That Uncomfortable Topic of Social Justice

Today’s blogger is Katherine E. L. Norris (West Chester University), whose article “Using the Read-Aloud and Picture Books for Social Justice” appears in the October 2020 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record. Get free access to the article through the month of November.

Over the last six months, issues of race have been in the spotlight. Turning on the television inevitably leads to hearing stories about racial injustices and civil rights protests. In fact, over the last few years, stories of racial tension, immigration, and LGBTQ concerns have received extra media attention as we grapple with policies and practices that impact our diverse population. And children are not immune to the daily news stories and social media posts.

In many classrooms, common practice when it comes to diversity and justice has been avoidance.

With diversity, equity, and inclusion thrust into the spotlight because of the obvious inequities made more visible by the pandemic, racial injustices, and worldwide protests, educators have a renewed opportunity to begin to support students as they attempt to navigate these new realities.

Some teachers aren’t sure how to begin the conversations and how to handle sometimes uncomfortable topics of justice and fairness as they relate to race, immigration, poverty, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. Teachers must start early to introduce students to the ideas of equity and justice, and to begin to give students the tools they need to work together to appreciate and value one another both inside and outside of the classroom.

Most school days are packed with content, and teachers often struggle to cover all the required curricula, so the thought of adding something else into the school day may seem overwhelming. Many teachers already use storytime or the read-aloud in their daily schedules. Why not take this opportunity to incorporate picture books that support teaching social justice and equity in the classroom?

Picture books are a great way to cover diverse concepts and experiences in a way that young children can understand. The use of picture books during the read-aloud allows teachers to introduce topics to students and guide them as they attempt to understand the importance of equity and justice.

By using the read-aloud and picture books to teach social justice, teachers can guide their students’ understanding through questioning and clarification.

The read-aloud gives students a chance to appreciate and understand cultures and lifestyles that differ from their own. Cultural appreciation and understanding serve as a place to start in breaking down barriers and eliminating stereotypes for both teachers and their students. For teachers who feel too overwhelmed to handle diverse topics, the use of the high-quality picture books during the read-aloud time is one way to begin to navigate conversations with students in a nonthreatening way.

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