Wednesday, April 26, 2006

social freaking justice

I am writing, as usual, so that you will share my pain with me. I have to do an assignment for my student teaching seminar which will also be included in my "portfolio" (due in a month. Have I started? Of course not. Do I care? Not at all). I have been putting off this project all year because I think it is the epitome of the essence of quintessential bullshit. You know, it doesn't even warrant the gift of calling it bullshit, because I would much rather do something related to, or in conjunction with, the poop of cows, rather than this assignment. This is more like death by a thousand tiny but stupid lasers.

The assignment is a Social Justice Action Project. What is that, you ask? I answer: something that makes me want to weep and also whirl around and around like the Tasmanian Devil or a Dervish until I start to drill into the ground and then, upon entering the core of the earth, are exempted from this assignment. Here are the instructions I was given:

VII – Social Justice Culminating Project – Due April 13, 2006

Drawing upon your coursework and student teaching experiences related to diversity and social justice issues, develop and enact a social justice project. As a student teacher, you must check with your cooperating teacher and school on the viability of whatever project you decide to pursue. Choose one of the following options:

  • Invite a guest speaker to your class who will speak on issues of political accountability and educational equity. This person might be a local political office holder or a community activist. Following the speakers presentation, develop and instructional activity to be used with students that draws upon the presentation that was heard.
  • Develop a reading buddies program for your students, where they are paired with elementary students and engaged in an after-school literacy endeavor. You may choose to make this an extra-credit project for your students.
  • Involve your class in community activism. This might include student participation in a community event such as New York Cares Day.
  • If your school already has a service learning program in place, involve your class in one of the projects.
  • Develop a professional development experience for teachers that attempts to address and remediate the most pressing social justice issue at the school. Present your ideas to your colleagues at the school.
  • Develop and implement your own justice-oriented action project.

Your presentation of the social justice action project should include the following components:

An introductory description of the activist project (2 pages):

    • Page 1: How do you conceptualize a justice-oriented citizen? How do you make meaning of social justice and connect it to justice-oriented citizenship? How have your experiences as a high school student and as a student teacher exposed you to differences in resource allocation in schools?
    • Page 2: Which of the above action projects did you choose? What was the purpose of the project? Explain the features of the project you developed.
    • Lesson Plans: How will you debrief with your students? Will they have written reflective assignments? A class discussion? Please provide a detailed plan for how you will help students make meaning of their experiences, and think about future civic involvement.
    • A reflective journal describing the process of the project: What was your time frame for developing and enacting the project? What bureaucratic barriers did you encounter? How did you go about organizing the project? How did your colleagues and students react to the project? Was the experience meaningful for you and your students? Will you attempt these types of action projects in your future career?

Crazy, right? My personal favorite idea is to develop a social justice professional development for the teachers at my school. I can only imagine how they would react to something like that. I would probably be skinned alive. Another thing that I like is the reflective journal. Don't we all love reflective journals? I know I do. No one asks us to keep reflective journals on our teaching, or whether our kids are actually learning a goddam thing, but we have to keep a reflective journal on the process of a social justice action project that is ill-defined and which no one seems to be able to explain the purpose of? GREAT. THANK YOU, ED SCHOOL. I'm sure this is going to be so helpful to me in the future. Especially if I am on a game show called "Name That Ridiculous Ideological Nightmare" or "Things I Am Ashamed of" or "Something that Will Never, Ever Help a Student; Not Ever." Although I guess I haven't heard of a game show title with a semi-colon in it. But hey, I also had never heard of a social justice action project, and yet here it is.

The next question is: what am I going to do? Well, that was my question two days ago when I called my Mom crying and asked, "What am I going to do?" My biggest problem, other than the fact that I think taking up school time with this ridiculous nonsense is not only a waste of time but actually morally questionable (given the obviously partisan tone of the project and how far behind my students are in real school), was that I have my class of kids only 3 times a week. In the next month, seeing them 3 times a week, I have to get these kids from Industrialization through World War II. I have calculated that I have less than 5 days for all of World War I. So even one class period is precious. I could do it after school, but I actually use that time to plan actual lessons. That kids will actually learn from. So I was upset and convinced I wouldn't graduate. Which, considering, would not be too disappointing. As it is, I plan to never speak of this school or degree ever again, unless I have to. "Do you have any master's degrees, Laura?" they'll ask. "Only from the school of hard knocks," I'll say. Anyway, my mom, being a very sensible lady, pointed out that I am teaching the Gilded Age right now, and had a lesson coming up on the vast gap between rich and poor, and that I could use that! Think of it! Doing a for an assignment in grad school! She is truly brilliant. Seriously, people, you just wish you had a mom like mine. She flies and stuff.

