Humane Education in Action: Figuring Out What Justice Means

It's always exciting and inspiring to discover another educator emphasizing critical thinking, empowering their students, and teaching about important social justice issues. Shelley Wright is a high school teacher in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, who integrates those very essential elements of learning into her classes. Recently she wrote a blog post about a six-week curriculum examining the question: What is justice? Wright immerses her students in real-world learning that is meaningful to their own lives and that inspires them to become problem solvers and critical thinkers. Here's an excerpt:

It’s up to us. This is why school needs to focus on real life. In the end, it’s not the mark on a standardized test that tells me what’s most important about my students’ learning — it’s the compassion they exhibit for other human beings.

So for a week my students are being immersed in countries and situations they’ve never encountered before.

My students have watched Flow and learned about incredibly wealthy companies, from whom we buy our favorite soft drinks, destroying developing countries to ship bottled water to the wealthiest parts of the world. Furthermore, they learn that bottled water has few regulations required of it, and often your tap water is healthier and has far stricter regulations regarding the level of contaminants.

Through our connected classroom, they’ve been inside a Chinese factory to see the deplorable conditions in which most of our jeans are made. They come away with a better understanding of the subjugation of workers, the poverty and hopelessness that many young girls who work in these factories in China find themselves in, with little opportunity for a better life.

And the past two days they’ve learned that Walmart isn’t quite the company they thought it was. They’ve discovered that those low prices come at a high cost, often to the people who can least afford to pay it. For many, this has been the most shocking revelation of all. For some, it has changed their shopping habits. And tomorrow, we’ll begin to learn about the Price of Sugar.

This intense week is revelatory for many of my students. They’ve had no idea. How could they? It’s not something we often talk about in our current culture. But we should be talking about it. And this is the unit that I feel the most responsibility for teaching. As gently and lovingly as possible, I reveal to them that the world isn’t quite as honest and kind as they think it is.

It’s not about guilt. It’s about being educated and making educated choices. However, I think sometimes as teachers we draw the line at educating our students about justice issues, and forgo the most powerful and important step in preparing and requiring them do something that will make a difference.

Read the complete post.

It sounds like Wright does such a great job of exploring the concept of justice for humans, it would be exciting to see her extend that to an exploration of what justice is for nonhuman animals and for the planet, as well, especially considering recent developments in extending rights to the earth & its other inhabitants.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of Eric the Fish via Creative Commons.

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