Feb. 20, 2014

Education student envisions shift by teachers to bring about social justice in classroom

World Day of Social Justice today
Werklund School of Education student Caitlin Campbell says teachers play an important part in achieving social justice in their classrooms.

Caitlin Campbell says teachers play an important part in achieving social justice in their classroom

Though many believe the classroom to be a site of equality, Werklund School of Education student Caitlin Campbell has found that education often functions to perpetuate the systemic privileging and oppression of particular groups of students. And teachers, she says, must look to themselves to understand the critical role they play in achieving social justice in their classrooms.

“As we celebrate World Day of Social Justice today, we can’t ignore the fact that schools are institutions designed for the cultivation of democratic citizenship and that educators’ beliefs and practices are inherently political,” says Campbell. “Evidence shows that social, political, and economic intersections result in the privileging of particular groups of students while others are simultaneously marginalized.”

According to Campbell, categories such as race, religion, age, language or a number of other social identities lead to complex intersections of oppression and educational experiences. Her research project, From Sage on the Stage to Guide on the Side: The Role Teachers Play in Anti-Oppressive Education, advises the need for a shift in the traditional role of the teacher to end this imbalance.

“By modelling reflection of their own identity and values and advocating for critical analysis of multiple perspectives, educators can deconstruct traditional notions of authority while addressing the unseen privileging of certain populations and the resultant marginalization of others.”

The result will be students who have a strong sense of social responsibility as well as a more equitable understanding of today’s complex global issues.

The Power Flower provides teachers and students with a tool to uncover hidden privilege and power found in the classroom.

The Power Flower is a tool to uncover hidden privilege and power found in the classroom.

Power Flower

But not only do teachers need to make a change, so too do the learning methods. Campbell recommends a student-centred inquiry-based approach to education.

To this end, Campbell has adapted Rick Arnold and Bev Burke’s Power Flower. In her interpretation, the centre of the flower lists different social identities and the petals describe marginalized and dominant forms of these same identities. Teachers and students can use the tool to understand which identities are privileged in their particular society and where they stand in relation to them.

“When students are able to learn from rich, inquiry-based, authentic experiences, they learn to value diversity and see the world in a different light; one in which they are competent, capable, and respected citizens in their own right.”

For her social justice work, Campbell received an Office of the Vice-President Research award at the 8th annual Students’ Union Undergraduate Research Symposium. She will be presenting her work at the WestCAST 2014 conference in Winnipeg and will take part in a panel with Werklund’s Tonya Callaghan at the upcoming Gender and Sexual Diversity Symposium.

“The ultimate goal of this social justice work is to empower all students to engage more proactively in their ongoing education in order to gain a better understanding of their rights and responsibilities as citizens of a democracy.”