dialogue groups in the classroom, or even the each component and then discuss how their interactions
existence of democratic processes regarding class goals contribute to a social justice educational environment.
and procedures. To be most effective, social justice edu-
cation requires an examination of systems of power and
oppression combined with a prolonged emphasis on so- Tool 1: Content Mastery
cial change and student agency in and outside of the Content mastery is a vital aspect of social justice ed-
classroom. ucation and consists of three principle spheres: factual

information, historical contextualization, and a macro-

to-micro content analysis. Content mastery is the first
component of effective social justice education because
information acquisition is an essential basis for learn-

Although it is important to clarify the meaning of so-
ing. Without complex sources of information, studentscial justice education, it also is vital to identify a spe-
cannot possibly participate in positive, proactive so-cific course of classroom implementation. My desire for

a more equitable approach to teaching encouraged me to cial change. Importantly, factual information must not
examine the literature for a more specific explanation of a merely reproduce dominant, hegemonic ideologies but
social justice educational approach. I found that a social instead represent a range of ideas and information that
justice approach can be characterized by five essential go beyond those usually presented in mainstream media

Figure 1
Five essential components for social justice education.



or educational materials. More specifically, the “facts’’
necessary for effective social justice education must rep-
resent broad and deep levels of information so that stu-
dents can not only critically examine content but also
effectively dialogue about it with others. Remembering
that social justice education asks students to engage in so-
cial responsibility, educators must provide students with
enough critical information to do so effectively; other-
wise, students are set up for failure and frustration.

Ahistorical information, however, leaves students
with a limited understanding of the political, social, and
economic forces and patterns that create and sustain the
oppressive social dynamics students are contesting and
transforming. Thus, a thorough understanding of the his-
torical context of all classroom content is vital for stu-
dents to construct an analytical lens. Again, this content
must be examined with a critical perspective because his-
tory is written by the members of dominant groups and
the need for a broad representation of history is essen-
tial. Loewen (1996) illustrates the empowering effect that
critical views of history can have on students through his
analysis of historical bias in public school history books.

And finally, content mastery involves student under-
standing on both the micro and the macro levels. First,
as countless authors in both multicultural and social jus-
tice education indicate, students need information that
is connected to their lives and that helps them to un-
derstand the micro-level implications of macro issues
(Delpit, 1995; Gay, 2000; Ladson-Billings, 1997; Nieto,
2000). From this, students can engage in social action and
formulate ideas for concrete ways to incorporate class-
room content into their lives, communities, and society as
a whole. Second, students need to develop a solid under-
standing of how classroom content connects with larger
issues in society. In a socially just classroom, these two
levels are constantly interacting, thus helping students
to truly understand the phrase, “think globally, act lo-
cally.’’ Ultimately, both students and teachers need to be
able to answer the question, “Why is this information im-
portant on both a micro and macro scale?’’ Understand-
ing both micro and macro implications for content mas-
tery draws from student experience, invites them into
the knowledge construction process, and leads to a more
student-centered classroom.

To better understand these three aspects of content
mastery, consider the issue of global warming. Main-
stream media and information sources often portray this
issue as something that seems to “just be happening’’
without any specific reference to its sources, implica-
tions, or suggestions of proactive measures that indi-
viduals and governments can take to stop it. This pre-
sentation leaves students minimally exposed to how
to accurately address the issue, or leaves unquestioned
the consumption and production patterns of the United
States and other industrial nations. Examining this is-
sue from a social justice perspective with respect to con-

tent mastery, however, would include an explanation of
the science and health impact of global warming, un-
derscored by statistical data and international research.
Students could examine this information through a crit-
ical lens and question the progression of global warm-
ing and deforestation throughout the last two centuries
with a special emphasis on the industrialization period.
What global and national historical, political, and eco-
nomic forces have contributed to and maintained (sped
up or slowed down) the progression of global warm-
ing on this planet? And finally, students would exam-
ine the implications of this issue globally, as well as lo-
cally, addressing macro scale questions, such as: “Which
countries produce the most waste? Where is this waste
distributed globally? How are people in other countries
affected by global warming? What policies have been ef-
fective in curbing the production of greenhouse gases?
Why have some countries continually undermined ef-
forts at curbing global warming? Which countries are
they? How do multinational corporations figure into this
issue? What is environmental racism?’’ On a micro level,
students would address questions such as: “What are my
own consumption patterns? What does this classroom,
school, and community do with our waste? How do we
contribute to the problem or the solution? What is the
impact for me, right now in my life, regarding global
warming? What will be the impact on me in 20, 30 and
50 years?’’

For four key reasons, content alone is insufficient to
create democratic, empowering classroom settings, or to
adequately prepare students to become active agents of
change and social justice in their lives and communi-
ties. First, the mere possession of information does not
necessarily translate into wisdom or deep knowledge.
This is evident, for example, in that individuals in the
U.S. have “known’’ about the historical and current man-
ifestations of racism, and yet that knowledge has not
been enough to motivate change on the deepest of lev-
els. Closer examination reveals that content without his-
torical context, especially when combined with lack of
analysis, results in the inability to challenge racism in
any significant way. Second, the possession of informa-
tion alone does not necessarily provide students with a
pathway for action. In my classes, for example, I have
witnessed students feeling overwhelmed by the infor-
mation presented and, as a result, feeling “stuck’’ and
unsure of how to act to change unjust social patterns.
Third, presentation of information as truth devoid of cri-
tique runs the risk of creating a dogmatic and prescrip-
tive classroom environment. In a social justice classroom,
all content is subject to debate and critique. And finally,
information presented outside a context of power and

Tool 2: Critical Thinking and the Analysis
of Oppression



oppression runs the risk of recreating the marginaliza- students in our public and private educational environ-
tion experienced by members of oppressed groups, such ments are taught to feel disempowered (“I can’t change
as students of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual, or queer stu- anything; I am just one person’’), complacent (“I don’t
dents, women, or poor/working-class folks. have time to change anything’’), or hopeless (“Nothing

To avoid these pitfalls and the paralysis, hopelessness, will ever change anyway’’).
cynicism, and powerlessness they often invoke, educa- One of the most effortless forms of cultural imperial-
tors must help students to use critical analysis and the ism is to convince those living within systems of inequal-
careful consideration of issues of oppression to provide ity that there is nothing they can or should do about
both deep knowledge and a direction for the application it (Young, 2000). Those who dare to critique and chal-
of that knowledge in students’ lives. Paulo Freire’s (1970) lenge the status quo are labeled a threat to the fabric
praxis loop is a wonderful example of how information of democracy and freedom in the United States. Our
needs to be combined with tools for critical thinking to current sociopolitical climate is an example of a soci-
bring the power of that information to fruition. In par- ety where dissent from the dominant ideology is seen as
ticular, helping students use information to critique sys- “un-American’’ and unpatriotic. Educators need to dis-
tems of power and inequality in society, to help them rupt the notion that silence is patriotic and teach stu-
ask who benefits from said systems, and to encourage dents that their rights as citizens in this society carry
them to consider what aspects of our social structures responsibilities—of participation, voice, and protest—so
keep those inequalities alive are all important and neces- that this can actually become a society of, by, and for all
sary ways for students to become more engaged in social of its citizens. Students need to learn that social action is
justice education. fundamental to the everyday workings of their lives.

