Why Social Justice Educators Need to Give Up Working Within The System

The following is an expression of my thoughts and feelings about social justice education activism based on my own limited personal experiences. These thoughts and feelings are being communicated in a spirit of humility and conversation with the intent to contribute positively to the movement to establish an educational system that treats all human beings ethically.

I regret any combative tone, but have prioritized the honest expression of my thoughts and feelings over being diplomatic. I have great respect for all those who have dedicated themselves to bringing justice to this world, whether I agree fully with their perspective and strategy or not.

Ultimately I’m here in a spirit of authenticity and cooperation. I want us to talk things out and move forward together.

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The contradictions of so-called social justice educators kill me. They are not revolutionaries; they are not fighting for justice. They are incrementalists with a fuzzy vision of how children deserve to be treated and what an ethically sound education system looks like. For all the talk of decolonization, their actions work much more to preserve than to resist the oppressive social institution of standardized, state-controlled compulsory schooling.

It honestly does baffle me. These folks have read Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. They know about conquest, cultural invasion, and the antidialogical cultural action of our oppressors. They theoretically understand what it means to treat a human being with respect. They know that compulsion is anathema to liberation. So why in the hell defend an institution of compulsory standards-based schooling controlled by your oppressors?! Are you a masochist?!

You’re going to dedicate your energy to bring more funding to a fundamentally oppressive system and you’re going to fight legislation that aims to bring some decentralization to this system (charter schools, vouchers, education savings accounts)? What???

It seems to me that social justice educators are not being as bold as justice requires them to be. We need to tear apart the oppressive public schooling machine and completely redesign, on an ethical foundation, our education system.

A liberatory education system is a consensual education system. It is compassionate, dialogical, and student-directed. It is a system that provides opportunity and exposure to rich experiences to students of all incomes who want it. It provides diverse learning options to a fundamentally diverse human species.

I’m not writing this to complain. I’m writing this because I am hopeful that we can take the necessary next step in education activism. I see a hunger for justice in America right now and I love it. I want us to take full advantage of this moment in history by thinking profoundly and ambitiously, by coming together in dialogical solidarity, and by championing a clear, just vision that pulls at the moral fibers of the people like a powerful magnet.

I want us to unleash an ethically-centered, profound, people-powered cultural revolution. And I believe we as a people are ready to do it.

Remember: a warrior for justice doesn’t settle for a less oppressive version of a fundamentally oppressive system. Social justice demands much more from us than that.

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