7 Ways to Cultivate Social Justice in the Classroom

By Shawnteria Mack and Megan Spring
CCA high school English teachers Mrs. Shawnteria Mack and Ms. Megan Spring share how educators can practically and biblically ensure that all students’ personal narratives are represented in the classroom. Learn how such instructional intentionality plays an important role in a child’s development.

The classroom is often the first place a child will consistently engage with others who represent a myriad of backgrounds and experiences. As teachers, we have the blessing of being surrounded by the richness of culture and vibrant tapestry of races and hues that our students bring to our classrooms — yes, even our virtual ones!

By serving as facilitators and tone-setters in the classroom, teachers play a crucial role in helping children develop their first understanding of culture. Educators have the opportunity to intentionally use their platform of influence to promote peace, unity, and social justice. At Calvary Christian Academy (CCA), we desire to see our students represent the Lord as they matriculate into the world and advocate on behalf of those whose voices are often overlooked, misunderstood, or silenced.
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” —Proverbs 31:8-9
In the book The Light in Their Eyes, the author, Sonia Nieto (2010) argues that because culture is always changing, curriculum and pedagogy should also be dynamic and changing to meet the needs of those in the classroom. Teachers and administrators at CCA recognize the need to teach beyond standards and objectives. We believe students’ social experiences and development are a key part of their education. A student's rich understanding and appreciation of culture will positively manifest in their everyday interactions with people who may look, act, or think differently than they do.

Our definition of “culture” is derived, in part, by our personal and educational experiences. Culture is the meshing of hues, experiences, languages, foods, and interactions to create life. Furthermore, since culture is a fluid concept, Nieto (2010) takes the fluidity of culture a step further by defining the change in culture as “. . . much like a transfusion: As one culture is emptied out of a person, a new one is poured in” (p. 79).
Educators have the opportunity to intentionally use their platform of influence to promote peace, unity, and social justice.
Social justice, in an educational context, involves giving a voice to every student from every background that is represented in the classroom. When students listen to and affirm the stories and experiences of their peers, they are able to see how masterful and divine our Creator truly is.

The term social justice also ties back to Jesus’ ministry. He gave a voice to the voiceless and a place of belonging to those who had no identity to claim for their own. The Bible affirms the idea of culture serving as a conduit to social justice through its use of narratives. Scripture being in the form of a metanarrative and Jesus’s choice to hinge His ministry on narrative illustrates social justice unfolding through personal stories. Many Bible stories buck tradition by centering the narrative around an unlikely hero in order to highlight the redemptive power and ultimate heroic nature of our God.
A student's rich understanding and appreciation of culture will positively manifest in their everyday interactions with people who may look, act, or think differently than they do.
For example, throughout the time in which Scripture was written, women were often considered inherently deceitful—villainized because of Eve’s original sin. As such, a woman’s testimony was invalid in a court of law. However, throughout Scripture, we find Jesus redeeming women’s testimonies, allowing them to reclaim their birthright of heroism. The woman at the well became the catalyst for her town to know Jesus; the women first at the empty tomb became the first bearers of the Gospel, and even the parables Jesus used to convey ultimate truth conveyed women as protagonists as opposed to antagonists. This is exemplified in the parable of the woman and the lost coin.
Our teachers instruct in response to the individualized needs of the beautifully dynamic student body that is represented at our school.
Each one of our stories reflects a strand on the grand tapestry God has woven through His creation — the grandest metanarrative of them all. This is why CCA weaves the idea of social justice into its curriculum choices and literature exploration in the classroom. Our teachers instruct in response to the individualized needs of the beautifully dynamic student body that is represented at our school.

Practically and biblically, educators at all schools can follow these seven simple steps to cultivate a learning environment that acknowledges the significance of social justice:

  1. Seek wisdom from others and ask questions!
  2. Be ready to be uncomfortable
  3. Ground lessons in the lives of your students
  4. Create lessons that cause students to wrestle with critical issues
  5. Engage personally in dynamic experiences and seek out multiple perspectives
  6. Allow for participation and student exploration
  7. Strive for culturally sensitivity, collaboration, and honesty

Narrative has inherent value. It has the ability to tell of a single person, a group of people, and humanity as a whole. As educators, we must give our students’ individual narratives worth, create safe spaces for them to be shared, and pray that they develop a godly sense of justice, fairness, and righteousness that honors all individuals.

Are you a Christian education professional who’s looking to make a difference and make disciples of Jesus Christ in a biblical environment? Good news — CCA is hiring! Click here to view available positions.

 
Shawnteria Mack, M.Ed. is a high school English teacher at Calvary Christian Academy and has worked at CCA for 5 years. She is currently writing her dissertation for her Ph.D. in Language, Literature, Literacy and Culture. She is married to Dr. Mack, a high school counselor at CCA. Together, they have three children who also attend Calvary Christian Academy.

Megan Spring, M.A. is a high school English teacher at Calvary Christian Academy and has worked at CCA for 4 years. She is currently in the early stages of pursuing her Ph.D. in Language, Literature, and Culture. She is an avid paddler, outdoor enthusiast, and sports fan. Her most recent adventure took her on a paddle journey from the Florida Keys to Lake Michigan.

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  • Kimberlee Aliapoulios
    Great article. I like stepping outside of my comfort zone and approaching subjects that cause our students to really think outside of the “box”. Christ set that example for us. Let us carry the torch!

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