Teaching with a social justice lens is incredibly rewarding, yet immensely daunting when just starting out. Every year, I introduce the concept formally to my 6th grade students about halfway through the year. Don’t get me wrong, social justice and equity issues are woven into the fabric of our discussions and explorations throughout the first half of the year. However, defining and implementing social justice, needs a carefully crafted classroom environment, one not created overnight.
So how do I begin introducing social justice to my 6th graders? I begin by having students define each word separately. What does “social” mean? What does “justice” mean? Below is the list my students crafted in February 2017 (as pictured above):
- a group of people who share similarities
- speaking up
- Batman (think Justice League)
- share opinions–freedom of speech
- ability to vote
Of course, being 6th graders, a lengthy debate ensued regarding the difference between equality and fairness. Interestingly, the students felt that fairness must include equality, yet equality does not necessarily include fairness.
Our goal as a class was to come up with a working definition of “social justice”. Working in small groups, students created their own definitions before bringing them to the whole group. As a group of 21 budding brains and 1 constantly amazed advisor, the following definition of social justice emerged:
Social Justice: creating a community where all people are treated both fairly and equally, with kindness and empathy for others who are not like you.
With this definition, we formally began our journey into a world with eyes opened wide and hearts ready to take action.