Debate #5: Educators have a responsibility to use technology and social media to promote social justice

There is no doubt that there are a number of social justice issues that are worthy of our attention and promotion. I don’t think anyone would argue that point. The question for this week’s debate looked at whether or not we, as educators, have a responsibility to use technology and social media to promote different social justice issues within the classroom.

Amanda and Jacquie started us off with a look at why teachers should talk about and promote social justice issues.By advocating for social justice, by teaching students that they have voices, and that their voices matter, we are hoping to avoid apathy, and we are teaching them how to navigate discussions where they encounter differing opinions. Our discussion led us to talk about how the world is not necessarily a safe place and conflict-free place, so it’s important to teach students what to do when they encounter controversial topics, or differing opinions.

One article that I really enjoyed from their sources was Caitrin Blake’s “Teaching Social Justice in Theory and Practice.”  Blake notes that it’s important to have conversations that teach students “to share their ideas and respond to the ideas of others in a way that allows for disagreement but still values the student’s perspective. Teachers can model questions and answers that illustrate ways to thoughtful conversation rather than making students feel bad or devalued by their classmates. By providing model responses, teachers can illustrate to students how a good response helps to enrich a conversation whereas some responses can shut discussions down.

Greta Thunberg is one individual who Amanda and Jacquie identified as a young person that is using social media to promote a social justice issue – in her case, climate change. And you can’t argue the numbers, or the exposure that she has gained!

Ramsel argued, however, that educators should remain relatively neutral when it came to addressing social justice issues. Our neutrality, and encouraging students to consider both sides of an issue, can help promote critical thinking in our students. You could argue that there is a certain amount of objectivity that we need to maintain, and many teachers do try to keep away from polarizing positions on social media, or in front of our students and parents.

While I can certainly agree that we need to be careful of some of the things that we comment on, I also think that it doesn’t hurt for students and parents to see that we are human, and take stances on certain issues. We aren’t robots that are devoid of opinions on all potentially divisive issues. Part of my job includes teaching students to take a stance on topics, to have an opinion, and I play devil’s advocate with them when I’m showing them how to form an opinion, and use evidence to support that. As an ELA teacher of high school students, I find that often students become aware of my viewpoints on certain topics just based on some of the pieces that I choose for us to read and study, and some of the conversations or discussions I lead. Are there some things I don’t get into? Absolutely. But I don’t avoid all sensitive topics, either; I think it’s incredibly important to speak up on certain issues. “Is Political Neutrality in Classrooms Actually Neutral” points out that it can be doing our students a disservice if we aren’t talking about things that are happening outside of our classrooms. In maintaining that outsides issues don’t have a place in the classroom, “that mentality is an injustice…and undermines the fact that the classroom is part of the real world.”

So where do I stand? I’m not actually sure. I think it’s important to talk about social justice issues, and raise awareness. I think it’s important to show students how to use social media to their benefit, and encourage them to use their voices. But do I think that we should be using technology in the classroom to promote social justice? I guess in a roundabout way that’s what I’m getting at? But it’s certainly not my sole focus.

And I have to thank my colleagues for speaking so honestly during our discussion. I know we are from a variety of countries and backgrounds, and while, ideally, education should be the vehicle of change, our chosen vocation also puts us in a potentially vulnerable position where backlash could make our lives very uncomfortable.


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