ABSTRACT

While the last chapter focused on teachers who used the Tools of Whiteness to avoid having to recognize inequality, power, or privilege, this chapter examines new, young teachers who, in contrast, developed an emerging sense of social injustice. The teachers in the last chapter were unwilling to take responsibility for their own racial privilege and saw no reason to take action for social justice. In contrast, the emerging social justice teachers, who were also former students of mine, had a budding interest in inequality and wanted to become the kinds of teachers who would address social issues in their classrooms. Unlike the teachers in the last chapter, these emerging social justice educators were willing to seek out a space in which to grow and transform. They joined a Social Justice Critical Inquiry Project (CIP) that I facilitated so that they could reach their goal of integrating social issues into the classroom. After working with the graduate students featured in Chapter 2, I taught a cohort

of undergraduate pre-service teachers for two years, also focusing on issues of social justice. Working with these two different groups of pre-service teachers was like night and day. Instead of spending my time figuring out how to combat the Tools of Whiteness, many of my undergraduate students were open-minded and excited about the potential of creating transformative classroom spaces where students grappled with real-world issues. Their excitement was contagious and I wanted to be able to support those that were going straight into teaching in New York City after they graduated. To provide this support, I created CIP so they could work with myself and

their peers to continue to develop as social justice educators. Based on work by Duncan-Andrade (2005) and my own subsequent pilot version of such a group (Picower, 2007), critical inquiry groups provide a space for teachers to examine their own practice. The social justice critical inquiry group that I facilitated and that is written about in the next two chapters ended up being a five-year project with

new alumni from my courses joining after graduation every year. This chapter is based on the first year of the group. The major differences between the teachers in the second chapter and what the

CIPers brought to the table were that CIPers felt a “sense of injustice” when they learned about issues of inequality. I use the phrase “sense of injustice” deliberately. In contrast to a drive, a calling, or a passion, a “sense” of injustice points to the emerging nature of their understanding of inequality. They had an understanding that injustice was wrong and a sense of empathy for people whose lives had been caused pain by oppression. While this sense of injustice motivated them to want to learn more about issues such as racism and poverty, it still had nebulous qualities pointing to the amount that they still had to learn in order to have a complex political analysis of how inequality operates. However, they were absolutely clear that they wanted to develop curriculum to teach about social issues and they saw this as a form of activism. While Chapter 4 will discuss the ways in which teaching about injustice is an incomplete strategy for change, this chapter will examine the creative ways that these teachers managed to reach their goal of teaching about social justice in settings that were not always friendly to such curricula. The emerging social justice educators in this chapter may have had a desire to

teach social issues, but they faced a number of barriers in trying to reach their goals. Like other new educators concerned with social justice, they faced a daunting task as they began teaching in the neoliberal context of American schooling. In addition to learning how to teach, these new educators had to negotiate challenges such as mandated curriculum, high-stakes testing, and colleagues who didn’t share their political ideology. This environment created a state of fear for these new teachers as they found themselves alienated in a system where it was unclear whom to turn to for support. By developing four survival strategies, these emerging teachers were able to reach

their goal of integrating social issues into their classroom curricula. First, these teachers worked together to build a safe haven that supported their pedagogical efforts while defending themselves from criticism from within their individual school contexts. Second, the teachers camouflaged their social justice pedagogy within their classrooms by using tactics such as integrating it with the mandated curriculum or substituting alternative materials. Third, the teachers prepared their students to become critically conscious of larger systems of inequity and taught them the tools they will need to struggle for social change. Fourth, in a few instances, the teachers went public with their stances by openly rejecting school policies and publicly voicing their dissent. By using these strategies, the teachers were successful in creating classrooms where students engaged in critical social justice pedagogy. The first year of CIP began with a one-day retreat and then regular biweekly

dinner meetings were held in the fall with six teachers.1 Early meetings were dedicated to developing shared norms, goals, and future agendas. The meetings consisted of focused discussions on shared readings, curriculum development, lesson feedback,

presentation preparation, and general issues and concerns that arose from their classroom settings. Of the teachers, four were White, one was African American, and one was Latina. Four of the six participants were full-time classroom teachers. The two other participants were still taking education classes. I served as both the facilitator and researcher of the group. This chapter is based on data collected during this first year. The group grew and new members joined in each of the subsequent four years of the project.