Social justice education

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. Nelson Mandela

Social justice is concerned with the ways in which benefits and burdens are distributed among the members of a society. This includes the fairness in which a society provides, protects and recognises the means and qualities individuals require to both determine a conception of, and live, a good life.

There are many methods that scholars use to evaluate the extent to which a society is just, most of which seek to assess the quality or wellbeing of individuals in that society. For example, indicators used include: observance of/adherence to declarations of human rights, Gross National Product per capita (GDP), Gross National Happiness (GNH), Social Progress Index, OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) Better Life Index, Human Development Index and so on. Most of these involve measuring levels of one or more of the following indicators in relation to either, or both, the national average or the individual person: material wealth, income, employment, health, safety and security, education, equality and opportunities to exercise valued human capabilities.

Child at RedfernOn many important indicators, the disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, which can be considered as arising through no personal fault of the individuals reported in the statistics, can be considered a social injustice. Closing the gap in the achievement of such indicators is considered a social justice imperative. The Prime Minister’s Closing the Gap Report documents the progress made on targets set by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in 2008

The role of education in achieving social justice report

Social justice education is concerned with achieving equitable and quality education for all students. As prominent social justice education theorist, Lee Ann Bell (1997) puts it:

“… [S]ocial justice education is both a process and a goal. The goal of social justice education is full and equal participation of all groups in society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs. Social justice includes a vision of society in which the distribution of resources is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure. We envision a society in which individuals are both self-determining (able to develop their full capacities), and interdependent (capable of interacting democratically with others).”

Social justice would involve achieving the two aspects of anti-racism education: the curricular justice goal, which aims to deliver curricular justice to Indigenous students and the wider responsibility goal, which aims to redress social disadvantage including, importantly, reducing racism (Vigliante 2007, p. 103).

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Bell, L 1997, ‘Theoretical foundations for social justice education’, in Adams, M, Griffin, P & Bell, L (eds), Teaching for diversity and social justice: a sourcebook, Routledge, New York.

Vigliante, T 2007, ‘Social justice through effective anti-racism education: A survey of pre-service teachers’, Journal of Educational Enquiry, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 103–128.

Image: Phoenix Wunba Briscoe, a proud Ku Ku Yalanji descendant. Photograph by Luke Briscoe (2013). The photo was taken at ‘the Block’, Redfern – an urban iconic meeting place and a symbol of hope for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.