The term critical thinking has become so overused in Specific classroom and teaching tools for action and
education that it has lost some of its meaning. Think- social change vary, of course, according to the content
ing about an issue is not equivalent to critical thinking, and the political perspective of those involved. For some,
which requires: (1) focusing on information from mul- Saul Alinsky’s (1971) radical approach to taking power
tiple, non-dominant perspectives, and seeing those as via grassroots protests and street actions and its redistri-
independently valid and not as an add-on to the domi- bution to the masses via economic and political access is
nant, hegemonic one; (2) de-centering students’ analyti- fitting. To others, Freire’s (1973) “problem posing’’ pro-
cal frame and opening their minds to a broader range of cess for the achievement of awareness and education as
experiences; (3) analyzing the effects of power and op- the practice of freedom is the more useful approach. And
pression; and (4) inquiring into what alternatives exist still for others, Zúniga’˜ s and Sevig’s (2000) focus on social
with respect to the current, dominant view of reality of change through intergroup dialogue or Christenson’s
this issue. The first two points are particularly important (1998) route to social change through writing and liter-
in that if I critically analyze other cultural perspectives acy development are important approaches. Addition-
while never leaving the safety and comfort of my own, I ally, some approaches and tools for social change will be
do nothing more than reify “the other” or “exotic other” grounded within “the system’’ (Oakes & Lipton, 1999),
status of those groups and perpetuate the dehumaniza- while others will embody Lorde’s (1984) notion that the
tion of those groups. Therefore, critical thinking is the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.
process by which we consider perspective, positionality, Whatever the approach, there is a long history of social
power, and possibilities with respect to content. action and social change in this country for both domi-

nant and subordinate groups, and teachers who expose
students to this history and the broad assortment of tools
for social change will prepare them well for social justiceTool 3: Action and Social Change

The third component, tools for action and social
change, is critical to help move students from cynicism
and despair to hope and possibility. Upon learning about Tool 4: Personal Reflection
issues of oppression and privilege, dominant group
members may feel mired in the reality of their privilege, Using these first three components is typically the ex-
and subordinate group members may re-experience the tent to which teachers engage in social justice education
frustration of oppression. Teaching about issues of op- (Hackman, 2000). A fourth component, personal reflec-
pression without proffering social action tools for stu- tion, reminds teachers to reflect critically on themselves
dents ultimately creates a classroom atmosphere that and the personal qualities that inform their practice. In
lacks hope and creative energy. If the goal of SJE is to Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom
support critical thinking, then we must create classroom and Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope, bell hooks
spaces that provide the opportunity to do so. It is also (1994: see also hooks, 2003) articulates three central ways
necessary to intentionally teach these tools because most in which the ability to be critically self-reflective lends



itself to an effective social justice teaching environment. ful life. Being a “nice person’’ or asserting that “I treat
The first is the issue of power and dominant group priv- all students the same,’’ or that “I don’t see color in my
ilege as it connects to the range of one’s social identities. classroom,’’ indicates the lack of critical interrogation of
The popular essay by Peggy McIntosh (1988) on white one’s positionality.
privilege illustrates self-reflection regarding power and Ongoing self-reflection also reminds educators that
privilege. McIntosh reveals that she had never thought there is always more to consider, and helps to keep their
about her privilege before because it had previously been minds open to other possibilities. Teachers can reflect on
invisible to her, and that she had never imagined the im- such questions as: Where did I get this information? Why
pact of her privilege on members of the target group. do I think this? Do I know this for sure or is it merely an
Her first point can be further broken down into three old idea mistaken for fact? This form of self-interrogation
key aspects relative to self-reflection and one’s privi- also helps educators to be more cognizant of their power
lege as a member of the dominant group: (1) Dominants in the classroom (Hackman, 2000, Kreisberg, 1992), and
are actively taught not to see their privilege: (2) Dom- opens the door for the democratic and dialogical class-
inants are taught to see their life and its privileges as room processes that social justice education requires.
the “norm’’ for society and humanity; and (3) Dominants The final issue regarding the importance of self-
have done nothing to earn this privilege. Unless these reflection is that it provides the educator and students
three areas are critically reflected upon, the invisibility sites to take action. Education as the practice of freedom
of privilege persists and continues to support larger, op- (hooks, 1994) always begins with the individual’s will-
pressive structures in society and in one’s teaching. On- ingness to grow and change. As such, to make a con-
going self-reflection allows dominant group members to sistent commitment to self-reflection and personal in-
begin to extricate themselves from the trappings of this terrogation gives educators and students alike a place
invisible privilege and work to be more effective agents to enact social change and growth. Having the self as a
of change in their classrooms and communities. Teach- site for change is a useful way to prevent the feelings
ers can undertake self-reflection for themselves through of hopelessness and powerlessness that students some-
a continual critique of their practice, ongoing dialogue times encounter when discussing macro-level social is-
with colleagues, and a persistent exposure to new con- sues. In addition, self-reflection can serve as a constant
tent areas. Utilizing pedagogical tools, such as reflective motivator, as it knocks teachers and students out of com-
writing exercises and assignments that connect content placency and steers them in the direction of the solution
to student lives, teachers can extend the importance of instead of the problem. This seems particularly true for
self-reflection in their classrooms and build the habit dominant group members in their work to resist the se-
of critical self-reflection into the educational repertoire duction of privilege and to maintain the commitment to
of students. social justice work on all fronts. Especially in regards to

