Speakers discuss impact of social justice on education
On Wednesday evening, students and faculty gathered to discuss the impact of social justice in education during “What Does Social Justice Mean in Modern Education,” which took place as part of ’DEIS Impact.
The event, organized by the Education Undergraduate Department Representatives, featured three speakers and was moderated by Cynthia Jackson '16. Jackson began the event by introducing the first speaker, Prof. Emerita Jane Hale (ROMS). According to Jackson’s introduction Hale, who has taught French and Comparative Literature at Brandeis, has been a lifelong advocate of social justice and has always striven to implement that into her teaching.
In her speech, Hale spoke about her own teaching experience and what social justice looks like in the classroom. Hale told the audience that a key part of social justice is giving students “the ability to recognize common humanity, [which] requires that we recognize and acknowledge, and even attempt to understand, the wide variety of human experience… everyone is not just like me… nor do they wish to be.” Hale continued her speech by emphasizing that teaching should be viewed as a “conversation,” and that teachers should strive to find interesting and relevant topics to discuss with their students. She also spoke about the importance of building relationships with her students—a key part of which, she believes, is learning each student’s name. Hale also warned the audience against judging those who had yet to master “our language [English].”
“[Knowing English] doesn’t make us smarter than them, it doesn’t mean they don’t know anything, it means they know something different,” she said. Following Hale, Brandeis alumnus Sujan Talukdar ’96, the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity program coordinator for Brookline Public Schools, took the podium. Talukdar began her speech by describing her current position in METCO, a program which bring inner-city children into suburban school districts in an attempt to increase diversity.
Talukdar told the audience that social justice is very closely linked to equity and anti-racism. As a student, she said that she noticed that many of her African-American peers were labeled as “underachievers,” which she saw “as a failure and an injustice.”
Additionally, Talukdar said that she chose to become an educator and to fight for social justice because she “wanted to make a difference and help improve peoples’ lives.” She believed that “there had to be a more equitable approach to teaching and learning.” “Race matters,” she said, and is one of the most important factors in how students perform in school even more so than socioeconomic status. She cited a statistic that “the poorest whitestudents are outperforming the wealthiest black students [in school].” Talukdar said that she will keep working to promote social justice in education until that statement is no longer true.
The final speaker of the night was Prof. Derron Wallace (AAAS), who worked as a community organizer prior to arriving at Brandeis. In his speech, Wallace spoke extensively about his experiences in promoting social justice.
Wallace discussed the struggle of implementing social justice, and asked whether it is “possible to really care about social justice if it does not impact our hearts?” He also described his efforts to expand social justice as a community leader in England and how he was finally able to make progress following the death of Jimmy Mizen, a young teenager who was murdered in a local store.
According to Wallace, Mizen’s murder opened the door for Wallace and other organizers to begin to implement programs that made a real difference. Wallace concluded his speech by telling the audience that nearly everyone believed in social justice, but “will [we] be doers not just a believers?”
A fourth speaker, alumnus Jorge Santana '05 was scheduled to appear, but was unable to make the event. Following the speeches, a question-and-answer session began during which the three speakers were given the opportunity to accept questions from each other and from the audience. Hale discussed strategies she uses to learn students’ names, Wallace described the differences between community organizing in the U.S. and the U.K. and Talukdar spoke about the importance of black role models for black students.