Social justice is integral to JJSE’s mission, as it is to the SFUSD strategic plan “Beyond the Talk.” Many JJSE students come from marginalized communities and face numerous obstacles to academic success. For our students to be leaders in the struggle against oppression, they must first, in the words of Paulo Freire, “critically recognize” the causes of their oppression, so that “through transforming action they can create a new situation, one which makes possible the pursuit of a fuller humanity” (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 30th Anniversary edition (Continuum, 2006), p. 47). It is through this Freirian lens that we make connections to struggles for social justice, so our students can learn from the successes and failures of the past, as they become leaders for our future.
1.Think Like a Scientist, Lenore Kenny
Lenore Kenny says that science education is a force for social justice because being able to think like a scientist “gives you a lot of power to be used along the path of social change.” In this lesson on evolution, she trains her students in the scientific thinking process by asking them to examine evidence and analyze it by looking for patterns. She reminds students to “get in the mindset of thinking like evolutionary scientists” and asks them to “engage your mind like a scientist.”
2.Mortgage Rejection Rates, Adam Renner
Math teacher Adam Renner, who died tragically in December 2010, made social justice connections in his pre-algebra support class. In this lesson, he asked students to investigate the mortgage rejection rate for different ethnic groups, based on reading a Chicago Tribune article. He began the lesson with a connection to San Francisco and an explanation of why this issue matters. Students read and annotated the article, and then worked in groups to answer questions about it, while Mr. Renner circulated and asked questions designed to scaffolding understanding and push student thinking without giving them answers. During the class debrief, Mr. Renner highlighted key issues, asked a quiet student to share an especially insightful written answer, acknowledged the challenging nature of the activity, and finished by reminding the class of the issue’s significance.
3.Feminism & 4. Equity, Katrina Traylor
In a vocabulary lesson on the word “feminism,” a student gives the word “equity” as a synonym. Humanities teacher Katrina Traylor asks the class if they know what equity means, and tells them that they should know, since they attend June Jordan School for Equity. A discussion ensues, and Ms. Traylor explains the difference between equity and equality, using movie theater bathrooms to illustrate the difference. This type of spontaneous teaching on key social justice terms is common in JJSE classrooms.