McIntosh’s (1988) self-reflection exposes that she had white privilege, ongoing self-reflection helps Whites con-
never considered herself to be part of the problem of tinually work to challenge racism and be vigilant about
racism because she was a nice person. Lack of self- the deconstruction of white privilege in society.
reflection allows dominant group members to live with Subordinate group members also can utilize self-
the delusion that simply being nice means they have no reflection by examining how internalized oppression has
connection to racism, sexism, or other forms of social in- impacted their lives and communities, and how their
equality in our society, and therefore have no responsi- dominant and subordinate identities interact. For exam-
bility to work toward the solution. Lack of self-reflection ple, there was a period in my own development as a
may prevent P-12 teachers from creating the kind of woman where I was rightfully angry at the system of
empowering and affirming classroom spaces that effec- sexism in our society, and in the process of challeng-
tively support academic success for all students. Simi- ing it on both micro and macro scales, I was unfortu-
larly, lack of reflection may evoke a response to the real- nately not as aware of how internalized sexism affected
ities of racism such as this one, which I hear frequently my growth and development or my efficacy as a change
in my own classes, “That’s horrible! I had no idea things agent. In addition, this lack of self-awareness kept me so
were this bad. People of color should really do some- entrenched in my subordinate experience that I was un-
thing about this!’’ Only when students also understand able to make the connection to my dominant identities or
their white privilege do they realize that, as white stu- see how I was reproducing oppressive dynamics similar
dents, it is not enough to be a nice person and that they to the ones I was fighting, albeit in terms of race and dis-
have at least an equal, if not more important, part in chal- ability oppression. It was almost as if I were saying that
lenging and changing racism in the U.S. Ultimately, lack because I was experiencing the pain of sexism, I did not
of self-reflection locks all of us, no matter what our so- need to look at my own racism and ableism. To be clear,
cial identities, into places of passivity and powerlessness, I am not equating my lack of awareness of my privilege
while members of our surrounding communities and so- to internalized sexism. But, as I began to reflect critically
ciety lack the necessary resources for a healthy, success- on my own behavior, I could no longer tolerate the fact



that I was not challenging my own racism and ableism Tatum (1997), Zúniga˜ and Sevig (2000), Root (2000), and
while expecting men to do so regarding sexism. Teachers Ford (2000), provide very useful and engaging frame-
and students alike can avoid this pitfall by engaging in works for understanding the ways that social identities
consistent self-reflection as it applies both to their sub- impact dialogue in the classroom and offer suggestions
ordinate and dominant identities. An analysis of power for effective cross-cultural communication. Understand-
is one way for teachers and students to begin this aspect ing these dynamics, rather than avoiding the discussion
of self-reflection and to move closer toward the creation altogether, leads to a more effective and engaging social
of a socially just classroom. justice classroom.

While student-centered pedagogy is a key aspect of a
social justice classroom, it should not be used as a means

Tool 5: Awareness of Multicultural
Group Dynamics

for members of traditionally marginalized groups to be
placed in the position of educating the dominant group
members in the classroom. It is each class member’s re-

The fifth element for effective teaching for social sponsibility to be an agent of his or her own education
justice involves understanding group dynamics of the and not to reproduce disempowering societal dynamics
classroom and the socially constructed identities of the within the classroom. Thus, effective utilization of mul-
teacher and students. An awareness of these dynamics ticultural group dynamics toward a social justice end
determines how social justice educators will approach can happen only if the class members, and in particular
the previous four dynamics, and thus impacts the ef- the educator, are aware of these issues as well. Class-
ficacy of their implementation. For example, in an all- room activities that create a safe space for students to di-
white classroom situated in an all-white community, the alogue about issues of diversity, classroom expectations
content presented regarding racism and white privilege that underscore the value of diverse life experiences, and
will be different than it would be in a classroom with the infusion of culturally relevant and responsive peda-
diverse racial identities, which is different, again, from a gogy (Gay, 2000) into the classroom all help teachers and
classroom with all students of color. The form and type students make effective use of the multicultural group
of content that the teacher presents, the attention to how dynamics.
these different class compositions affect dialogue and fa-
cilitation, and the amount of time spent on content versus
process will differ for these three classrooms. If a teacher CONCLUSION
teaches the same way in all three environments, he or she

Utilizing any one of these components can benefit awill not adequately address the needs of the students,
classroom. Nieto (1998) discusses a continuum of multi-and will miss an important opportunity for social justice
cultural education that has evolved over the last 35 years,education. Creating a student-centered learning environ-
stating that while regrettable, the lack of clarity aboutment is lauded as an essential element of good teaching
what multicultural education really is from the onset hasby some of the best thinkers in the fields of multicultural
allowed some educators to claim they are teaching fromeducation and social justice education (Ayers, 1998; Gay,
a multicultural perspective when they are really com-2000; Nieto, 2000; Shor, 1992), and yet if an educator does
ing from a very limited, uncritical, tolerance-based per-not consider the group dynamics as they pertain to so-
spective. In order for the field of social justice educationcial identities and multicultural perspectives, they miss
to avoid this development, social justice educators mustthe true potential of student-centered teaching and social
continue to work toward a clearer sense of what a socialjustice education.
justice educational approach actually entails. To date, theThe make-up of the class is not a reason to shy away
work of Adams, Bell, and Griffin (1997), Ayers, Hunt, andfrom addressing critical issues in the classroom. For ex-
Quinn (1998), and many of the other authors referencedample, some educators feel that they cannot adequately
in this article have made significant contributions towarddiscuss race and racism unless students of color are
that end. To suggest that these five components are es-present, while others may feel that the lack of student
sential is not an attempt to limit the conversation, butdiversity regarding race indicates that there is no need
to frame a starting point and encourage educators whofor this discussion (Elder & Irons, 1998). Both perspec-
embrace a social justice approach to continue to movetives are incorrect, and critical and ongoing discussions
the field forward and ultimately create classroom spacesregarding diversity and social justice issues affect all of
that are empowering and committed to social change.our lives and therefore should be an integral part of the

classroom regardless of its make-up. Attention to student
identities or multicultural group dynamics should not be REFERENCES
used as an excuse for avoiding such conversations, but
instead should be a reminder that who is in the room Adams, M., Bell, L. A., & Griffin, P. (1997). Teaching for diversity
has an effect on content and process. Authors, such as and social justice: A sourcebook. New York: Routledge.



Alinsky, S. D. (1971). Rules for radicals: A practical primer for re-
alistic radicals. New York: Vintage Books.

Ayers, W. (1998). Foreword: Popular education—Teaching for
social justice. In W. Ayers, J. Hunt, & T. Quinn (Eds.),
Teaching for social justice: A democracy and education
reader (pp. xvii–xxvi). New York: Teachers College

Ayers, W., Hunt, J., & Quinn, T. (Eds.). (1998). Teaching for social
justice: A democracy and education reader. New York:
Teachers College Press.

Bell, L. A. (1997). Theoretical foundations for social justice edu-
cation. In M. Adams, L. Bell, & P. Griffin (Eds.), Teach-
ing for diversity and social justice: A sourcebook (pp. 3–15).
New York: Routledge.

Christenson, L. (1998). Writing the word and the world. In W.
Ayers, J. Hunt, & T. Quinn (Eds.), Teaching for social
justice: A democracy and education reader (pp. 39–47).
New York: Teachers College Press.

Delpit, L. (1995). Other people’s children: Cultural conflict in the
classroom. New York: New Press.

