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I've been thinking a lot about #socialjustice lately and the role of education (schools, mainly) in addressing the work, tensions and struggles of justice. It's the topic of my PhD. In this thread I am going to share some initial thoughts on it /1
In my PhD I am asking whether #socialjustice requires what I am calling a 'socially just citizenry' i.e. an agential, structural, epistemic and emotional orientation towards social justice, and if so, how does education help or hinder the processes involved in creating it /2
I recognise that this is a big and intimidating question. It's a philosophical & theoretical study, so I'll be exploring ideas rather than empirically analysing or describing a particular event. But the aim is to keep it accessible, usable, relevant & real /3
Anyway, I wanted to share a bit about what I am doing, reaching out to anybody who is interested, while also finding out what feedback or questions might come of it /4
What are the main issues I am looking at? First, I am concerned about individualism. I want to know whether education should focus less on individual citizens (behaviours, traits, skills etc) and more on our ability to create structural & collective change /5
This would mean shifting the emphasis from ideas of the 'responsible citizen' which seems to be prevalent in education just now. I worry that this emphasis puts the responsibilities on individual citizens while obscuring responsibilities of the state /6
This seems especially relevant at a time when the state is becoming increasingly neglectful of its public duties towards citizens while simultaneously seeking to intervene in the private sphere of peoples lives (through behaviour change, datafication, surveillance etc) /7
In education & schooling, the message to pupils is: "work hard enough and you will be able to compete" (despite inequalities, discrimination & austerity). And to teachers: "it's your job to improve and get the results" (despite poor working conditions, stress and low funding) /8
But this is a slippery slope. We SHOULD expect hard work from pupils, right? Low expectations of pupils (or teachers for that matter) creates more inequality. Justice & achievement are not well aligned as values: this is one of the many educational dilemmas of social justice /9
Basil Bernstein said 'education cannot compensate for society'. Was he right? I generally subscribe to the view that education can't do everything. A minimum standard of social equality, democracy & structural change is needed. But education has a vital role to play /10
The more I learn about inequalities (e.g. poverty & discrimination), the more I am starting to think that education should focus a bit less on enabling pupils to 'become' something (successful, responsible etc.) & a bit more on what we (humans) should 'refuse' to become /11
It suggests to me that social justice education should be about resistance & not the buzzy 'resilience'. A pedagogy of resistance could be about challenging systemic discrimination, climate destruction, upholding human rights & democracy, respect, redistribution, hope & love /12
It could promote the refusal & resistance of oppression, racism, sexism, ableism and other social arrangements that prevent parity of participation in public life /13
I am not talking here about schools encouraging, or indeed discouraging, protest or civil disobedience. I don't think that is what schools are for. I am talking about educational engagement in the intellectual, practical and emotional refusal of inequality and oppression /14
A key challenge is how to construct a pedagogy of resistance that doesn't alienate people or further entrench division. I may have raised some 'small p' political hackles in this very thread, for instance: am I not just suggesting some form of ideological indoctrination? /15
I understand this concern. My own education was at an all-boys Christian school with an overtly religious, whitewashed curriculum that mostly neglected to address these issues. Education is not value-neutral,so it is a question of enabling critical exploration of those values /16
[and this is not me saying 'education back in my day was like this, so now I know what education for everyone else should be like...'] 😉 /17
So I am not arguing for a kind of 'reverse indoctrination' but a critical education that refuses to systematically or unconsciously perpetuate violent social inequalities and the worst of human activity (too serious, need to lighten up?! Almost done😉) /18
I think there is an overlapping consensus to be reached here, using practices characterised by deliberation, dialogue, critical thinking, empathy, perspective-taking, activism, compassion and struggle. These practices are (should be?) the fuel and the engine of education /19
So while I aim to be somewhat pragmatic, hopefully appealing to a range of political views, I also recognise that social justice involves taking a stand and challenging systemic injustices. It's not a hard-line viewpoint, but there are limits to the ground that can be ceded /20
This is tricky territory as there are different views on social justice and the form and content of what is fair. Perhaps part of the struggle of social justice, and the educational work it demands, is about working out how to live with the resulting uncertainty /21
Social justice also demands recognition of the ways the education system itself creates inequalities. Schools can be discriminatory and socially violent institutions; even sites of trauma, fear & pain. This may be highly uncomfortable for educators but it cannot be ignored /22
That said, education can enable collective agency, facilitate our understanding of others, cultivate the emotions of justice, and it can address social justice through the creation & sharing of knowledge. This is the role I am hoping to begin articulating in my PhD & beyond /23
Lots of questions remain but at the very least, I hope this thread has been interesting. Any thoughts, suggestions, questions, constructive criticism, words of caution or encouragement are more than welcome😀✌️ /24

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