So now it is time to write this up. I'm somewhat afraid that I will be failed on this assignment. However, I will keep my dignity and self-respect anyway. I will keep you updated. Send your prayers, or, if you have the power, please fire the people responsible for this project. Hey, you never know who's reading. (i.e. God).


At April 26, 2006 8:51 PM, Anonymous Sherman Dorn said...

Yes, your mom's wonderful. You could expand it by presenting your lesson plan (either in person or just in paper) to any other history teachers whom you've said hello to in the school and ask them something like, "Are there any suggestions you would have to help the students understand the debates over wealth and poverty at the time? I'm a little concerned that this might be too removed from the present for them to grasp it." That invites contemporary parallels without its being a loaded question, it's tied to the curriculum, ... and I'm sure you can think of some others, too.

At April 26, 2006 10:03 PM, Blogger Rob said...

In my industrialization unit, I did a lesson on child labor using some photos by Lewis Hine. Everyone's against child labor. And if the lesson ended early, God help me, I played Bobby Darin's "Artificial Flowers," one of the weirdest songs ever.

Maybe also Jacob Riis? But Hine is better.

At April 26, 2006 10:46 PM, Anonymous Lori Jablonski said...

Your mother, Dorn and Rob have terrfic ideas. I also use Hine's photos ...the kids are riveted...juxtapose the unbelievable technological and economic innovations with immigration issues, life in the tenements, ungodly environmental degradation and child labor. Use this to teach about the muckrackers and calls for governmental intervention...ask them to speculate what muckrackers today might focus about encouraging them to become muckrackers themselves. WWI was the impetus for huge social about the African American migration north, the growth of the clout of the NAACP and leading activists (WEB DuBois for one) and the focus on insisting the government take action against lynching...

I could go on and on and everything above reflects elements of the teaching standards in my state, CA. No worries about staying tied to the curriculum. Also, no worries about completing the assignment for your program. Finally, students seem to really engage with this stuff and terrific supplementary materials are readily available both in libraries on online. And YES I have experience (six years) with very low performing students.

At April 26, 2006 11:06 PM, Anonymous Lori Jablonski said...

Good grief just read my post...lots of "how abouts" there, but you get the picture. (End of the day commenting is risky business, esp. for a teacher who uses her real kids would think this hilarious.)

At April 27, 2006 7:04 AM, Blogger CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

Since you'd actually rather work with cow poop than with the BS that the ed school shovels your way, why not take your kids to a local farm (surely there's one within at least an hour of the school) and see if the farmer (you'll have to find a small, family farm, not one of those corporate thingies) will let your kids help muck out the barn. Now THAT'S basic community activism! :-)

At April 27, 2006 10:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Much of what my teaching program requires is utterly ridiculous. I hate, hate, hate all the reflections on reflecting. But guess what? I went to business school before teaching and what we did there was just as inane. I wish things were different but it seems to be the price of admission. Those who really want to teach and teach well and who love the students do what they need to do, complain to their friends and loved ones and get over it. The whining here is simply too much and points out why I'm not sure what I think about edu-blogging at this stage of its development: a few gems tucked in among piles and piles of unproductive, self-indulgent rants that magnify life's annoyances into seemingly cataclysmic events. You'll be fine.

I won't be back. Good luck.

At April 27, 2006 1:55 PM, Blogger Carrie K said...

Aw. So sad anonymous won't be back. What does he think blogging is? Blowing off steam. It's supposed to be filled with non stop bon mots? Yeah, right.

I'm just glad I don't teach. OR take classes in teaching. Social justice?