Elder, J., & Irons, B. (1998). Distancing behaviors often used
by white people. In E. Lee, D. Menkart, & M.
Okazawa-Rey (Eds.), Beyond heroes and holidays: A
practical guide to K-12 anti-racist, multicultural educa-
tion and staff development (p. 113). Washington, DC:
Network of Educators on the Americas.

Ford, C. (2000). Develop cross-cultural communication skills.
In M. Adams, W. Blumenfeld, R. Castañeda, H.
Hackman, M. Peters, & X. Zúñiga (Eds.), Readings
for diversity and social justice (pp. 130–132). New York:

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed (M. B. Ramos, Trans.).
New York: Continuum.

Freire, P. (1973). Education for critical consciousness. New York:

Gay, G. (2000). Culturally responsive teaching: Theory, research and
practice. New York: Teachers College Press.

Hackman, H. W. (2000). Power consciousness: Understanding and
transforming educator classroom power. Unpublished
manuscript. University of Massachusetts Amherst.

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice
of freedom. New York: Routledge.

hooks, b. (2003). Teaching community: A pedagogy of hope. New
York: Routledge.

Kreisberg, S. (1992). Transforming power: Domination, empow-
erment, and education. New York: State University of
New York Press.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1997). The dreamkeepers: Successful teach-
ers fo African American children. San Francisco:

Loewen, J. W. (1996). Lies my teacher told me: Everything your
American history textbook got wrong. New York: Simon
& Schuster.

Lorde. A, (1984). Sister outsider: Essays and speeches. Freedom,
CA: The Crossing Press.

McIntosh, P. (1988). White privilege and male privilege: A personal
account of coming to see correspondences through work
in women’s studies. Wellesley, MA: Wellesley College
Center for Research on Women.

Nieto, S. (1998). Affirmation, solidarity and critique: Moving
beyond tolerance in education. In E. Lee, D. Menkart,
& M. Okazawa-Rey (Eds.), Beyond heroes and holidays:
A practical guide to K-12 anti-racist, multicultural educa-
tion and staff development (pp. 7–18). Washington, DC:
Network of Educators on the Americas.

Nieto, S. (2000). Affirming diversity: The sociopolitical context of
multicultural education (3rd ed.). New York: Longman.

Oakes, J., & Lipton, M. (1999). Teaching to change the world.
Boston: McGraw-Hill College.

Root, M. P. P. (2000). A bill of rights for racially mixed peo-
ple. In M. Adams, W. Blumenfeld, R. Castañeda, H.
Hackman, M. Peters, & X. Zúñiga (Eds.), Readings for
diversity and social justice (pp. 120–126). New York:

Shor, I. (1992). Empowering education: Critical teaching for social
change. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Tatum, B. D. (1997). “Why are all the Black kids sitting together in
the cafeteria?’’ And other conversations about race. New
York: Basic Books.

Young, I. M. (2000). The five faces of oppression. In M.
Adams, W. J. Blumenfeld, R. Castañeda, H. W.
Hackman, M. L. Peters, & X. Zúñiga (Eds.), Readings
for diversity and social justice (pp. 35–49). New York:

Zúñiga, X., & Sevig, T. D. (2000). Bridging the “us/them’’ di-
vide: Intergroup dialogue and peer leadership. In
M. Adams, W. J. Blumenfeld, R. Castañeda, H. W.
Hackman, M. L. Peters, & X. Zúñiga (Eds.), Readings
for diversity and social justice (pp. 488–493). New York:

Heather W. Hackman is a faculty member in the Depart-
ment of Human Relations and Multicultural Education at St.
Cloud State University. She teaches courses on social justice ed-
ucation, multicultural education, racism in the United States,
and heterosexism and homophobia in the United States and
presents at national conferences on the topic of challenging
white privilege and racism in teaching.

20 Chapter 2

the kinds of pictures on the bulletin ofboards, the racial (COmlpCJsitiiorn
the school staff, and the fairness with which studeruts fro>m different
racial, cultural, and ethnic groups are disciplined and susspemded. ]Multi­
cultural education reforms the total school environment so t:halt thte hid­
den curriculum sends the message that cultural and ethmic: diiversity is

valued and celebrated.
8. The counseling program. In an effective multicultural :sch1ooll,counse­

lors help students from diverse cultural, racial, and et:hnlic grolllpS to
make effective career choices and to take the courses needed Ito pursue
those career choices (Ponterotto, Casas, Suzuki, & Alexandeir, 1995; Sue,
1995). Multiculturally oriented counselors also help smdents to reach
beyond their grasp, to dream, and to actualize their dreams.

Multicultural educators make the assumption that if the preceding
eight variables within the school environment are reformed and restruc­
tured and the dimensions of multicultural education are implemented,
students from diverse ethnic, cultural, and language groups and of both
genders will attain higher levels of academic achievement and the inter­
group attitudes and beliefs of students from all groups will become more


B().,{\ ·3, ( ) l.s) 9 9 9 ) YI o d/4U-, 0 ·’1
+o /)/) l,v’\.+,C f dA,tULJ,-~htrfX{ o/1 J

~ .Go~~”‘:\ fY\ 6a·A~ A\ljn Lo,1,

A 1 id-r


It is important to distinguish between curriculum infusion and curricu­
lum transformation. When the curriculum is infused with ethnic and
gender content without curriculum transformation, the students view
the experiences of ethnic groups and of women from the perspectives
and conceptual frameworks of the traditional Western canon. Conse­
quently, groups such as Native Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinos
are added to the curriculum, put their experiences are viewed from the
perspective of mainstream historians and social scientists. When curric­
ulum infusion occurs without transformation, women are added to the
curriculum but are viewed from the perspectives of mainstream males.
Concepts such as “The Westward Movement,” “The European Discovery
of America, 11 and “Men and Their Families Went West” remain intact.

When curriculum transformation occurs, students and teachers
make paradigm shifts and view the American and world experience from
the perspectives of different racial, ethnic, cultural, and gender groups.
Columbus’s arrival in the Americas is no longer viewed as a “discovery”
but as a cultural contact or encounterthat had very different consequences
for the Tainos (Arawaks), Europeans, and Africans (Golden et al., 1991;
Rouse, 1992; Stannard, 1992). In a transformed curriculum, the experi­
ences of women in the West are not viewed as an appendage to the expe­
rience of men but “through women’s eyes” (Armitage, 1987; Limerick,

This chapter discusses the confusion over goals in multicultural edu­
cation, describes its goals and challenges, and states the rationale for a
transformative multicultural curriculum. Important goals of multicul­
tural education are to help teachers and students transform their think­
ing about the nature and development of the United States arrd the



Chapter 3

world and also to develop a commitment to act in ways that will make
the United States a more democratic and just nation.


