Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What Is Social Justice?

I think MORE, if it wants to prominently label itself the "Social Justice Caucus," might benefit from telling us what that means. Perhaps they already have, and if someone will point out where, I'd be happy to acknowledge it on this page. The name seems to have frightened some people on my pal Chaz's blog, and it's drawn comments suggesting that MORE may take a public position on the Israeli-Palestinian controversy. Personally, I've seen no evidence they have, or will.

A problem with that label, in my view, is that it fails to differentiate MORE from the opposition--unless they explain themselves well. Whatever I may think about Unity-New Action, I have no reason to find they discriminate based on race, religion, age, or anything like that. As far as that goes, I fully support them. On its surface, social justice sounds great to me. I have no problem with it at all. Social justice, though, has to entail more than just lack of discrimination.

I don't speak for MORE, but I'm fairly certain they'd agree it's not remotely social justice to close schools. Schools are community centers and ought to belong to the communities they serve. I live in Freeport, NY, and when we were hit by Sandy we regularly held meetings in our schools. In fact, we actually have a recreation center which now serves as a contact center for FEMA. Social justice, to me, suggests more community involvement, and getting folks like Bloomberg and his BFF hedge-fund pals the hell out of neighborhoods.

Social justice suggests we should be proactive about helping the kids we serve, rather than simply testing them to death. It suggests we not judge our students simply by the grades they get. It suggests we look further into why they are getting such grades. In fact, the world doesn't need an entire society focused on academics. If kids don't like this sort of thing, and have talent for plumbing, carpentry, or whatever, we ought to be helping them into careers. If we're judging by test scores, we might as well judge by salary, and my plumber makes a lot more money than I ever will.

It suggests we seek out root causes for failure and yes, that we somehow push our society toward dealing with poverty, if that's what causes it. In fact, many teachers already do such things but are being moved away from them because of the ridiculous focus on test scores. How is it the teacher's fault if kids have an unstable home life, or no home at all? How is it the teacher's fault if kids have not yet learned English? Again, we need to look at kids as something more than test scores.

Social justice suggests we vehemently oppose things like mayoral control. Having a fake school board controlled by the richest man in New York is undemocratic and unacceptable. A union that believed in real social justice could not possibly support such a thing. Social justice suggests we support democracy, and oppose top-down mandates not only from our government, but from our union as well.

Also, if we are to have social justice, we must oppose teachers being judged by value-added, which is nothing more than junk science. It's unacceptable for working teachers to be evaluated for factors over which they have little or no control. It means due process for working teachers and working people, something I believe will be strongly diluted under the nonsensical new evaluation scheme.

Social justice means we do not write laws enabling such nonsense. It means we take care of all our members, fight school closings, and do not allow capable working teachers to fall into the awful Absent Teacher Reserve. It means we place each and every teacher in the ATR before we hire a single new teacher.

It means we care for the kids it is our honor to teach, and treat them with respect. It means we show them how to do the same for others. It means using common sense (which I realize is the least common of all the senses). It means an awful lot of things.

And frankly, I can't think of a single one of them that involves radical politics. Unless you consider caring for our fellow human beings to be radical. If you do, you probably shouldn't be teaching.

Because that, to a very large extent, happens to be our job.

Update: Mike Schirtzer from more says their vision of social justice is laid out here.
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