Social justice education needed now more than ever

During this time of intense and sometimes violent protest in America, we may wonder what our children are thinking when media offers them a nonstop stream of adults spewing hatred and bigotry toward groups of people they know little about?

When looking at the individual protester’s face on television, contorted with anger and spitting epithets that frighten anyone within hearing distance, how will our children process what they see? Will they be repulsed by the scene or will they emulate it? Should we protect them from seeing torch wielding mobs wanting to revise our democracy to reflect their own narcissism? How do we make sure that our children grow up to be better than us — more accepting, civil, empathetic and kind?

Struggling to navigate a climate where misogyny, homophobia, religious intolerance, racism and racial exclusion have become part of mainstream political speech, we as parents and teachers witness a more “troubling reality: the extent to which racial and religious intolerance has shaped how kids talk, joke and bully.”

ProPublica, “an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest launched “Documenting Hate Project, a database about hate crimes and bias incidents set up and shared with other news organizations.”

BuzzFeed News “followed-up on 54 cases submitted to the project and through interviews, public statements from school officials and local news reports conducted the first large-scale nationwide analysis of bullying incidents linked to Trump.

Fifty-four incidents in which a K-12 student used Trump’s name or message to harass a classmate” were reported. Teaching Tolerance “administered a voluntary online survey to K-12 educators from across the country, which received over 10,000 responses from teachers, counselors, administrators and others who work in schools.”

Teachers may agree that though it is not their place to tell people or their pupils how to think about political policies, it is their role to make their educational space safe and welcoming for their students.

In a climate of heightened political and racial tension, is it more difficult to engage in discussions encouraging diversity, identity, justice and action in the classroom? Actually, this is the perfect time to discuss these issues in the classroom.

To turn examples of racism and discrimination into teachable moments to encourage tolerance and diversity is an opportunity that we should embrace not just as teachers but also as parents and community leaders as well.

Schools are institutions that along with educating our children also teach socially appropriate behavior. How should they treat political speech when it goes beyond opinion and sinks into racial slurs and threats? When a fifth grader threatens another fifth grader with outing his illegal immigrant status or a Latino student is encircled and cries of “Build the wall!” are shouted at him, what do we do?

When a child wearing a head scarf is threatened with strangulation with the very symbol that defines her identity, what do we do? If we do not see these incidents as teachable moments, we risk the opportunity to create kinder children — children who think for themselves and who do not take on the prejudices of their parents.

Some concepts that teachers, individual schools and school districts have implemented in order to educate students on the importance of diversity are to treat each incident as important and not to punish the child who is making the slur or threat too harshly but to educate him or her.

Maureen Costello, director of the Teaching Tolerance project at the Southern Poverty Law Center says, “When something bad has happened, the administration needs to denounce the act, uphold the values of the school, take care of the wounded and investigate.”

Educators who are aware of stereotypes and prejudices passed on by the media, parents and peers can develop a structured teaching framework to help students “question their own values and beliefs in a safe and supportive environment.”

Social Justice Standards: The Teaching Tolerance Anti-bias Framework is such a one. “Divided into four domains-identity, diversity, justice and action-the Social Justice Standards provide a common language and organizational structure teachers can use to guide curriculum development for students and to communicate with professional learning communities about social justice teaching goals and practices.”

One suggestion is to encourage group tasks that allow for students from different backgrounds to work together and solve shared problems and “think of themselves as part of a larger community in which everyone has skills and can contribute.”

Another suggestion is to use “student centered learning that values students’ lives and what they bring to their own learning.”

Allowing for students to “engage critically with meaningful social issues” and develop cultural competency helps them to develop skills to speak up against and respond to prejudice, bias and stereotypes. Discussing issues of sameness, difference, equity and power provides students with the opportunity to develop skills that can bridge cultural differences.

When teachers, families, friends and community leaders speak out against prejudice, bias, stereotyping and bullying, we become a more responsive community. We work together “toward a common goal with common values, supporting one another’s ideas” and model for our youth a society that values and honors diversity, identity, justice and social action.


Hale ’Opio Kauai convened a support group of adults in our Kaua’i community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Esther Solomon at For more information about Hale ’Opio Kauai, please go to


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, send us an email.