A great deal of confusion exists, among both educators and the general
public, about the meaning of multicultural education. The meaning of
multicultural education among these groups varies from education
about people in other lands to educating African American students
about their heritage but teaching them little about the Western heritage
of the United States. The confusion over the meaning of multicultural
education was indicated by a question the editor of a national education
publication asked me: “What is the difference between multicultural
education, ethnocentric education, and global education?” Later during
the telephone interview, I realized that she had meant “Afrocentric edu­
cation” rather than “ethnocentric education.” To her, these terms were


Before we can solve the problem caused by the multiple meanings of
multicultural education, we need to better understand the causes of the
problem. One important cause of the confusion over the meaning of
multicultural education is the multiple meanings of the concept in the
professional literature itself. Sleeter and Grant (1987), in their compre­
hensive survey of the literature on multicultural education, found that
the term has diverse meanings and that about the only commonality the
various definitions share is reform designed to improve schooling for
students of color.

To advance the field and to reduce the multiple meanings of multi­
cultural education, scholars neec to develop a higher level of consensus
about what the concept means. Agreement about the meaning of multi­
cultural education is emerging among academics. A consensus is develop­
ing among scholars that an important goal of multicultural education is
to increase educational equality for both gender groups, for students from
diverse ethnic and cultural groups, and for exceptional students (Banks &
Banks, 1997; Grant & Ladson-Billngs, 1997; Grant & Tate, 1995). A major
assumption of multicultural education is that some groups of students­
because their cultural characteris:ics are more consistent with the culture,

Curriculum Transfo1mation 23

norms, and expectations of the school than are those of other groups of
students-have greater opportunities for academic success than do students
whose cultures are less consistent with the school culture. Low-income
African American males, for example, tend to have more problems in
schools than do middle-class Anglo males (Gibbs, 1988).

Because one of its goals is to increase educational equality for stu­
dents from diverse groups, school restructuring is essential to make mul­
ticultural education become a reality. To restructure schools in order to
provide all students with an equal chance to learn, some of the major
assumptions, beliefs, and structures within schools must be radically
changed. These include tracking and the ways in which mental ability
tests are interpreted and used (Mercer, 1989; Oakes, 1992). New para­
digms about the ways students learn, about human ability (Gardner,
1983; Gould, 1981), and about the nature of knowledge will have to be
institutionalized in order to restructure schools and make multicultural
education a reality. Teachers will have to believe that all students can
learn, regardless of their social-class or ethnic-group membership, and
that knowledge is a social construction that has social, political, and nor­
mative assumptions (Code, 1991; Collins, 1990; Harding, 1991). Imple­
menting multicultural education within a school is a continuous process
that cannot be implemented within a few weeks or over several years.
The implementation of multicultural education requires a long-term
commitment to school improvement and restructuring.

Another important goal of multicultural education-on which there
is wide consensus among authorities in the field but that is neither
understood nor appreciated by many teachers, journalists, and the pub­
lic-is to help all students, including White mainstream students, to
develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes they will need to survive
and function effectively in a future U.S. society in which one out of
every three people will be a person of color. Our survival as a strong and
democratic nation will be seriously imperiled if we do not help our stu­
dents attain the knowledge and skills they need to function in a cultur­
ally diverse future society and world. As Martin Luther King stated
eloquently, “We will live together as brothers and sisters or die separate
and apart as strangers” (King, 1987).

This goal of multicultural education is related to an important goal
of global education. An important aim of global education is to help stu­
dents to develop cross-cultural competency in cultures beyond our
national boundaries and the insights and understandings needed to
understand how all peoples living on the earth have highly intercon­
nected fates (Becker, 1979). Citizens who have an understanding of and
empathy for the cultures within their own nation are probably more
likely to function effectively in cultures outside of their nation than are

24 Chapter 3

citizens who have little understanding of and empathy for cultures
within their own society.

Although multicultural and global education share some important
aims, in practice global education can hinder teaching about ethnic and
cultural diversity in the United States. Some teachers are more comfortable
teaching about Mexico than they are teaching about Mexican Americans
who live within their own cities and states. Other teachers, as well as some
publishers, do not distinguish between multicultural and global education.
Although the goals of multicultural and global education are complemen­
tary, they need to be distinguished both conceptually and in practice.


We need to think seriously about why multicultural educators have not
been more successful in conveying to teachers, journalists, and the gen­
eral public the idea that multicultural education is concerned not only
with students of color and linguistically diverse students but also with
White mainstream students. It is also not widely acknowledged that
many of the reforms designed to increase the academic achievement of
ethnic and linguistic minority students, such as a pedagogy that is sen­
sitive to student learning styles and cooperative learning techniques,
will also help White mainstream students to increase their academic
achievement and to develop more positive intergroup attitudes and val­
ues (Cohen & Lotan, 1997; Shade, 1989; Slavin, 1995).

It is important for multicultural education to be conceptualized as a
strategy for all students for several important reasons. U.S. schools are not
working as well as they should be to prepare all students to function in a
highly technological, postindustrial society (Bell, 1973; Graham, 1992).
Most students of color (with the important exception of some groups of
Asian students such as Chinese and Japanese Americans) and low-income
students are more dependent on the school for academic achievement
than are White middle-class students for a variety of complex reasons.
However, school restructuring is needed for all students because of the
high level of literacy and skills needed by citizens in a knowledge society
and because of the high expectations that the public has for today’s
schools. Public expectations for the public schools have increased tremen­
dously since the turn of the century, when many school leavers were able
to get jobs in factories (Cremin, 1989; Graham, 1992). School restructur­
ing is an important and major aim of multicultural education.

Multicultural education should also be conceptualized as a strategy
for all students because it will become institutionalized and supported

Curriculum Transfonnation 25

in the nation’s schools, colleges, and universities only to the extent that
it is perceived as universal and in the broad public interest. An ethnic­
specific notion of multicultural education stands little chance of success
and implementation in the nation’s educational institutions.


Some readers might rightly claim that an ethnic-specific curriculum and
education already exists in the nation’s educational institutions and that it
is Eurocentric and male dominated. I would agree with this claim but
believe that the days for the primacy and dominance of the mainstream
curriculum are limited. The curriculum that is institutionalized within our
nation’s schools, colleges, and universities is being seriously challenged
today and will continue to be challenged until it is revised to more accu­
rately reflect the experiences, voices, and struggles of people of color, of
women, and of other cultural and social-class groups in U.S. society. The
curriculum within our nation’s schools, colleges, and universities has
changed substantially Within the last two decades. It is important that
these changes be recognized and acknowledged. Students in today’s educa­
tional institutions are learning much more content about ethnic, cultural,
racial, and gender diversity than they learned two decades ago. The ethnic
studies and women’s studies movements have had a significant influence
on the curriculum in the nation’s schools, colleges, and universities.

