The National Association for Multicultural Education
Advancing and Advocating for Social Justice & Equity
Social Justice Consciousness
Students recognize unfairness on the individual level and injustice at the institutional or systemic level, locally, nationally, and globally, analyzing its harmful impact on themselves and others. They link their own well-being with that of people who differ from themselves and understand that one’s well-being may result from the marginalization of others. They identify key figures and groups, seminal events, strategies and philosophies relevant to social justice history around the world. Students also actively pursue alternative perspectives by searching for and examining traditionally marginalized viewpoints and ways of knowing and being.
Evidence shows that students of color and, to a lesser extent white students, can learn to analyze individual unfairness and systemic injustice, locally, nationally, and globally, in terms of its harmful impact on oneself and others, when a curriculum designed to decolonize students’ understandings focuses directly on these issues, and teachers use a pedagogy that supports students as they struggle with difficult issues.
Students created this video illustrating how teaching and learning about injustices works in Marisol Moreno's fourth grade classroom.
Evidence shows that through “critical service learning,” students of all ages can learn to hear and seek out marginalized perspectives about oppression as people experience it.
Evidence that supportive and critical analysis of popular cultural forms can help adolescents of color develop critical consciousness and healing.
Cammarota, J., & Romero, A. (2009). The Social Justice Education Project: A critically compassionate intellectualism for Chicana/o students. In W. Ayers, T. Quinn & D. Stovall (Eds.), Handbook for social justice education (p. 465-476). New York: Routledge. Describes the curriculum, pedagogy, and relationships used in a Mexican American studies program in four high schools, in which students learned to do research into problems in their own community.
Flynn, J. E. (2017). Speaking up and speaking out? Long-term impact of critical multicultural pedagogy. Multicultural Perspectives 19(4), 2-7-214. Follow-up study of seven adolescents (6 of them white) who had taken a middle school course that included "race discussions." Four years later, the young people were still able to situate race issues within a structural understanding of racism, and had maintained a comfort in discussing race and racism, speaking out about it on various occasions. However, for their increased consciousness to translate into action, their education should have continued to address race and racism; students were critical that it did not.
Halagao P. E. (2010). Liberating Filipino Americans through decolonizing curriculum. Race Ethnicity & Education 13 (4), 495-512. Follow-up survey of 35 students who had participated in a college-level Filipino Studies curriculum about 10 years earlier; 30 were Filipino American and 5 were Euro-Americans. Students reported that he curriculum, through its process of decolonization, helped them to develop a lasting sense of empowerment and self-efficacy, as well as a life commitment to diversity and multiculturalism.
Hughes, J. M., Bigler, R. S., & Levy, S. R. (2007). Consequences of learning about historical racism among European American and African American children. Child Development, 78, 1689–1705. Experimental study documenting the impact on elementary children of a few short stories about people of color and racism. The lessons teaching about racism and successful challenges to it, as opposed to simply adding a few African Americans to the curriculum improved racial attitudes White children, and improved the regard of African American children for African Americans.
Tyson, C. A. (2002). “Get up off that thing:” African American middle school students respond to literature to develop a framework for understanding social action. Theory and Research in Social Education 30 (1), 42-65. Case study examining impact of literature about social issues on an African American urban middle school social studies class of 20 students, documenting students’ developing understanding of complexities of social action.
Epstein, S. E. & Oyler, C. (2008). “An inescapable network of mutuality”: Building relationships of solidarity in a first grade classroom. Equity & Excellence in Education 41 (4), 405-416. Case study of how a first grade teacher worked to build solidarity between her students and a marginalized community group by engaging students in interviews with child laborers in their community
Mitchell, T. D. (2007). Critical-service learning as social justice education: A case study of the Citizen Scholars Program. Equity & Excellence in Education 40(2): 101-112. Case study of the Citizen Scholars Program, a four semester service-learning experience with an explicit aim to develop students' capacities to act for positive social change. Reports that a critical service-learning pedagogy encourages students to think more deeply about and develop commitments to act for social justice.
Ringstad, R., Leyva, V. L., Garcia, J., & Jaysek-Risdahl, K. (2012). Creating space for marginalized voices: Refocusing service learning on community change and social justice. Description of participatory action research project in a homeless shelter, and of the deep impact the experience had on students’ sensitivity and understanding of the complexity of instituting a change such as a homeless shelter.
Turner, K. C. Nat, Hayes, N. V., & Way, K. (2013). Critical multimodal hip hop production: A social justice approach to African American language and literacy practices. Equity & Excellence in Education 46(3): 342-354. Qualitative study of the transformative impact on 30 urban youth of color, of a pedagogical approach – Critical Multimodal Hip Hop Production (CMHHP), which engages youth in a participatory action research project in which they theorize about the data in relationship to their lives, their school, and community.
Hill, M. L. (2009). Wounded healing: Forming a story-telling community in hip hop lit. Teachers College Record 111(1): 248-293. Year-long qualitative case study in a small urban high school, of personal narratives within an English course, Hip-Hop Lit. The course produced a practice of "wounded healing," in which people bearing the scars of suffering shared their stories in ways that provided a form of release and relief for themselves and others. Study documents how students were able to recognize the commonality of their experiences, challenge various ideologies, and produce new knowledge.