What is social justice education? Is it leading the pickets at local MPPs’ offices? Is it taking a class trip to the site of pipeline demonstrations? Is it even possible to be a social justice educator in the face of all our paperwork, policy, and prepping? In his book, Social Justice Education: Stories and Strategies for Teachers, Blair Niblett explores the more subtle side of what it means to work from a narrative of advocating for social change from within the education system.
The text is set up in two sections and the first half explores the theory behind the practice. It acts as a primer for those of us taking their fledgling steps into working to help students embrace equity, the environment, compassion, and justice. It works as a timely reminder for those of us in the profession who are perhaps feeling like we just can’t sustain the fight any longer. Focusing on the historic frameworks of John Dewey and Paulo Freire, Niblett contextualizes the value of a social justice-focused education model. He provides a detailed, yet wholly accessible analysis of the work of these two theorists, reminding education workers that education is an inherently political practice, predicated on principles of democracy and fairness. He then models hands-on practical applications of these theories throughout the book, sharing easy-to-follow activities under the banner “Praxis Points.” The how-to activities include group work and individual check-ins for the educator that work as simple ways of embedding social justice into educational practice.
The second half of the book is filled with stories from real educators who are embedding their own forms of social justice work in their practice. Niblett includes the first hand tales from nine different education workers, each tackling a new way of defining what social justice can look like in a classroom setting. The stories range from working with challenging scripts as a method of reaching otherwise “unreachable” students, to working with texts that insist students view their governments through a critical lens, to challenging what is meant by the idea of classroom. Included between the stories are more Praxis Point moments of reflection and of action for the reader. It’s this synthesis of the theoretical with the practical that makes this book so relevant. Perhaps the most important take-away from the text is the assurance that the work is easily accomplished, that the act of education is ripe for the development of critical, democratic, and justice-laden learning. This book is about the little moments, the single lessons, and the embedded acts in our everyday practice. Social justice education is doable and it is vital.