“The treatment of children from communities experiencing systemic oppressions—those at the intersection of race, gender, poverty and geography—will determine the fate of our democracy.” This statement from Learning for Justice Director Jalaya Liles Dunn in the Fall 2022 issue of Learning for Justice magazine reminds us to center the needs of young people.
Critical Practices for Social Justice Education is a resource to support K-12 educators in growing their understanding of social justice principles and integrating them into their practice. Formerly titled Critical Practices for Anti-Bias Education, this revised edition is informed by the current social and political landscape and acknowledges the ways educators have been challenged by increased political scrutiny, censorship and debate about what can be taught in schools.
Despite these challenges, educators across the country have renewed their commitment to inclusive, affirming and equitable education. And educators continue to uplift diverse perspectives to help students develop their understanding of themselves and others. This revised publication seeks to honor and continue the legacy of educators’ leadership in the pursuit of social justice by supporting teachers at every phase in their journey to develop their capacity as change agents.
Critical Practices for Social Justice Education is organized into four pillars, each representing a foundational aspect of social justice education:
I. Curriculum and Instruction helps educators select the content they teach, decide how to teach it, and assess students’ knowledge and skills. By using the strategies in this section, educators can support students’ understanding of justice and their ability to take action.
II. Culture and Climate provides educators with practical strategies and resources to create affirming, inclusive classrooms and schools. When students feel safe, seen and valued, they are more open to learning—not just from adults but also from one another.
III. Leadership encourages educators and students to continue learning about themselves and others, including beliefs about identity and the value of diversity. Developing leadership skills helps everyone—educators, students, families and school staff—recognize and dismantle unjust systems.
IV. Family and Community Engagement equips educators with ways to build meaningful relationships with students’ parents and caregivers. These relationships can help educators connect students’ home lives to school and draw upon the wisdom of families and communities.
Within each of the four pillars are topics with accompanying strategies. Each topic provides educators with a research-based understanding of a social justice education practice. And each topic aligns with Learning for Justice’s Social Justice Standards, which offer a road map for social justice education from grades K–12 and are organized into four domains: Identity, Diversity, Justice and Action. The strategies within each topic include explanations for ways educators can put the topic into practice. Critical Practices Appendix C: Online Supplement provides additional resources for each strategy.
Many of the pillars, topics and strategies in Critical Practices overlap. For example, educators who prepare their students for critical conversations on challenging topics may find they need to consider their own and their students’ identities when introducing the topic, to strengthen their classroom culture by co-constructing community agreements, and to facilitate the conversation by developing cooperative learning structures. They may also determine that engaging caregivers and community organizers provides added supports and perspectives that contribute to a more inclusive discussion. We encourage you to consider how the four pillars reinforce one another.
We hope this guide honors the social justice work you are already doing while providing information and tools to further develop your skills as an educator. While every teacher will use this guide differently, Critical Practices for Social Justice Education can help educators push back against the status quo and reimagine what’s possible for schools and communities so students may thrive in our diverse democracy.