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Teaching for Social Justice

By Herbert Kohl

It is a sad statement on the moral sensibility of our schools and society that one has to advocate for teaching for social justice.

As one of my elementary school students once told me, "You know, Mr. Kohl, you can get arrested for stirring up justice."

One problem is that many people - children as well as adults - do not believe that justice is worth fighting for. One cannot assume an idea or cause will be embraced merely because it is just, fair, or compassionate. Contemporary society values self-interest and personal gain over compassion and the communal good.

So what are social justice teachers - those who care about nurturing all children and who are enraged at the prospect of students dying young, going hungry, or living meaningless and despairing lives - to do? How can they go against the grain and use their classrooms to work in the service of their students?

My suggestions are both pedagogical and personal.

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