Social justice

Many of my educational leadership colleagues across the country would say that they are working in the area of social justice. They write articles with titles like Expanding the landscape of social justice: A critical ecological analysis; Leadership for social justice and equity: Weaving a transformative framework and pedagogy; School leadership reforms: Filtering social justice through dominant discourses; and Educational leadership and social justice: Practice into theory.
From conferences and other interactions, I know these folks and can say
with complete certainty that they all are absolutely top-notch
scholars. I also know each and every one of these articles is
well-researched, well-reasoned, well-regarded, and well-meaning.

That said, I’m troubled by the fact that educational leadership
folks (faculty and K-12 leaders both) aren’t talking more about digital
technologies and future employability when they talk about social justice.
Indeed, I rarely hear mention of technology at all within these
contexts. I’d like to see more discussion in both K-12 and higher ed
about the future world that disadvantaged kids are going to live in and
what we need to do to boost their digital participation, citizenship,
and employability opportunities.

NCLB is framed as social justice legislation, but its basic premise
is that boosting disadvantaged students’ performance on industrial-era
skills is socially just practice. Similarly, we talk about the digital divide
mostly in terms of giving kids access to computers and the Internet and
not so much in terms of teaching them how to be effective participants
in a technologically-suffused, globally-interconnected future.

It’s not enough to give disadvantaged students access to digital
technologies. They also need opportunities to learn to use those
technologies in ways that will enhance their opportunities to be
fully-functioning members of our future society. Disadvantaged students
are the ones most in need of these pedagogical opportunities because
their families and communities are less likely to have the means to
provide such opportunities outside of school. I read a quote from
someone (and I dearly wish I could remember who said it) that said
something like “poor kids have things done to them by computers, while
affluent kids get to do things with computers.” The author’s premise
was that even when disadvantaged students get to use computers in
schools, too often it’s for drill-and-kill, repetitive, basic fact work
rather than them getting to use computers in creative, collaborative,
problem-solving ways. I think the author was deadly correct regarding
many, many schools.

Many of us education bloggers write a lot about transforming
classroom practice to reflect the needs of a new world: we often call
it ‘School 2.0.’ Is School 2.0 the ultimate
social justice issue for disadvantaged students? Is School 2.0 the most
critical social justice issue of our time if disadvantaged students
aren’t going to be left even further behind than they already are? If
so, why aren’t we framing more of our technology initiatives and
discussion in this way? Where’s our moral imperative?

This post also is available at the TechLearning blog.

5 Responses to “Social justice”

  1. Scott,

    I was very grateful to see this post on the TechLearning blog yesterday. I’ve been working this year between work on the education of poor and working class kids, and on the intriguing new things going on in ed tech, and I’m disturbed by how seldom those conversations overlap.

    I’m finding strong projects going on with disadvantaged kids in community settings. I spent some time this year at the Center for Digital Storytelling (, and they’ve sparked some great youth projects.

    I’m hearing very good things about the digital video work going on in Buffalo through the City Voices, City Visions projects ( in Buffalo (and hear, anecdotally, that those kids’ test scores are impressive).

    Bill Ferriter ( wrote about some work with younger kids in the South.

    But I’m still looking for more people who see the urgency of raising these questions as questions of social justice. Thanks for opening that conversation.


  2. I’ll just say that this crosses over with your earlier post on engagement. These technologies can help engage students and give them a voice. This is a way for them to create.
    My biggest access problem is not my classroom, but in my students’ homes. I have about 5-6 kids out of 33 who go to my Vyew homework tutoring (which is <20%) Our school is wired and has a computer lab, but their homes are not, or if they are, they are fighting for the computer with their older siblings (most of my students have 4 or more of those). My kids could use a $100 laptop and free wifi.

  3. social justice or wifi platitudes?

    Dangerously Irrelevant poses an interesting question about the nature of social justice in educational circles as it relates to access to technology. What is it, anyway? On the surface, social justice is most easily identifiable by the existence of soc…

  4. Ed Technology and SocialJustice

    With gratitude , I read Scott McLeods post on educational technology as a social justice issue that so clearly articulates some of the issues that I grappled with a few weeks ago.
    Scott quotes someone (one of my favorite authors, …

  5. Scott, I know the source for that quote…I use it in my presos all the time because it is so true (IMHO).

    Those who cannot claim computers as their own tool for exploring the world never grasp the power of technology… They are controlled by technology as adults–just [as they were]…controlled [by] them as students.
    Source: Toward Digital Equity: Bridging the Divide in Education Editors: Gwen Solomon, Nancy J. Allen, and Paul Resta

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