At April 29, 2006 7:05 PM, Anonymous J Scanlan said...

Good comments all, A basic observation -90% of anything is BS. But the social justice piece is a bit bigger than you seem to think. A couple of factoids, 1)in the USA current CEO salaries are 400 to 500 times the average worker wage, 30 years ago is was 50 times. 2) the 500 richest people on the planet have as much total wealth as the bottom half of the whole planet. That portion of the population lives on $2.00 a day or less. Do you think that this wealth disparity is sustainable? A suggestion for a resource:

At April 29, 2006 8:46 PM, Blogger newoldschoolteacher said...

Wow, anonymous is a mean guy. I started the blog precisely so I wouldn't have to complain to my friends and loved ones. If I did, they would be forced to listen to it because they are my friends and loved ones. This way, nobody has to read if they don't want to, and I feel better anyway. Everyone wins. Except anonymous, I guess.

At April 29, 2006 8:49 PM, Blogger newoldschoolteacher said...

Oh, and to address jscanlan's point--I totally agree that our society's wealth disparity is appalling. That is why I am in teaching--to help those at the bottom tap into some of the wealth and opportunity that exists at the top. I think trying to close the gap is more important than talking about how bad it is, especially when the students I am teaching know how bad it is from personal experience. And it's not as if I shy away from topics relating to wealth and poverty--I just resent being forced into a seemingly ideological position by a school project that wastes the students' time as well as my own.

At April 30, 2006 11:01 AM, Anonymous Lori Jablonski said...

You are correct that your students’ personal experience reflects the great disparities in our society. I know you know this already (and I certainly don’t mean to lecture here), but a huge part of successful teaching – especially the successful teaching of US History – is helping the students see how the historical development of the nation is reflected in their lives, in fact in all of our lives, today. A strong social studies curriculum taught by a strong teacher allows these connections to be revealed and from there allows students to discover new possibilities for their own lives. Perhaps the greatest lesson for me when I started teaching very low-income students is how income disparity works to socially isolate Americans from one another. Until I began teaching this idea was merely an abstraction to me. Now I live it every day. It is impossible for me to teach without talking about it from time to time. (And because you note that you don’t shy away from issues of wealth and poverty I would bet you do this too.) Tomorrow, I expect a fair number of students will walk out of school as part of the national “day without an immigrant.” Whether one agrees with this political act or not it cannot be ignored and it certainly will be discussed openly in my classes.

I agree that your social justice assignment is rather divorced from the realities of student teaching (suggesting that a student teacher hold an in-service is just plain comical), but I don’t see how it is necessarily partisan/ideological. I offered my earlier suggestions to demonstrate that you can address such issues without straying from the curriculum; others did too.

I think you’ve made it clear that you use this blog (and it is your blog after all) to vent, and you are a very entertaining writer and I sense a talented teacher-in-training. But I really hope that you don’t allow the resentment you express here to capture you. We need smart, talented and skillful teachers who understand and defend the most important idea you’ve expressed (and more who are willing to share their successes, not just their frustrations in their public writings). Teaching, especially teaching low-income children is social justice. Brava.

At May 01, 2006 2:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey lory, it's cate. i know we have pretty different views on education, and it's good for me over the last few months to read this blog and get challenged by your perspective. this time, i have to comment... it's disappointing that you don't see how integrating a social justice project into your history classroom could be useful to students.

from your other posts, it seems clear that many of your students are very disengaged - don't care about turning in homework or studying for quizzes.

connecting the study of historical social movements to the work that local activists are doing today could be a great way to help your students see how history is relevent to their lives.

but hey, i'm biased, i work at a school that is founded around social justice ideals and manages to have high test scores.

I quote:

Social Justice Curriculum

The Southside Family School social justice curriculum educates children and the larger community about the underlying social problems that foster racism, sexism, classism and homophobia.

By addressing these issues at an early age, Southside Family school:
Encourages children to see themselves as citizen activists who can change the world
Helps children avoid internalizing the effects of discrimination by teaching a history of organized opposition to injustice

The social justice curriculum motivates children to:
Improve their basic skills
Study history
Think critically
Aspire to the achievements of the role models they study and meet

read more here:


At May 01, 2006 9:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate whinny teachers. Enjoy difficult ideas, dig into complex projects. Naw, let's just complain and say I care about kids. Typical edu speak. You wonder why most adults find teachers a little stupid?

