I. Research Questions:
How do students respond to social justice curriculum
in my first/second grade classroom?
- Can first and second graders work with questions
of inequality, change, and collective work? What
categories do they use to examine social justice
issues? How do students use everyday issues to
examine social justice?
- What is the role of the teacher? How is the
design of the curricular unit an active part of
I envision a better world, one more just, one more
joyful, one more inspiring. I center my work in
the heart of my first and second grade classroom,
a room of 25 active, questioning, pained, loved,
curious, worried, poor African-American students.
I center my work here because I believe in the power
of education to transform. We all must be literate
and thoughtful to create a better world. There is
no better place to situate that struggle than in
a classroom plagued by overarching social systems
of inequality and injustice, but also a classroom
full of hope and with students just beginning a
life of negotiating education as an emancipatory
act. I want to help my students learn to ask the
bigger questions and believe they are capable of
finding answers and finding their ways in a world
that is designed to do them harm. I struggle to
create a classroom full of wonder, love, joy, hope
So I wonder: what happens when I center my teaching
in the ethics of social justice. What happens when
teachers take back some of their power to make curricular
choices and then use this power with their students
to investigate how to create a better world for
all of us?
III. Data Collection Tools and Analysis
and writings from A Bug’s Life
and writings about fairness of selling ice
cream at school
- “If I Were President” activity
reviewing my students’ written work, five
categories of THEIR thinking kept emerging:
up for yourself
with the oppressed
observation and reflections
journals about lessons
- Reflection on dilemmas in appropriateness
and relevance of curricular unit
students to help direct the curriculum was
important and made a difference in the way
they interacted with one another and with
their attitudes toward school
students negotiate curriculum in ways that
were not overwhelming or too broad made
it possible for the learning to be focused
and of interest
events in our classroom were framed by issues
of social justice.
- Survey about discussions students were having
with parents during Black History unit
- I received 14 completed surveys out of 20.
out of 20 parents reported speaking to their
child about at least one of our activities
and the overwhelming majority reported they
spoke to their children about all of the activities.
examples of responses are:
“I thought the unit was very enlightening
and brought back good and bad feeling about
keep the unit going.”
V. Policy Implications
- Trust teachers to trust their students. This
curriculum could not have been planned by someone
at Houghton-Mifflin who had never met my students.
This curriculum did not always meet a state standard
I could write on my lesson plan (unless I use
the catch-all standards for oral communication).
They were not always going to be written in my
lesson plan book. I did not plan to have a discussion
about buying ice cream at 10:40 on February _______.
It happened because it was important to my students
at that moment. With all the mandates and time
schedules and minute-counting, teachers lose some
of their ability to teach – really teach: investigate
an important issue, debate, research, find new
answers and try them out.
- Teach teachers how to listen to their students.
Encourage them to understand the specifics of
their children’s lives. The students are constantly
showing what they know if teachers are able to
listen. They can show you what language they enjoy
most, what songs they listen to, the various forms
of literacy that exist in their homes, what moves
- Build curriculum from students’ interests and
needs. This is their education; they should learn
how to negotiate the act of learning. This was
successful in part because the choices were limited:
do you want to continue studying slavery or do
you want to move on the Civil Rights Unit. The
choices were not so open that the learning topics
overwhelmed the teacher or were tangential to
the course of study.
- Allow time for community building. If teachers
are too focused on their math and reading basals,
they will miss wonderful opportunities to learn
from and with their students and create a community