The dominance of the mainstream curriculum is much less complete
and tenacious than it was before the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights
Movements of the 1960s and 1970s. The historical, social, and economic
factors are different today than they were when Anglo Americans estab­
lished control over the nation’s major social, economic, and political
institutions in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The economic,
demographic, and ideological factors that led to the establishment of
Anglo hegemony early in our nation’s history are changing, even though
Anglo Americans are still politically, economically, and culturally domi­
nant, as Supreme Court decisions that slowed the pace of affirmative
action initiatives during the 1980s indicated.

Nevertheless, there are signs throughout U.S. society that Anglo dom­
inance and hegemony are being challenged and that groups such as Afri­
can Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinos are increasingly demanding
full structural inclusion and a reformulation of the canon used to select
content for the school, college, and university curriculum (Butler &
Walter, 1991; Graff, 1992). It is also important to realize that many com­
passionate and informed Whites are joining people of color to support

26 Chapter 3

reforms in the nation’s social, economic, political, and educational insti­
tutions. It would be a mistake to conceptualize or perceive the reform
movements today as people of color versus Whites.

One pervasive myth within our society is that Whites are a mono­
lithic group. The word White conceals more than it reveals. Whites are
a very diverse group in terms of ethnic and cultural characteristics, polit­
ical affiliations, and attitudes toward ethnic and cultural diversity. Many
Whites today, as well as historically, have supported social movements
to increase the rights of African Americans and other people of color
(Branch, 1988). Reform-oriented White citizens who are pushing for a
more equitable and just society are an important factor that will make
it increasingly difficult for the Anglo-Saxon vision to continue to dom­
inate our educational institutions.

Whites today are playing an important role in social reform move­
ments and in the election of African American and Latino politicians.
Many White students on university campuses are forming coalitions with
students of color to demand that the university curriculum be reformed
to include content about people of color and women. The student move­
ments that are demanding ethnic studies requirements on university
campuses have experienced major victories (Hu-DeHart, 1995).

The Anglocentric curriculum will continue to be challenged until it
is reformed to include the voices and experiences of a range of ethnic and
cultural groups. The significant percentage of people of color, including
African Americans and Latinos, who are in positions of leadership in
educational institutions will continue to work to get the experiences of
their people integrated into the school and university curriculum. These
individuals include researchers, professors, administrators, and authors of
textbooks. Students of color will continue to form coalitions with pro­
gressive White students and demand that the school and university cur­
riculum be reformed to reflect the ethnic and cultural reality of U.S.
society. Demographers project that students of color will make up about
46 percent of the nation’s school-age youths (ages O to 17) by 2020 (Pal­
las, Natri~llo, & McDill, 1989). Parents and community groups will con­
tinue to demand that the school and university curriculum be reformed
to give voice to their experiences and struggles. African American par­
ents and community groups are the major agents pushing for a curricu­
lum that reflects African civilizations and experimental schools for Black
males (Chmelynski, 1990; Lee, 1992).

Feminists will continue to challenge the mainstream curriculum
because many of them view it as male-centric, patriarchal, and sexist.
Much of the new research in women’s studies deals with the cultures of
women of color (Anderson & Collins, 1992; Hine, King, & Reed, 1995;
Jones, 1985). Women’s studies and ethnic studies will continue to inter-

Curriculum Transfonnation 27

connect and challenge the dominant curriculum in the nation’s schools,
colleges, and universities.


I have argued that an ethnic-specific version of multicultural education
is not likely to become institutionalized within the nation’s schools, col­
leges, and universities and that the days of Anglo hegemony in the U.S.
curriculum are limited. This is admittedly a long view of our society and
future. Multicultural education is now facing a strenuous and well­
orchestrated challenge from conservative groups and scholars (D’Souza,
1995; Schlesinger, 1991). This challenge will continue, will be fierce, and
will at times become ugly and pernicious. It will take diverse forms,
expressions, and shapes. I believe that part of the confused meanings of
multicultural education results from the attempts by neoconservative
scholars to portray multicultural education as a movement against West­
ern civilization, as anti-White, and by implication, as anti-American
(Ravitch, 1990a; Sirkin, 1990). The popular press frequently calls the
movement to infuse an African perspective into the curriculum Afrocen­
tric, and it has defined the term to mean an education that excludes
Whites and Western civilization (Daley, 1990).

The term Afrocentric has different meanings to different people.
Because of its diverse interpretations by various people and groups, neo­
conservative scholars have focused many of their criticisms of multicul­
tural education on this concept. Asante (1987) defines Afrocentricity as
“placing African ideals at the center of any analysis that involves African
culture and behavior” (p. 6). In other words, he defines Afrocentricity as
looking at African and African American behavior from an African or
African American perspective. His definition suggests that Black English,
or Ebonics, cannot be understood unless it is viewed from the perspec­
tive of those who speak it. Afrocentricity, when Asante’s definition is
used, can describe the addition of an African American perspective to
the school and university curriculum. When understood in this way, it
is consistent with a multicultural curriculum because a multicultural
curriculum helps students to view behavior, concepts, and issues from
different ethnic and cultural perspectives.


The push by people of color and women to get their voices and experi­
ences institutionalized within the curriculum and the curriculum canon

28 Chapter3

transformed has evoked a strong reaction from neoconservative scholars.
Consequently, a battle over the canon between people of color, feminist
scholars, and neoconservative scholars is taking place. The neoconserva­
tives have founded two organizations to resist multicultural education:
the Madison Center and the National Association of Scholars. The resis­
tance to multicultural education has been strongly expressed in a series
of editorials and articles in popular and educational publications (Finn,
1990; McConnell & Breindel, 1990; Leo, 1990; Ravitch, 1990a, 1990b), as
well as in several best-selling books (D’Souza, 1991; Schlesinger, 1991).
The multiculturalists have founded two national organizations to defend
and promote ethnic and cultural diversity in the nation’s schools, col­
leges, and universities: Teachers for a Democratic Society and the National
Association for Multicultural Education.

Many of the arguments in the editorials and articles written by the
opponents of multicultural education are smoke screens for a conserva­
tive political agenda designed not to promote the common good of the
nation but to reinforce the status quo and dominant group hegemony
and to promote the interests of a small elite. A clever tactic of the neo­
conservative scholars is to define their own interests as universal and in
the public good and the interests of women and people of color as special
intereststhat are particularistic (Ravitch, 1990a). When a dominant elite
describes its interests as the same as the public interests, it marginalizes
the experiences of structurally excluded groups, such as women and peo-

ple of color.
The term special interest implies an interest that is particularistic and

inconsistent with the overarching goals and needs of the nation-state or
commonwealth. To be in the public good, interests must extend beyond
the needs of a unique or particular group. An important issue is who formu­
lates the criteria for determining what is a special interest. It is the dominant
group or groups in power tl:h.athave already shaped the curriculum, insti­
tutions, and structures in their images and interests. The dominant group
views its interests not as spiecial but as identical with the common good.
A special interest, in the vi1ew of those who control the curriculum and
other institutions within society, is therefore any interest that challenges
their power and dominant ideologies and paradigms, particularly if the
interest group demands th.at the canon, assumptions, and values of the
institutions and structures lbe transformed. History is replete with exam­
ples of dominant groups th;at defined their interests as the public interest.