At May 02, 2006 11:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you meant:
adj : habitually complaining; "a whining child" [syn: fretful, querulous, whiney, whining(a)]

not- whin·ny
v. intr.
To neigh, as a horse, especially in a gentle tone.

But of course, what do I know.... Just another "little stupid" future teacher.

At May 03, 2006 2:03 PM, Blogger The Rain said...

A couple of thoughts:

1) This strikes me as a bit of a selection problem. Did you not know going in that there was a social justice component to the curriculum at this school?

2) I wish I could tell you that the hoop-jumping ends once you're truly and gainfully employed, but (as I sit here researching retention and filling out ADD screens and writing up a justification to attend a conference on Read Naturally) there's always, always going to be one more thing.

At May 03, 2006 4:57 PM, Anonymous Theonlyclassmatewhoknowsaboutthisblog said...

Nice job letting people know how ridiculous our school is. Remember though, you have a vocal partner in the fight :-)

At May 03, 2006 6:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Such a reaction to an assignment that actually has the option for you to do your own thing! When I read your post I immediately thought of the 19th Amendment, smack dab in the stuff you need to cover. Draw a connection to the fight for African American voting rights post- Civil War and beyond. The action part could be asking the kids to go out and survey the adults they know about voting. Do they vote? Can they vote? Why? Why Not? With their learning about the fight for voting rights the project could really have a lasting impact in terms of its relevance. Of course, teacher attitude and guidance is key.

This assignment may be overblown and at least partly impractical in terms of the options, but how is it partisan or really ideological? No where does it say invite a representative from Mumia Abu-Jamal's defense committee. It's really wide open.

At May 03, 2006 7:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm the one that's missing the point here. Or maybe some of the other commenters are.

To me, the point is that you are being asked to build a lesson that basically points out "social injustices" or seeks to overcome same. I think you perceive this as being ideological and/or partisan.

Many of the commenters have attempted to be helpful by suggesting ways that you could illustrate social injustice or help your students understand how they are victims of social injustice. They are completely blind to the ideology contained in such a message.

I see it as ideological, because I have a different ideology. Your students may be poor, but that doesn't make them victims of an unjust society. In fact, they are being provided an education. If they study hard, they can get into good universities. If they continue to work hard, they can have wildly successful careers. America is the land of opportunity, and your job is an example of an opportunity being offered to your students.

That some CEO makes more in a day than I make in a year doesn't make me a victim. I am free to start my own company and reap whatever rewards I earn.

Many of your students may have difficult life situations. For example, many may be children of single parents. That is not due to an unjust society, though. It may be due to misfortune or bad personal decisions by key people, but society did not victimize the kids.

Indoctrinating them to believe that they have no opportunity, that society is against them, and that successful people somehow are beneficiaries of a rigged system would be doing these students a grave disservice. It is far better to explain for them how much they could gain by EARNING a 1500 on their SATs or a 30 on their ACTs. Opportunity is out there, but one can't passively wait to find out if one is a victim or a beneficiary.

At May 03, 2006 8:23 PM, Anonymous Call me THE INDOCTRINATOR said...

...and explain to us how teaching about the 19th Amendment (it is in every US History course of study by the way) followed up with a voting survey as the required action project would be indoctrinating the students to believe they have no opportunity? Jeesh! Yes, you did miss the point.

At May 09, 2006 3:14 PM, Anonymous Barry G. said...

I'm in ed school myself. Teaching about social justice seems to be if not a requirement, then at least something they want every teacher to think about, using Kozol as the model. I wish to teach math, and have no intention of working social justice into the curriculum. I think today's math texs and programs, (denatured because of NCTM's standards and NSF buying into them), and the charlatans at book companies that push the NSF-sponsored texts to unsuspecting school districts, are an extreme social injustice to students rich or poor. Teaching is about giving students options. Perhaps someone decided that engineering, math,and science are for nerds and therefore it is justifiable to keep students from pursuing careers in those fields.

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