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AERA Sessions Pinpoint the Necessity of Social Justice

042215_jsuticeChicago — The recent polarization of unarmed Black men killed by White police officers has sparked a sense of urgency to address as curriculum at the American Education Research Association (AERA) annual meeting last week. At the largest gathering in the field of education research, AERA scholars expressed the necessity of incorporating social justice into curriculum.

A panel that highlighted this year’s call to action, Toward Justice – Culture, Language and Heritage in Education Research and Praxis, “Bringing Ferguson to our Classrooms: The Implications of Michael Brown’s Teacher Curricula,” senior scholars discussed the significance of classroom conversations on the deaths of Brown, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride and most recently Walter Scott.

“We have to center the dialogue in terms of entrenchment or return. The death of Black people by way of law enforcement is not new to life in the United States for Black people. It has changed somewhat only because we now have visuals,” said panelist associate professor of educational policy studies and African-American studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago Dr. David O. Stovall.

In classroom settings at all levels, educators need to be prepared for responses from students that are not comfortable. “Be it high school students, undergraduate or graduate students, the issue is about how to use your curriculum to allow your young people to speak to their realities. When you question students about their realities, you have to be prepared for the searing responses they offer back,” said UCLA professor of education and director of the Black Male Institute Dr. Tyrone Howard.

These events have a significant impact on curriculum workers, and teachers need to understand how to address the issue of racism with their students. “Unfortunately, issues around Ferguson are not new and students may discuss similar accounts of family and friends that they may have lost in an unjust manner. Allow your students to educate you. Allow your students to enlighten you. Allow your students to talk about their reality that might be foreign to your existence,” Howard added.

Panelists also provided context to race in education issues in different regions of the country. “I’m sure most of you are aware of the teachers that were sentenced in Atlanta in the cheating scandal, which reminds us how conservative Georgia is, and, as the teacher, the first thing that I am unfortunately confronted with is that education is a political act. Many of my students are teachers in the districts where some of the sentenced came from and regularly address topics on violence against Black and Brown bodies in their classrooms,” said associate professor in the department of educational policy studies and an affiliate faculty member in the Alonzo A. Crim Center for Urban Educational Excellence and the Institute for Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Georgia State University Dr. Jennifer R. Esposito.

Other panelists weighed in on national implications of race within the framework of higher education. Assistant professor of teacher education at the University of San Francisco Dr. Richard Ayers commented on the nationwide lack of diversity in K-12 teaching.

“There are so many young White teachers going into teaching and not enough teachers of color coming in. We are in a country where African-American teachers were wholesale fired in New Orleans and teachers are now in prison in Georgia for the same thing that was done in the Texas Miracle. So, when we talk about wanting to diversify the teaching core in this country, yet we are firing and jailing Black teachers.”

Educating students on the shooting in Ferguson, Mo., and similar events with a social justice context can be emotionally taxing according to Dr. Bettina L. Love, assistant professor in the department of educational theory and practice at the University of Georgia. “We need to talk about the emotional labor it takes to do this type of work. It is not going to be on any tenure track criteria. You have to answer baseline questions from your students that can take you to another place. As we do this work as social justice educators, particularly at predominantly White institutions, it takes more work to bring levels of consciousness into the classroom.”

Questions on where to access information on social justice issues also came up during the panel. Dr. Stovall offered recommendations for teachers that may want to introduce social justice issues in their classrooms but are unsure where to begin. “One resource is the New York Collective of Radical Educators (NYCORE). When Hurricane Katrina occurred, NYCORE had a curriculum; when 9/11 and Ferguson happened, they also had a curriculum. Rethinking Schools is another good source for curriculum materials.”

For more information on AERA visit

Jamal E. Mazyck can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @jmbeyond7.

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