The Transformative Power Of Schools and Communities: A Global Look At The Role of Classroom and Community Processes in Social Justice Schools
“I think if I had to put a finger on what I consider a good education, a good radical education, it wouldn’t be anything about methods or techniques. It would be about loving people first. And that means all people everywhere, not just your family or your own countrymen or your own color. And wanting for them what you want for yourself. And then the next is respect for people’s ability to learn and to act and to shape their own lives. ”
- Myles Horton, We Make the Road By Walking
Education is often quoted as “the great equalizer,” therefore this process is the key to uplifting struggling communities and individuals. Many see mass education as a vehicle that will furnish students with opportunities to lead more fulfilling and satisfying lives. However, access to education has always been at a cost to families, and schools have always favored the rich and powerful (Connell, 1993). Education can thus be used as a tool for reproducing social and cultural inequalities or a tool for breaking marginalized communities out of inequality and poverty cycles (Mills & Gale, 2010 quoting Bourdieu, 1998; Solberg & Scott, 2005). Bourdieu (1998), a French sociologist and scholar, argues that the culture of the dominant group—the group that controls the economic, social, and political resources— is often embodied within this meritocratic illusion of schools (Mills & Gale, 2010).
In marginalized communities, a school has a powerful and distinct role to play in grooming students for this social justice mission. An effective social justice school for purposes of this research is defined as producers of students who are socially conscious and critically aware of the political, economic and social injustices in society and purposely seeks out ways for social action in either the surrounding community or their home communities. This research focuses on six high schools in six countries that have been uniquely effective in reversing the social order by shifting the mindset of their students and empowering them to be actors of change.
There seems to be two processes emphasized in the literature on how to encourage a culture of civic engagement in teenage students from communities in crisis1. One is focused on curriculum and classroom processes and the other on active engagement outside the classroom. However, in both schools of thought, is widely agreed that a school’s connection with the surrounding community is a critical component of producing students who have a sharp awareness of the world and how they can effectively shape their future for a more just world (Freire, 1993; Rossatto, 2002; Rossatto, 2005; Liberman and Hoddy, 1998). I am interested to understand a school’s relationship with the local community and how this affects social justice outcomes for the student and communities in crisis. Research in the form of interviews, field research, and collection of primary data sources in six high schools and countries will occur from June 21st to September 5th, 2010 in Guatemala, Perú, Singapore, Thailand, Ghana and France. Few studies on schooling for equality and social change have been so expansive and this cross-cultural case study attempts to understand how these two processes, while consistently discussed separately, are in fact complimentary.