“Schools are identity factories. They teach students who they are” (Bigelow, 2001, p.37). If we hope to encourage students to be lovers and doers of justice, we need to help them understand who they are in terms of God’s story, the true story of the whole world. We need to help them see themselves in the story so when they read about God exhorting Israel to do justice, they hear him speaking to them and when they read Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples, they hear him speaking to them. We need to help them see that they are a part of the body of Christ called to love and do justice. We need to encourage them to embrace and embody their part of the story with gratitude and joy, even in the midst of brokenness and discouragement. They need to recognize that when it comes to justice and injustice, there is no us versus them. The stain of Evil runs through all of us. We need to encourage them to grow in the hope and faith that sees the arc of history bending toward justice and flourishing when God will one day come to dwell with his people. They need to come to know that this is God’s work and they have the unspeakable privilege of partnering with him in it.
Teaching for and as justice requires that we cultivate a learning environment that is conducive to mutual respect, risk taking, self-examination, reflection, intellectual honesty, and mutual submission. Young people should have the opportunity to discover their gifts and pursue their passions. It must be an environment that is bridled by love where both joy and sorrow can find expression. It must be a hospitable space “not to make [explorations of justice and injustice] painless but to make the painful things possible, things without which no learning can occur – things like exposing ignorance, testing tentative hypotheses, challenging false or partial information, and mutual criticism of thought” (Palmer, 1983, p. 74). It must be a space “where questions and answers do not need to be couched within ground rules of a competitive game” (Palmer, 1983, p. 75). It must be a space where being faithful is more important being ‘right.’
The experience of the student in the learning space and the learning experiences in which they engage must foster compassion. “Affluence can easily isolate and insulate us from the desperate needs of the world” (Vryhof, 2011, p. 31). We need to give injustice a human face to overcome the “privileged lull” (Stassen & Gushee, 2003, p. 365) and to avoid being “flat-souled” (Vryhof, 2011, p. 30) people who lack the capacity or inclination to feel genuine emotions and for long, deep, and meaningful exploration and response. Lovers and doers of justice are moved by their surroundings. “They . . . know that life matters, that the world has meaning, and that choices have consequences. They will agonize and thrill over those choices. They will experience shame and elation. They will have a healthy awe, often wordless but apparent, when they see God’s grace in . . . an act of selflessness, and the healing of brokenness” (Vryhof, 2011, p. 30). This requires a culture of paying attention. Compassion leads to caring engagement that must begin in the learning space among those that inhabit that space.
Bigelow, Bill (2001). “Teaching about unsung heros: encouraging those who fought for social justice” in Rethinking our classrooms, Vol 2. VT: Rethinking Schools.
Palmer, Parker J. (1998). The courage to teach: exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Stassen, Glen H. & Gushee, David P. (2003). Kingdom ethics: following Jesus in contemporary context. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Vryhof, Steven (2011). Affirmations 2.0: Christian schooling for a changing world. Grand Rapids: Christian Schools International.
elaine brouwer, Alta Vista