Justice for All: Grace Chambers

This summer, seven of our undergraduate teacher education students and one intrepid faculty member are spending a month in Peru studying the educational system and discussing their own philosophies of education. They are writing and reflecting on their journey, and we are following along! Read on for excerpts and blurbs from Dr. Gibson and the students’ blogs. You can read more on Marquette Meets Peru and check back for updates here.  

Grace Chambers

Nearly every student stands up and repeats the words “justice for all” morning after morning. But what are our schools doing to make it true?

“I pledge allegiance, to the flag of the United States of America. And to the republic, for which it stands. One nation, under God. Indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” I was able to type this from memory because every morning before school starts, I stood with my class and repeated these words with my right hand over my heart, facing the American flag. Nearly every student across the United States does the same every morning. Nearly every student stands up and repeats the words “justice for all” morning after morning. But what are our schools doing to make it true? So often in conversations about educational injustice, we focus on areas where resources are not, and fail to consider where the resources are. Much like a large majority of Peru’s elite class has money pouring into Colegio Roosevelt, there is a tremendous amount of income tax going into public schools in wealthy areas, and private money going into private schools. One of the age-old questions of education is how to distribute resources among schools in a way that is just.

The simple solution to educational injustice would be to divide up all of the nation’s educational wealth and resources and split it all up between public schools. Then everybody would be equal, right? This one step solution -in addition to receiving backlash from parents who pay more money so their children can have the best education- embraces the idea of equality and ignores the concept of equity. Different schools have different needs based on the community income level, student’s race/ethnicity, varying ability levels, class size, etc. So now we gather up all the resources again, look at schools’ geographic location, socioeconomic status, student demographics, and dozens of other statistics to determine how the resources should be split up. Once each and every school is given an equitable amount, we’re done right? Problem solved? Not quite. Because this equitable utopia doesn’t address how such great disparities in the world of education occurred in the first place. As a student studying education at the university level, I know how so much of this unequal practice began, however, when I was in my suburb of Chicago, mostly white, middle to upper-middle class public school, I had no idea. I just knew that some schools had more money than others. So, it seems that the answer does not lie in taking resources from wealthy students at all. But as a school in a privileged community, it should be the job of the teachers to educate students to use those resources to examine injustice in society. It is those with privilege who have the greatest power, and a just model of education of privileged students should emphasize the importance of using privilege to advocate for just causes.

This model of education closely follows Jesuit practice, however, educating for justice is not something that is or should be unique to Jesuit institutions. Colegio Immaculada, a privileged Jesuit school in Lima, has demonstrated ways in which to enact this practice as school-wide pedagogy. At the school, there is an emphasis on being a man or woman for others, an important pillar in Jesuit practice. There is a sense of equality among students, teachers, and administrators, and other school staff. Is can be seen in the trust teachers have in their students, the kindness students show to frequently forgotten staff members (such as janitors, cafeteria workers, etc.), or the flexibility within administrative staff. Creating an environment of trust and respect allows women and men (and non-binary folks) to work for others. This is an environment that could be reflected in elite and upper-class schools in the United States. It is not uncommon for “the best schools” to pride themselves on strict policies and enforced disciplinary measures, however, creating a community of equality and mutual respect will both reduce negative behavior and provide a space in which students recognize their potential to do good. In order to provide a just education to the global elite, there needs to be a recognition of the importance of the search for justice. The following are some examples of what this would look like in the United States:

In classrooms in Milwaukee -and around the united states- it should not only be schools in low-income areas with many students of color who are receiving increasingly diverse texts. There is a huge (and completely rational) push for teachers to diversify their texts so students are able to recognize people who they can identify with in their academic work. However, it is also important for privileged students to see people academia who do not look like them. Schools in the U.S. who educate primarily white, upper/middle class individuals should also receive texts featuring diverse sets of authors, illustrators, characters, scientists, researchers, activists, etc. Diverse text sets provide a foundation for focus on justice, as students are able to educate themselves on the challenges faced by marginalized groups in the U.S. This foundation needs to be followed up by independent research and exploration. Students should work in primarily inquiry models to learn about the world outside of their own privilege. Students can use this knowledge to create their own ideas for service, as opposed to schools creating and (sometimes) mandating service work. Students who have the opportunity to brainstorm ways to fight injustice will be more passionately engaged in the work, and the passion will carry through to student’s lives post-graduation.

There is no concrete list designing a curriculum to educate privileged students. There has to be an emphasis on a respectful school community, providing context and space for students to learn about injustice, and learning how to use educational resources to search for the root of injustice in the world. Fostering a commitment to equity in students is a step towards educating for justice for all.

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