The part of Matt Allen’s Uncut podcast with Good School Hunting’s Erica Sanzi dealing with “social justice” (about 46 minutes into the recording) has been rolling around in the part of my head that polishes rough ideas to the point that they’re recognizably something.
My first, intuitive reaction was that Sanzi’s idea of social justice is actually the sort of injustice that it ostensibly seeks to resolve. That’s not quite accurate, but I’m not sure my more-refined conclusion puts the concept of “social justice” in any better light.
Explaining what she means by social justice “in the education space,” Sanzi talks about the “belief gap,” defined basically as teachers’ failure to press students to achieve because of an implicit belief that they can’t rise to the challenge. The example she gives is of the mother of Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza’s child. Apparently, somebody once told her not to use one of her application-fee vouchers to apply to Boston College, saying she’d never get in. She did, and she graduated.
Now, how does an analyst using the social justice lens interpret this? He or she suggests that the reason students don’t achieve when they otherwise would is that external forces will not help them or will actively hold them down. Offering practical advice, a person with this view of the world might suggest that a student not apply to a particular college because institutional racism and sexism will prevent her getting in.
In other words, the implicit belief remains that she will face challenges in our society, but the cause and the blame shift outside of the student. The obstacle isn’t internal to her, but the whole, unjust world. That doesn’t change the immediate effect assumed (not getting into the college); it just creates an opponent and stokes bitterness.
To be sure, if somebody is talking in terms of “social justice,” that person is at least on the track of helping students to overcome challenges. Sanzi, one can tell, sees the object of social justice not to be dwelling on the injustice, but rather to be working with students to help them achieve despite doubts about their abilities. Nonetheless, if the belief gap implies an attitude of “I don’t think you’re smart enough to do this,” the social-justice gap implies, “I don’t think you’re strong enough to overcome the bias.”
The reason Matt Allen intuitively pushes back on injecting the idea of “social justice” into the conversation is (I think) that it leads to a different way of looking at things and a different way of behaving toward others. So much of life and success in a human society is learning to accommodate other people. One does not accommodate injustice. One fights injustice. Rather than focusing on commonalities, one focuses on differences so as to crush the injustice within them.
This distinction has real implications for how we interact and, especially, in how we teach, as listeners can observe at around the 1 hour, 19 minute mark of the podcast. During that portion of the conversation, Sanzi and Allen debate the importance of placing teachers who “look like” the students in their classes. Sanzi’s view is that black kids can’t “see themselves” in their white teachers. Allen explains that, for him, such reflections have much more to do with common beliefs and experiences.
The SJW attitude has two consequences, here. First, in keeping with the above, is the suggestion that we can’t expect students to feel connected with people who don’t look like them. Second is the insinuation that society is failing the students if it does not provide a “diverse” faculty.
But again, the keys to success are to make the most of whatever circumstances one faces and to focus on commonalities. If, following another of Sanzi’s examples, a student has doubts about his ability to become a school principal because he’s never seen one who has the same skin pigmentation, the solution isn’t to affirm the doubts, but to correct them.
“Do you like helping people and trying to get people to work together to make things happen?”
“Do you like learning enough to go to college and then work in a school your whole life?”
“Well, then, you can do this job. We all face different challenges, but you have all the qualities that enabled me to have this career.”
An attitude that insists that this sample dialogue is naive is precisely the problem. Layering in more complications brings all sorts of social garbage into a pure person-to-person connection. Moreover, the SJW attitude just creates another “belief gap.” The difference is that the gap is in the degree of empathy or imagination, rather than intelligence or studiousness.
Featured image: The protest that inspired “Shout Down the Hate.”