One way in which pe•ople in power marginalize and disempower
those who are structurally excluded from the mainstream is by calling
their visions, histories, goals, and struggles special interests. This type of
marginalization denies thte legitimacy and validity of groups that are
excluded from full participation in society and its institutions.

Cuniculum Tra1.1sformation 29

Only a curriculum that reflects the experiences of a wide range of
groups in the United States and the world, and the interests of these
groups, is in the national interest and is consistent with the public good.
Any other kind of curriculum reflects a special interest and is inconsis­
tent with the needs of a nation that must survive in a pluralistic and
highly interdependent world. Special interest history and literature, such
as history and literature that emphasize the primacy of the West and the
history of European American males, is detrimental to the public good
because it will not help students to acquire the knowledge, skills, and
attitudes essential for survival in the twenty-first century.

The aim of the ethnic studies and women’s studies movements are
not to push for special interests but to reform the curriculum so that it
will be more truthful and more inclusive and will reflect the histories
and experiences of the diverse groups and cultures that make up U.S.
society. Rather than being special interest reform movements, they con­
tribute to the democratization of the school and university curriculum.
They contribute to the public good rather than to the strengthening of
special interests.

We need to rethink concepts such as special interests, the national
interest,and the public good and to identify which groups are using these
terms and for what purposes, and also to evaluate the use of these terms
in the context of a nation and world that is rapidly changing. Powerless
and excluded groups accurately perceive efforts to label their visions and
experiences special interests’ as an attempt to marginalize them and to
make their voices silent and their faces invisible.


Our concept of cultural literacy should be broader than the one pre­
sented by Hirsch (1987) in his widely reviewed book, Cultural Literacy:
What Every American Needs to Know. Hirsch writes as if knowledge is neu­
tral and static. His book contains a list of important facts that he believes
students should master in order to become culturally literate. Knowledge
is dynamic, changing, and constructed within a social context rather
than neutral and static, as Hirsch implies. Hirsch recommends transmit­
ting knowledge in a largely uncritical way. When we help students to
attain knowledge, we should help them to recognize thilt knowledge
reflects the social context in which it is created and that it has normative
and value assumptions (Banks, 1996a).

I agree with Hirsch that there is a need for all U.S. citizens to have a
common core of knowledge. However, the important questi::ms are: Who

: 1′,1,,




Chapter 3

will participate in the formulations of that knowledge? and Whose interests will
it serve? We need a broad level of participation in the identification, con­
struction, and formulation of the knowledge that we expect all of our cit­
izens to master. Such knowledge should reflect cultural democracy and
serve the needs of all of the people. It should contribute to public virtue
and the public good. Such knowledge should not serve the needs of dom­
inant and powerful groups, as much school and university knowledge
does today. Rather, school knowledge should reflect the experiences of all
of the nation’s citizens, and it should empower all people to participate
effectively in a democratic society. It should help to empower all citizens
and encourage them to participate in civic discourse and citizen action.


Educators use several approaches, summarized in Figure 3-1, to integrate
cultural content into the school and university curriculum (Banks,
1988a, 1997a). These approaches include the contributions approach, in
which content about ethnic and cultural groups are limited primarily to
holidays and celebrations, such as Cinco de Mayo, Asian/Pacific Heritage
Week, African American History Month, and Women’s History Week.
This approach is used often in the primary and elementary grades.
Another frequently used approach to integrate cultural content into the
curriculum is the additive approach. In this approach, cultural content,
concepts, and themes are added to the curriculum without changing its
basic structure, purposes, and characteristics. The additive approach is
often accomplished by the addition of a book, a unit, or a course to the
curriculum without changing its framework.

Neither the contributions nor the additive approach challenges the
basic structure or canon of the curriculum. Cultural celebrations, activi­
ties, and content are inserted into the curriculum within the existing
curriculum framework and assumptions. When these approaches are
used to integrate cultural content into the curriculum, people, events,
and interpretations related to ethnic groups and women often reflect the
norms and values of the dominant culture rather than those of cultural
communities. Consequently, most of the ethnic groups and women
added to the curriculum have values and roles consistent with those of
the dominant culture. Men and women who challenged the status quo
and dominant institutions are less likely to be selected for inclusion into
the curriculum. Thus, Sacajawea is more likely to be chosen for inclusion
than is Geronimo because she helped Whites to conquer Indian lands.
Geronimo resisted the takeover of Indian lands by Whites.

Curriculum Transformation 31

Level 4
The Social Action Approach

Students make decisions on impor­
tant social issues and take actions
to help solve them.

The Transformation Approach
The structure of the curriculum is changed
to enable students to view concepts, issues,
events, and themes from the perspective of
diverse ethnic and cultural groups.

Level 2
The Additive Approach

Content, concepts, themes, and per­
spectives are added to the curriculum
without changing its structure.

Level 1
The Contributions Approach

Focuses on heroes, holidays,
and discrete cultural elements.

FIGURE 3-1 Approaches to Multicultural Curriculum Reform

The transformation approach differs fundamentally from the contribu­
tions and additive approaches. It changes the canon, paradigms, and basic
assumptions of the curriculum and enables students to view concepts,
issues, themes, and problems from different perspectives and points of
view. Major goals of this approach include helping students to understand
concepts, events, and people from diverse ethnic and cultural perspectives





32 Chapter 3

and to understand knowledge as a social construction. In this approaach,
students are able to read and listen to the voices of the victors and I the
vanquished. They are also helped to analyze the teacher’s perspective’. on
events and situations and are given the opportunity to formulate .and
justify their own versions of events and situations. Important aimss of
the transformation approach are to teach students to think critically .and
to develop the skills to formulate, document, and justify their cornclu-

sions and generalizations.
When teaching a unit such as the “Westward Movement” usirng a

transformation approach, the teacher would assign appropriate readtngs
and then ask the students such questions as: What do you think the
“Westward Movement” means? Who was moving West-the Whites or
the Native Americans? What region in the United States was referred to
as the West? Why? The aim of these questions is to help students to
understand that the Westward Movement is a Eurocentric term because
the Lakota Sioux were already living in the West and consequently were
not moving. This phrase is used to refer to the movement of the Euro­
pean Americans who were headed in the direction of the Pacific Ocean.
The Sioux did not consider their homeland “the West” but the center of
the universe. The teacher could also ask the students to describe the
Westward Movement from the point of view of the Sioux. The students
might use such words as The End, The Age of Doom, or The Coming of the
People Who Took Our Land. The teacher could also ask the studenti to
give the unit a name that is more neutral than “The Westward Move­
ment.” They might name the unit “The Meeting of Two Cultures.”

