Our schools need social justice warriors, not status-quo embracers

As we dive head first into this school year, I urge teachers, parents and leaders to think deeply about the mission of schooling and the mission of teaching. In today’s racial and political climate, we can no longer afford to be conforming, passive, unimaginative and silent. We need innovative social justice warriors.

If teachers and leaders don’t decide to engage in a dialogue about curriculum, multiple literacies, diverse learning styles and the reality that many of our students come to us whole…then we are simply props in the system–a system that dehumanizes and exploits children. Who you are and what you believe as a teacher or a leader can be seen through choices and practices and techniques in curriculum, dialogue and engagement.

Teaching and leading is an action. It is a choice. Doing it for tomorrow’s learners is a deliberate examination of your beliefs and values. It requires a deep look into your moral compass. It is rooted in a sense of urgency to make changes that impact all students, especially the oppressed. Those who believe they are here to change the lives know that education is about freedom, power, and self-actualization. They operate with the goal of inspiring our young people to do and be more than what is expected of them.

Unfortunately, schooling has been a process of dehumanization. This is particularly true for children of color. School has marginalized their appearance, language, way of life, traditions and culture–attempting to make them better by assimilation to whiteness. This kind of schooling is a form of oppression.

Teachers have consciously (or subconsciously) spread an authoritarian way of schooling. It is top-down, one-dimensional, and passively received. The teacher becomes the voice in the room thinking, controlling and directing. The school leader becomes the conductor who plans, chooses, and controls.

Social Justice Schooling

If we want a freethinking society, we need freedom teaching and social justice schooling.  Teaching should tug at your moral obligation to challenge the existing social order–to think about what we defend and why we defend it, to think about the long-term impacts of the choices we make in the classrooms and in schools.

Educators looking to have an impact must ask questions like: How did things come to exist in my school or district? Who benefits from this existence and who suffers?

Teachers and leaders can continue to confirm to these policies or they can stand in opposition.

Standing in opposition and speaking up would be working on behalf of the kind of education that will allow all students to compete for what they are owed–for more power to change their lives and the world.

This is ultimately a choice. But if one doesn’t make a conscious decision to act in alignment with what they believe, then they unconsciously support the status quo.

And the status quo isn’t working.

 

Photo courtesy of Catalyst Chicago

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LeeAndra Khan

LeeAndra Khan

LeeAndra Khan is CEO of Civitas Education Partners, a charter management organization in Chicago. She served two years as a middle school principal in Oak Park, Illinois and formerly spent ten years in three Chicago high schools as a principal, assistant principal and math teacher. Before beginning her journey into education, she spent 10 years as a civil engineer designing roads, highways, gas stations and bridge inspections. LeeAndra is the mom of one son and the daughter of a retired Chicago Police Officer. She recently delivered a TEDx Talk on teacher voice and leadership beyond the classroom, where she tells a story about how a school culture transformed through more teacher influence.

  4 comments for “Our schools need social justice warriors, not status-quo embracers

  1. October 19, 2016 at 10:10 am

    We live in complex and challenging times, and we cannot be oblivious to how the turmoil around us impacts both our students and our work as educators. Learning cannot take place without thinking, and we must look for opportunities in our curriculum and assignments to promote critical thinking skills through reading, writing, and class discussions.

    We also need to refocus on the need to help our students develop the reading, writing, and math skills they will need in the future. To fail to do so robs them of tools they will need to improve both their own lives and the lives of those in their communities.

    Andrew Wilk

  2. Jennifer A. Thompson
    October 19, 2016 at 2:21 pm

    I was completely absorbed by your article. Thank you for your courage and recommendations.

  3. October 26, 2016 at 7:21 am

    Thank you for the passionate and focused article, Ms. Khan.

    I believe that green, healthy, and sustainable schools are pathways to social justice schooling. “If we want a freethinking society, we need freedom teaching and social justice schooling.” Equity and justice within nature, economy, society, and wellness are intersectional.

  4. November 4, 2016 at 5:02 pm

    I have a new hashtag for you Ms. Khan #LeeAndraKhanAcademy

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