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Bringing questions of social justice into school classrooms

On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Beth Alexander and Michelle Munk. They are teachers who are committed to raising questions of social justice, equity, and activism in their classrooms, and they speak about doing that hard work and about the Teaching for Justice Conference that they organized earlier in April.

Beth Alexander teaches science, technology, engineering, and math-related subjects at an independent school in Toronto. Michelle Munk teaches geography, history, math, and music to grade 7 and 8 students at an alternative school that is part of the Toronto District School Board.

Though both Alexander and Munk have a longstanding commitment to incorporating questions of social justice into their classroom teaching practice, this is not necessarily easy work to do. Figuring out ways to do it that capture student imagination, that empower students, that foster critical dialogue, and that recognize that students bring a wide range of histories and experiences and family contexts to their learning is difficult enough. Add the fact that, while there are more now than their used to be, it can still be hard to find resources that incorporate concern for equity and justice, so teachers often have to devise their own. And of course there is always the possibility of resistance from parents and administrators -- Alexander and Munk teach in schools that are relatively open to such things, but more conventional schools may not be. So while there do seem to be more teachers than ever before interested in incorporating such concerns into their classrooms, many don't know quite how to get started doing it, while others are plunging into the work on their own but don't really have connections with any like-minded colleagues to share ideas and support.

A few years ago, Alexander and Munk attended a conference for progressive educators in the United States, where they had been invited to talk about an article they had written. They thought it was an incredible event, and it inspired them to begin the process of organizing a conference themselves in the Candian context. And after much hard work, it finally happened in early April: the Teaching for Justice Conference. It brought together teachers from public, Catholic, and private schools for a day of talks, workshops, and conversations. The opening plenary featured Cree educator Donna Ashamock. The workshops covered everything from Indigenous education, to math and social justice, to confronting militarism in schools, to storytelling as a means of change, to supporting Latinx students, and much more. And the closing panel centred the voices of students -- it brought together a number of student activists to talk about their experiences of social justice in the classroom. The goal was to give teachers interested in this work a chance to learn from each other about different ways of doing it, and perhaps more importantly to create a space in which teachers spread across different schools and different jurisdictions could begin to build relationships that might end up being a basis for ongoing dialoguge, learning, and activity.

Alexander and Munk speak with Scott Neigh about the conference -- the interview took place just before the conference, so you will get to hear all of the details of the organizing and the plan for the event, but not the outcome -- and about some of the key broader issues around including concerns for social justice and equity in the classroom.

You can learn more about the Teaching for Justice Conference here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow us on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

The image modified for this post was taken from the Teaching for Justice Conference website and used with permission.

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