Social Justice and Education

Every society grapples with the challenge of educating its citizenry… Some determine that any information that isn’t strictly controlled by the state is too great a threat. But even the governments of open societies such as ours (or such as ours aspires to be) have ongoing, heated debates over what should be taught to children.

Among the afterschool staff there is discussion about how we as an organization should respond to the recent racially-motivated murders in Buffalo. On the one hand, school in general and afterschool in particular are safe spaces where children can be children and where their learning to sing or draw or juggle is the most important thing in the world for a few moments a day. We are committed to that child-centered-ness.

But that commitment isn’t incompatible with adults being aware and speaking out about the social ills we witness. In fact, it may be essential to it. Education, as the project of cultivating a sense of agency in children, can be a powerful response to injustice and tragedy as we prepare children to navigate and re-create their world. Children choosing classes, cultivating interests, charting their own paths are all training in what philosopher Maxine Greene referred to as social imagination…the capacity to invent visions of what should be and what might be…to imagine a lovelier world.

Stephan Russo, former director of Goddard Riverside here in the neighborhood, wrote a piece this week for the West Side Spirit recounting a recent Civil Rights pilgrimage he made. It’s a good reminder for the adults of why education is so important, what is at stake and what we are working toward as educate our kids.