Established in 1997, Teachers for Social Justice (TSJ) is a self-described “activist organization” of teachers and administrators working in public, independent, alternative, and charter schools (as well as universities) in the Chicago area. Asserting that “teaching is a political act” wherein “neutrality is not possible,” TSJ encourages classroom instructors to view themselves as “political militants” whose duties are “not exhausted in the teaching of math, geography, syntax, [and] history,” but also require their “dedication” to “a larger struggle to transform society to make it more just.”
In its quest to turn “children and youth” into “critical change agents essential to the struggle for social justice,” TSJ advocates the use of a “social justice curriculum” that not only is “critical” of existing societal norms, but also teaches students to “talk back” to those who wield the most political and economic power. Such a curriculum, moreover, should promote a “multicultural, anti-racist, pro-justice” perspective geared especially toward “people who are marginalized” and victimized by the structural “inequality” of capitalist America. The effectiveness of any social justice curriculum can be gauged, says TSJ, by the degree to which its students “come to see themselves as truth-tellers and change-makers” in a society rife with “racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, anti-immigrant and language discrimination, poverty, and … oppression and exploitation.” Further, TSJ states that “a particular focus should be [placed] on increasing the number of ethnically and racially diverse teachers and ensuring they have access to positions of leadership.”
In March 2012, TSJ reacted angrily to the then-recent shooting death of a black Florida teenager named Trayvon Martin, killed in an altercation by a man whom the media described as a “white Hispanic.” In response to that incident, TSJ created a “Teaching Trayvon Martin” lesson template that educator-training colleges nationwide could use to sensitize prospective schoolteachers to the notion that “white supremacist violence in the lives of youth of color” is essentially “never-ending.” “The permanence of white supremacy in America,” explained TSJ, “underscores the urgency” of the need to use “this [Martin] tragedy [as] a springboard for critical thought and collective action” in quest of “social transformation.” Toward that end, TSJ demanded that schools of education “engage [aspiring] teachers in rigorous examinations of white supremacy,” defined as “a systemic arrangement of power that has privileged the lives and interests of white Americans from this nation’s inception.”
TSJ asserts that texts written by leftist scholars like Jeffrey Duncan-Andrade, Marc Lamont Hill, Korina Jocson, Ernest Morrell, and David Stovall can provide schoolteachers with “models for how to transform their classrooms into spaces where youth of color can examine how oppressive forms of power have shaped their lives, and how they as young people can transform their lives by turning critical reflection into strategic action.” TSJ also recommends that teacher-education courses incorporate the use of web-based publications produced by organizations like the ACLU and the NAACP. Videos and writings by Al Sharpton, and Tim Wise, both of whom view America as a nation infested with white racism, likewise rank high on TSJ’s list of recommended resources.
Noting that an average of 25 students were being arrested each day on the grounds of Chicago’s public schools, TSJ in January 2013 complained that “these arrests and out-of-school suspensions disproportionately affect students of color, primarily African American and Latino students, and greatly increase the chance that these young people will enter the criminal justice system.” Such “close ties between schools and police,” said TSJ, “work directly to strengthen the school-to-prison pipeline.”
In TSJ’s estimation, Planning to Change the World: A Plan Book for Social Justice Teachers is a particularly useful text for those who wish to promote social justice in the classroom. The book is published by the Education for Liberation Network.