The decision-making and social action approach extends the transform.a­
tive curriculum by enabling students to pursue projects and activities ‘.hat
allow them to take personal, social, and civic actions related to the con­
cepts, problems, and issues they have studied. After they have studiedthe
unit on different perspectives on the Westward Movement, the stud~nts
might decide that they want to learn more about Native Americans ind
to take actions that will enable the school to depict and perpetuate nore
accurate and positive views of America’s first inhabitants. The stud!nts
might compile a list of books written by Native Americans for the sclool
librarian to order and present a pageant for the school’s morning exe:cise
on “The Westward Movement: A View from the Other Side.”


Major goals of a transformative curriculum that fosters multiculturalit­
eracy should be to help students to know, to care, and to act in ways hat

Cuniculum Transformation 33

will develop and foster a democratic and just society in which all groups
experience cultural democracy and cultural empowerment. Knowledge
is an essential part of multicultural literacy, but it is not sufficient. Knowl­
edge alone will not help students to develop an empathetic, caring
commitment to humane and democratic change. An essential goal of
a multicultural curriculum is to help students to develop empathy and
caring. To help our nation and world become more culturally demo­
cratic, students must also develop a commitment to personal, social, and
civic action, and the knowledge and skills needed to participate in effec­
tive civic action.

Although knowledge, caring, and action are conceptually distinct, in
the classroom they are highly interrelated. In my multicultural classes
for teacher education students, I use historical and sociological knowl­
edge about the experiences of different ethnic and racial groups to
inform as well as to enable the students to examine and clarify their per­
sonal attitudes about ethnic diversity. These knowledge experiences are
also a vehicle that enables the students to think of action they can take
to actualize their feelings and moral commitments.

Knowledge experiences that I use to help students to examine their
value commitments and to think of ways to act include the reading of
Balm in Gilead: Journey of a Healer, Sara Lawrence Lightfoot’s (1988) pow­
erful biography of her mother, one of the nation’s first African American
child psychiatrists; the historical overviews of various U.S. ethnic groups
in my book, Teaching Strategies for Ethnic Studies (Banks, 1997a); and sev­
eral video and film presentations, including selected segments from Eyes
on the Prize II, the award-winning history of the Civil Rights Movement
produced by Henry Hampton, and Eye of the Beholder, a powerful video­
tape that uses simulation to show the cogent effects of discrimination
on adults. The videotape features Jane Elliott, who attained fame for her
well-known experiment in which she discriminated against children on
the basis of eye color to teach them about discrimination (Peters, 1987).

To enable the students to analyze and clarify their values regarding
these readings and video experiences, I ask them questions such as: How
did the boo],<, film, or videotape make you feel? Why do you think you feel that way? To enable them to think about ways to act on their feel­ ings, I ask such questions as: How interracial are your own personal experiences? Would you like to live a more interracial life? What are some books that you can read or popular films that you can see that will enable you to act on your commitment to live a more racially and eth­ nically integrated life? The power of these kinds of experiences is often revealed in student papers, as is illustrated by this excerpt from a paper written by a student after he had viewed several segments of Eyes on the Prize II (Muir, 1990):






34 Chapter 3

I feel that my teaching will now necessarily be a little bit different
forever simply because I myself have changed . … I am no longer quite
the same person I was before I viewed the presentations-my horizons
are a little wider, perspectives a little broader, insights a little deeper.
That is what I gained from Eyes on the Prize.

The most meaningful and effective way to prepare teachers to
involve students in multicultural experiences that will enable students
to know, to care, and to participate in democratic action is to involve
teachers in multicultural experiences that focus on these goals. When
teachers have gained knowledge about cultural and ethnic diversity
themselves, looked at that knowledge from different ethnic and cultural
perspectives, and taken action to make their own lives and communities
more culturally sensitive and diverse, they will have the knowledge and
skills needed to help transform the curriculum canon as well the hearts
and minds of their students. Only when the curriculum canon is trans­
formed to reflect cultural diversity will students in our schools and col­
leges be able to attain the knowledge, skills, and perspectives needed to
participate effectively in the global society of the next century.


Multicultural education is needed to help all of the nation’s future citi­
zens to acquire the knowledge, attitudes, and skills needed to survive in
the twenty-first century. Nothing less than the nation’s survival is at
stake. The rapid growth in the nation’s population of people of color,
the escalating importance of non-White nations such as China and
Japan, and the widening gap between the rich and the poor make it
essential for our future citizens to have multicultural literacy and cross­
cultural skills. In the twenty-first century, a nation whose citizens can­
not negotiate on the world’s multicultural global stage will be tremen­
dously disadvantaged, and its very survival may be imperiled.



Teachers and administrators for schools of today and tomorrow should
acquire the knowledge, attitudes, and skills needed to work with students
from diverse cultural groups and to help all students develop more pos­
itive racial attitudes. Teachers and administrators also need to restructure
schools so that they will be able to deal effectively with the nation’s grow­
ing diversity and to pr~pare future citizens who will be able to compete
in a global world economy that will be knowledge and service oriented.

The first part of this chapter describes the demographic trends and
developments related to the nation’s changing ethnic texture and future
work force, states why school restructuring is essential in order to pre­
pare the work force needed for tomorrow, and describes the major vari­
ables of multicultural school reform.

The second part describes the characteristics of children’s racial atti­
tudes and guidelines for helping students to acquire more positive racial
attitudes, values, beliefs, and actions. This knowledge is essential for the
preparation of teachers and administrators who will practice in twenty­
first century schools.


The U.S. work force faces several major problems as we enter the twenty­
first century that have important implications for the professional work





Calculate your order
Pages (275 words)
Standard price: $0.00
Client Reviews
Our Guarantees
100% Confidentiality
Information about customers is confidential and never disclosed to third parties.
Original Writing
We complete all papers from scratch. You can get a plagiarism report.
Timely Delivery
No missed deadlines – 97% of assignments are completed in time.
Money Back
If you're confident that a writer didn't follow your order details, ask for a refund.

Calculate the price of your order

You will get a personal manager and a discount.
We'll send you the first draft for approval by at
Total price:
Power up Your Academic Success with the
Team of Professionals. We’ve Got Your Back.
Power up Your Study Success with Experts We’ve Got Your Back.