When did social justice get to be a bad thing?
Please deconstruct this for me, a child of the 1950s, who put her hand over her heart and said out loud, every day, in concert with my classmates, that I believed in “liberty and justice for all.” When did we start putting “social justice” in quotes?
Isn’t social justice one of the foundational principles of our great American experiment in governing toward democratic equality, a more perfect union? I live in a small town, what you might call pro-America real America, and taught in a public school for thirty years. I believed in social justice, when it was first explained to me, in kindergarten, as being fair to everyone in our class—and I believe in other educational manifestations of social justice since, from Brown to equitable funding to Title IX to accountability. I also believe that social justice and a strong capitalistic economy are not mutually exclusive.
In fact—aren’t social justice and equal opportunity intertwined in our political philosophy? Human rights—civil liberties and a good education—followed by the right to enjoy the benefits of your own hard work, no matter who your family is or where you were born? To freely choose a goal of personal enrichment (plumbing, evidently) or a path of public service? Shouldn’t the blessings of liberty be equally available to every American child? Isn’t the nation happier and more secure when everyone has a stake in our economy, a real shot at a good life?
Who are these people who are snarling around suggesting that creating schools and curriculums to address the learning needs of inner city poor kids is some kind of left-wing plot? If I’m not teaching—ultimately—toward social justice, toward improved opportunity for each of my students, then why would I teach at all? I certainly wouldn’t do it for the money.
Sorry. I have reached Rhetoric Overload—the point at which it feels like I am living in a parallel universe. A bona fide Strange Land. I am genuinely queasy about the level and nature of the national conversation this past week—especially all of the perfectly good language utilized as code for fear and intolerance. Again—when did social justice become muddled up with extremism and destroying the fabric of democracy?
A few scary tidbits, on the social justice front:
In fact, as one of the leaders of a movement for bringing radical social-justice teaching into our public school classrooms, Mr. Ayers is not a school reformer. He is a school destroyer. Education students signing up for a course Mr. Ayers teaches at UIC, "On Urban Education," can read these exhortations from the course description: "Homelessness, crime, racism, oppression -- we have the resources and knowledge to fight and overcome these things. We need to look beyond our isolated situations, to define our problems globally." (Sol Stern, City Journal)
Those last two lines come right out of the “21st century learning” playbook--they could have been written by Jeffrey Sachs.
ACORN relies on canvassers who appear to be paid based on how many signatures they get – an invitation to fraud – and because ACORN as an institution appears to collectively think such fraud is tolerable in the name of “social justice.” (The aptly named JammieWearingFool.)
The campaign also cited two projects the [Annenberg] foundation funded, one having to do with a United Nations-themed Peace School and another that focused on African-American studies. "That is radical in the eye of this campaign and we imagine in the eyes of most Americans." (Michael Goldfarb, spokesman for McCain, in Politifact.com.)
Obama's vision of hope shines like a rainbow, appealing but just out of reach. McCain's call to freedom and responsibility is less exciting, but you know it works. The Tribune encourages voters to vote what they believe, not what they wish were true. (Tampa Tribune)
And I’m not even going near the crazy Congresswoman from Minnesota suggesting that now might be a dandy time for a congressional witch hunt.
Sigh. Has it been this bad in other election years? Not for a long, long time.
That last quote, from the Tampa Tribune, I find particularly depressing, as a teacher. When you have your local newspaper urging you to aim low—informing you that hope for a better country is out of reach—it’s hard to keep your own teacher vision of a good America, the greatest country in the world, full of innovators and mavericks, from getting a little dim. And when you take a perfectly democratic—small d—phrase like “social justice” and start deliberately attaching it to terrorism and radicalism, the light goes out completely.
I’m going to vote for what I wish were true.