07 SES 01 A, Teachers' Views on Social Justice
This paper presents an analytical framework for understanding the pursuit of social justice in urban schools. The framework draws from three perspectives: justice in the city (Cohen, 2013), urban political regimes (Dreier, Mollenkopf & Swanstrom, 2004), and existential responsibility (First Author, 2007). While we did our work in the US, we believe that the framework can be applied in European urban LEAs, as well as other parts of the developed world. We leave it to other scholars located in those countries to do so, as well as scholars working in the developing world to test the usefulness of the framework there.
We show how the framework has been applied in the US to an externally funded teacher leadership development project that is a collaboration between an urban local educational authority (LEA) and a research university located within the boundaries of the LEA. We focus on an action research course that we co-taught, and how the pursuit of justice did or did not manifest itself in the teacher leaders’ work as seen through the lens of the course.
In Justice in the City Cohen (2013) argues that to pursue justice obliges us to: 1) construct our urban spaces so that we are able to hear the cry of the poor; 2) protest against injustice in our urban spaces; and 3) to make our actions occasions of justice. Like cities, schools are communities of obligation in which we ought to hear the cry of those marginalized because of poverty, race, ethnicity, gender and/or sexual orientation. We include teachers in this group because the political forces described below are marginalizing them.
Dreier et al. (2004) posit three types of urban political regimes: liberal, progressive, and conservative. Liberal regimes are based on the assumption that an expansion of government services will improve the quality of life of residents, and will help to ease social class boundaries. Progressive regimes, in addition, seek to empower disenfranchised groups and to limit the influence of business. Conservative regimes seek to solve problems of cities and public schools by running them like businesses, with careful attention paid to costs, outcomes, and accountability.
[First author] argues that responsibility is a consequence of the existentialist tenet that the self emerges through experience (Greene, 1973; 1988), and that the possibility of freedom requires the responsible person to attempt to uncover which constraints are real, and which are constructed by our beliefs and the historical, biographical, social, political and moral milieu in which we are immersed (Britzman, 1986).
In this paper we hade hoped to tell a story of a group of teacher leaders who make their work opportunities for justice. Instead we learned about the power of the conservative regime that permeates schooling in the US and elsewhere in the world (e.g., Black, 1998; Blanchard, Southerland, & Granger, 2009; Cochran-Smith, 2005). The significance of our study is that it demonstrates how the use of our framework uncovered the ways that the accountability systems employed within conservative regimes affect the beliefs of teacher leaders, leading to the perversion of their desires for justice in their schools into mechanistic and prescribed actions that are focused on upholding and strengthening LEA and state policies; unfortunately, exacerbating existing injustices.
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