As the first annual National Education Association's Dialogue on Social Justice came to a close last month, my mind swirled with the ideas discussed and the work that needed to occur -- Where does one begin? What is my role? How can I make a difference?
Fifty-some local, state and national association leaders, selected through an application process, came together at the NEA headquarters in Washington, D.C., for three days in early December 2012 to address social justice issues facing ethnic minority and LGBT (lesbian, gay, straight, bisexual, transgender) NEA members and students.
Research shows that by 2050, minority populations will make up the majority in the United States. To meet these growing needs we focused on topics such as cultural competency (the ability to teach students from cultures different from one's own), diversity, racial profiling, immigration, and language and culture preservation. We delved into both the challenges and the opportunities NEA is sure to face as it moves forward.
For example, five provocateurs representing various cultural backgrounds and experiences (both personal and professional) joined us on the afternoon of the first day, answering questions pertaining to issues of equity, diversity, opportunity, access, school funding, lobbying and social oppression.
The specialists were blatantly honest as they shared about issues, concerns and inequities facing Native American Tribal Schools, immigrant students' rights, minority adolescent male literacy, LGBT and ethnic minority rights (or lack thereof), and poverty.
The exercise reminded me of the importance of some of the work that is going on here in our own district, such as support for our organization Students for an Equal Society.
It also underscored the significance of the things that we often take for granted or gloss over, such as classroom environment. What's hanging on our walls, the books we read, the sources we quote -- all have an important and sometimes unrecognized impact on students.
The information shared, topics discussed and work completed during the course of a day and a half led us to our final activity: creating a two-minute public service announcement focused on social justice.
Poetry, songs, chants, skits, humor and serious dialogue filled the room as members of each group shared their portrayal of the meaning and importance of social justice.
So now I ask myself, "How do I incorporate nearly 25 years of teaching from a social justice perspective, my former role as the Bexley City Schools' international/multicultural education coordinator, my current position as a middle school humanities teacher and my fifth year as Bexley Education Association president to move forward and advance efforts to address social justice issues?"
I will heed the advice of the Chinese philosopher, Lao-tzu, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
Mindy Hall serves as Bexley Education Association president and is a Bexley Middle School humanities teacher.