The Limits of Social Justice Curriculum
For a number of decades now, the topic of social justice curriculum has dominated the progressive wing of education. Teaching culturally-relevant curricula, reading diverse books, focusing on social justice inside our classrooms is immensely important work. There are many great organizations that have centered that work such as Teaching for Change, Rethinking Schools, Teaching Tolerance, or Teachers for Social Justice here in Chicago. There are still a number of teacher prep programs and university-based educators who push for social justice curriculum in schools, although like everything else in neoliberal higher education, those programs are under attack.
However, I want to write today about the limitations of this kind of work in truly pushing for the liberatory change we need.
The Rise of Social Justice Curriculum Under Neoliberalism
First of all, let's be clear that the reason this form of social justice curriculum came into vogue was because of decades of attacks on working people and the repression of the uprisings we saw in the 60s and early 70s. The focus on the individual classroom experience for students outside the fight for systemic change-or even as a proxy for collective action-came about precisely because those movements of the 60s and 70s were being viciously beaten back. The collective had failed so so-called liberatory educators turned their focus to individuals. This shift happened throughout academica as neoliberalism took hold. The idea that became popular was if only students were exposed to histories that were relevant and told the often misrepresented or completely erased histories/herstories of people of color, working people, women, indigenous peoples, LGTBQ, or any other oppressed groups, students would learn more deeply and become advocates for change themselves.
Now I want to stop here to say, clearly and loudly, that I applaud the call for this type of full and culturally-relevant teaching. Learning about our world from outside the Ms. Katie's Ramblings: The Limits of Social Justice Curriculum: