Written by Megan French, Atlas
Transforming the construct of social justice into an explicit teaching topic in the classroom is no easy task, regardless of the grade level being taught. I can only imagine the challenges a teacher might have in finding effective resources to bring this topic to the forefront of their curriculum. Regardless of the challenge, the importance of integrating the teaching of social justice in the classroom is undeniably essential. For this reason, Faria Education Group is highlighting the Social Justice standards that were created by the organization Learning for Justice. Our goal for this blog is to provide an overview of these standards for teachers interested in using them but who are not yet familiar with their layout and format. In order to do so, we will begin by looking at the domains reflected throughout the standards.
Learning for Justice’s Social Justice Standards are divided into four domains – Identity, Diversity, Justice, and Action. These domains as well as their corresponding anchor standards set the foundation for specific grade-level outcomes from kindergarten through high school. Each domain offers a unique but equally important teaching piece for a classroom that aims to develop empathetic and inclusive social behaviors in students.
The first piece, Identity, empowers students to develop their own identities, discover others’ identities without judgement and encourage students to embrace not only their own individuality, but those of their peers as well.
The second domain is Diversity, which provides anchor standards that encourage students to empathize with and respect a diverse audience, be able to respectfully discuss similarities and differences in others, and obtain a deeper understanding of what diversity means within a social, historical and political context.
Identity and Diversity might appear to have some overlap, but they also offer different teachings that, when combined, will result in a student’s deeper understanding of how to embrace one’s own individuality and that of others. If a student is able to view themselves as a unique individual with their own qualities and traits (identity), it is oftentimes easier to explore, understand and support the differences that exist in others (diversity).
When one embraces individuality and diversity, it also becomes easier to recognize that others cannot, that discrimination exists, and that there is plenty of injustice in the world due to this discrimination.
The third domain, Justice, focuses on this area. This domain offers standards that encourage students to explore the idea of individual bias and institutional discrimination in an honest way. Vocabulary such as “biased speech”, “privilege” and “discrimination” are used in these standards, allowing for explicit teachings on injustice that encourages more profound discussions. Historical biases such as Jim Crow laws, women’s prevention from voting, and the LGBT community being denied the right to marry can be taught through a more complex and authentic lens. Using standards that focus on justice in such a way can also help teachers explain not merely that these events occurred, but why they occurred.
The final domain that Learning for Justice includes in their standards is Action, another essential piece to complete the framework for anti-bias education. The anchor standards provided under this domain empower students to empathize with those who have been treated unfairly due to their identities, strategize how to effectively speak out against discriminatory actions, and develop an overall sense of responsibility to fight injustice through collective action. Being willing and able to take a stand can be a difficult mentality to develop in oneself, but these standards provide clear, well-thought out language to help guide students to such a mindset.
Within each domain lies specific outcomes that are tailored to every age, thus providing the opportunity to teach social justice in every classroom. To accompany these standards, Learning for Justice provides plenty of resources to support teachers. One of these resources includes PD Modules with example lessons that are built upon the domains and anchor standards discussed above. They also offer a Learning Plan Builder where teachers can choose appropriate texts, develop student assessments and plan out classroom activities that encompass the goals of the standards. There are many ways in which these standards can be used in Atlas as well. For example, one school in New York created an entire anti-bias course for their K-2 curriculum. They built one unit for each domain in their Atlas unit planner, aligned to the domain’s corresponding standards, and included activities that focused on each domain in isolation. Another school in New Jersey integrated the standards into their Social Studies units for high schoolers. Their standards alignments included both the state’s social studies standards and Learning for Justice’s Social Justice Standards. As a result of this mix, their essential questions and enduring understandings directly correlated to topics such as diversity and injustice in addition to the historical events themselves.
As I read through the Social Justice Standards, I could see a complex subject being turned into an organized, focused framework that teachers can use to plan out their anti-bias teachings. Through these standards, this organization seems to have made a significant impact on the integration of anti-bias education in schools, and I believe they are headed in the right direction for accomplishing their goal to “plan and carry out collective action against bias and injustice in the world”.
To hear more about these standards and how teachers are currently using them in Atlas, please check out Teaching Tolerance’s webinar below!