About Teachers for Social Justice

September 7, 2004

Who We Are
Teachers for Social Justice (TSJ) is an organization of teachers, administrators, pre-service teachers, and other educators working in public, independent, alternative, and charter schools and universities in the Chicago area. We have come together based on our commitment to education for social justice. We are working toward classrooms and schools that are anti-racist, multicultural / multilingual, and grounded in the experiences of our students. We believe that all children should have an academically rigorous education that is both caring and critical, an education that helps students pose critical questions about society and "talk back" to the world.

What We Do
We meet regularly, share ideas and curriculum, develop collective projects, and support each other in our work. We are also an activist organization, forming and supporting campaigns to get the voices of educators into the public discussion of school policies.

Why is There a Need?
Chicago's one dimensional model of school "reform," based on accountability and high-stakes tests, has been created by the upper echelon of administration without the participation of those affected by the new policies parents, students, teachers. Teachers, who know what is happening in schools and are grappling with the hard questions of educating students in urban contexts, have no voice in Chicago school policies. As educators, we also know that the practices of public and private school teachers who are doing exciting things in their classrooms could be the basis of an alternative to CPSÕs test-driven agenda, but there is no space for open discussion in CPS. The current policies lead by default because public discussion and debate is stifled. We are committed to working together with other educators, parents, students, and community members collectively to reshape the discussion of school policy in order to create more just and humane schools.

Our Principles
Schools must empower students to be decision-makers in their own lives and to become active participants in our society by employing principles of Equity and Social Justice.

Curriculum and Classroom Practice should be:
1. *Grounded in the lives of our students.
2. *Critical.
3. *Multicultural, anti-racist pro-justice.
4. *Participatory, experiential.
5. *Hopeful, joyful, kind, visionary.
6. *Activist.
7. *Academically rigorous.
8. *Culturally and linguistically sensitive.

School-level Policy and Decision-making should support:
1. Collaborative and flexible curriculum.
2. Resources for thoughtful teaching.
3. Local, democratic decision-making.
4. School must address the whole child.
5. Multiple forms of academic assessment.

Principles of School Reform:
1. *Public schools are responsible to the community, not to the marketplace.
2. *Schools must be actively multicultural and anti-racist, promoting social justice for all.
3. *Curriculum must be geared to learning for life and the needs of a multicultural democracy.
4. *All children and all schools must receive adequate resources.
5. *Reform must center on the classroom and the needs of children.
6. *Good teachers are essential to good schools.
7. *Reform must involve collaboration among educators, parents, and the community.
8. *We must revitalize our urban communities, not just our schools.
Adopted September 2000. We have adopted many of these principles (indicated with *) from Rethinking Schools www.rethinkingschools.org

Policy Positions: Renaissance 2010 - Local Education Policy
TSJ Position on Renaissance 2010
click here
CPS Web Site, Official R2010 Policy
click here
Kenwood Oakland Local School Council Alliance Fact Sheet on R2010
click here
PURE: What's Wrong with CPS's R2010
click here
Neighborhood Capital Budget Group's "Critique of R2010"
click here
Chicago Teachers Union page for comparing the various R2010 schools
click here
Kelly HS Suggestion Sheet
click here
Catalyst Magazine for more info on R2010
click here
Camp C.A.R.E
click here

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) - National Education Policy
We have developed an NCLB study group which has put together a "talking points" sheet with three sections organized around themes such as accountability, equity, choice, etc.:
  • What NCLB claims
  • What it really means
  • What our vision is
We also organized two school-based community forums (Kelly HS and Kelvyn Pk HS) to inform and dialogue with teachers about the law and how to organize against it, and we plan to continue this work.

Political Goals

Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, “Letters to Those Who Dare Teach” (1998): “We are political militants because we are teachers. Our job is not exhausted in the teaching of math, geography, syntax, history. Our job implies that we teach these subjects with sobriety and competence, but it also requires our involvement in and dedication to overcoming social injustice.”

We are educators. As such we must recognize and accept our role as either confronting the social, political, and educational inequities within U.S. school settings, or continuing to reproduce the oppressions in our current society. We stand for confronting these inequities. Neutrality is not possible. We understand that teaching is a political act.

Teaching for social justice is part of a larger struggle to transform society to make it more just. We see children and youth as critical change agents essential to the struggle for social justice.
We challenge each other to be activists in and outside of the classroom, recognizing that we are all “works in progress.”  Our work may involve social justice curriculum, study groups, educational forums, participation in coalitions and social movements, work with other education for liberation groups, and initiating collective action.  

We therefore embrace the following political goals—we believe it is our ethical responsibility as educators to: 
  • Develop our understanding of the sociopolitical, historical, cultural, and economic roots of social inequality and injustice, and recognize the role of education within this context.
  • Provide a space for radical teachers to collaborate and share knowledge and to be a vehicle for teachers to become aware of and respond to urgent issues of injustice.
  • Create and promote liberatory educational curriculum, practice, classrooms, and schools.
  • Mobilize teachers as a force in solidarity with students, parents, and community members to fight for educational justice and other issues that impact children and youth.
  • Work with others nationally to build a movement for educational justice and work with others to build a broad national and global movement for social justice.
  • Confront racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, anti-immigrant and language discrimination, poverty, and all forms of oppression and exploitation within ourselves, our work, and our global society.