Social justice education matters for all students

An edited version of this response was printed in the March 12th edition of the Capital Gazette.

In James Braswell’s March 8th editorial, readers were given a partial history lesson to argue against social justice education.  Mr. Braswell’s open and unfettered words gave us a glimpse into thinking that is, unfortunately, shared by others.  It is tempting to take his argument point by point and offer a counter narrative.  I could try to explain to him that what he calls an insidious platform is a genuine attempt to ensure that all students understand themselves and their peers better.  I could try to persuade Mr. Braswell that the progressive values he derides are the same values this country was founded on – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Additionally, I might try to explain to him that equity is not solely about outcomes; it is about opportunities.

Mr. Braswell notes that hard work will lead to success.  While this is fundamentally true, it ignores the reality for people of color in America.  School districts have a responsibility to reflect on their practices to make sure students are given opportunities to succeed.  I might also argue with Mr. Braswell that equity is not an in-vogue concept that is poisoning our public schools.  In fact, by addressing and highlighting issues around equity, our students will better understand their place in the world.

Mr. Braswell is, however, partially right.  It is not about feelings, it is about knowledge.  When we shelter our students from discussions about the real world, we do them a disservice.  Students who are not given a chance to discuss and debate current events in a safe and structured environment won’t be able to do it on their own.  Social justice education and focusing on equity helps build resilient and capable students.  Our children are not falling behind.  That is a weak argument made by those who want to suggest that students are losing something when schools address social justice and equity issues.  They are not.

I could argue these points with Mr. Braswell, but I doubt I could bring him to understand that his daughter, her school, and his great community all benefit from the efforts of the AACPS Office of Equity and Accelerated Student Achievement.  My focus will remain on my students.  It is hard to change the opinions of adults who politicize well-intentioned and thoughtful curriculum choices.  With children, however, you can see the difference that social justice education makes.  When you see students expressing pride, confidence, and a healthy self-esteem while recognizing the dignity of others, you know your work matters.  You know it matters to all students.  That’s enough for me and that’s why I’ll continue wearing orange.