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Social and Environmental Justice

From the outset, both Paulo Freire Freedom Schools have professed a curricular focus on social justice and environmental sustainability.  When asked to elaborate on what that means we explain that it does not mean a separate course of study on either of those topics, but that they are themes of inquiry that are threaded throughout all of our students’ classes, and the culture of the school in general.

We further share that while we do not explicitly teach policy implications, we are explicit about having and sharing two values:

1)   Every person in this world has a right to a life of dignity

2)   The earth is precious and we should act as its steward.

We believe these values are universal, not partisan, and we are proud that our schools work to prepare students to think and act on them.

For the last 10 years I have had many, many conversations with students, parents, teachers and community members about what this commitment looks like in practice.  Sometimes I will highlight a unit’s driving question or its powerful culminating project.  Sometimes I talk about service learning – how and when it occurs during expeditions or as part of our 8th grade portfolio requirement.  It comes up when I talk about STEM education and our advisory program.  It truly is part of the fabric of our school – an essential part of who we are.

So a few months ago, when Laura Eley, a University of Arizona student enrolled in a class called “Social Justice and Education” in the Language, Reading, and Cultural Department of the College of Education, approached me to see if she could observe and write about what we do – I was happy to have her join us.  Sharing the work we do with the larger education community is another important part of our school’s mission.  After providing her with an overview of our schools’ mission, she decided to focus her inquiry on watching for ‘how and when’ social justice issues are part of the curriculum.

Now I am extremely proud of the work both of our schools do, and I know that the commitment to social justice is real, but our downtown school is still in its infancy – only a few months in – and I have to admit I was a little bit worried to see what she would find.  Have I as a school leader done a good job of articulating our vision?  Given our teachers’ intense focus on creating integrated, project based units that meet the requisite state and national standards, is it possible that this commitment might have been lost?  But I gave Laura permission to join us for a month, figuring that a pair of outside eyes could provide us with some valuable data that we could reflect and act on.

Attached are the results of her research – the paper that she wrote in its entirety.  She has given us permission to share it as part of my blog.  We don’t have a “social justice” month, or an environmental studies class.  Sometimes these topics become the explicit focus of our studies, but even when they aren’t – they are present.  I think this paper does a good job of sharing what this looks like at Paulo Freire Freedom School.

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