23. Social Justice and Responsibility
How do you “teach” social justice and responsibility to children? What are the roots of prejudice, racism and bigotry? At what age is it appropriate to introduce some of the more volatile social issues? What premise or criterion do you come from?
These are charged questions. Responses to these and related questions vary from culture to culture. There are no universally applied ethics in our world. The attempt of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights was to provide a universal reference or criteria, but it is certainly not adhered to ‘universally’.
There are still cultures in our 21st century world that practice systematic subjugation of the feminine gender. More slavery exists today in 2009 than in any other time in recorded history. Child exploitation, human trade, sexual exploitation and flat out, undisguised genocide continue to thrive in our age. How is it possible? Well, that is another story.
What is the responsibility of educators in light of this?
The personal philosophy of some educators is to steer clear of these social justice issues. Some teachers believe it is not their right or responsibility to engender values, even universal values like – respect, humanity, charity, care and compassion. There is an unspoken no-interference policy in regards to ethical or moral issues in public education. True, it is not the place of public schools to dictate morality. But it is absolutely the job of schools to provide an unbiased assay of social issues, showing the trace of history and demonstrating clearly the arguments and ethical dialogue to do with issues such as war, immigration, human rights, gender rights etc. Otherwise what will our children have to base their choices in when they become young adults?
Some educators and administrators say pre-adolescent children are too young to be introduced to this level of social studies. Oh really?
I recently overheard a conversation between two 5th grade boys. One of the boys was saying that war was a stupid and backward solution to world problems. The other boy said, “It depends if you are a loyalist or not.” “What does that mean?” the first boy asked. The second one said, “If you are a loyal American, you believe in the war and you want all the Mexicans to leave the country!”
Now, tell me they are too young to be introduced to the social ethics dialogue? What is the responsibility of educators in light of such views? Yes, this boy was probably mimicking his family’s dinnertime conversation. However, at some point he may believe in what he is imitating. That is when we can truly say our educational responsibilities have simply failed.
It is at least the job of educators to provide the foundations for children to learn discretion, to learn consideration and understanding, to seek out many points of view – so that they can make humanly responsible choices!
Otherwise, what are we doing?