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Chapter 10: Teaching to Empower: Social Justice Action Projects as Imperatives for Educational Justice

by Stephen D. Hancock, Ayana Allen-Handy, John A. Williams III, Bettie Ray Butler, Alysha Meloche & Chance W. Lewis - 2021

Background/Context: Teaching to empower requires a critical focus on the unique challenges and opportunities of teaching in socially unjust educational environments. Effective teaching happens in an environment that engages students and teachers in critical investigation of content, knowledge, and activities. Critical learning environments simultaneously nurture the development of multiple perspectives and challenge the status quo. Establishing a critical learning environment is imperative in an educational system that is plagued with academic and social injustices. Therefore, teaching to empower necessitates that teachers, with the help of students, dismantle injustices through culturally responsive teaching, the development of agency and activism, the growth of multiple perspectives, and the capacity to challenge the status quo.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The purpose of this chapter, a conceptual paper, is to lay the foundation for a framework of social justice action projects, which we differentiate from social action projects on the basis that social justice action projects are enveloped in critical race theory. Three educator vignettes are shared to illustrate how this framework functions in practice. We provide an example of a classroom teacher, a teacher educator, and a research perspective.

Research Design: This chapter, a conceptual paper, examines four components that we believe are essential for transforming social action projects into social justice action projects. Through personal narratives, we illuminate the challenges and successes of social justice action projects as they relate to learning, students, educators, and the community. Four of the authors, who are also researchers and educators, share autoethnographic experiences of their participation in social justice action projects in education.

Data Collection and Analysis: This chapter is a conceptual paper that seeks to illustrate the conceptual framework presented in the introduction of the chapter with three practical examples told from the point of view of the author teachers.

Findings/Results: When critical race theory acts as a framework for social action projects, these become social justice action projects, which, when properly applied, avoid many of the pitfalls that are common when social action projects do not serve the priorities of their community partners. For students, critical race-based pedagogies can serve to develop critical consciousness. Meanwhile, critical methods provide means by which students and community partners develop agency and activism.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Teaching through social justice action projects engages both students and teachers in critical dialogues that support empowered, action-oriented learning. While many effective teaching methods and strategies exist, the use of social justice action projects provides knowledge production, dialogue, and thinking beyond the whitewashed curriculum to create a world in which students, teachers, and community partners are empowered to make positive differences.  

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 123 Number 13, 2021, p. -
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23750, Date Accessed: 9/21/2021 10:21:23 AM

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About the Author
  • Stephen D. Hancock
    University of North Carolina at Charlotte
    E-mail Author
    STEPHEN D. HANCOCK, Ph.D., is an associate professor of multicultural education and assistant director of the Urban Education Collaborative at UNC Charlotte. His primary research foci include socioracial influences on autoethnographic methodologies, the impact of the PK–12 curriculum on racial identities of American students, and the exploration and analysis of the effects of whiteness on teaching and learning. He has recently published papers in Teachers College Record, Theory Into Practice, and Harvard Educational Review.
  • Ayana Allen-Handy
    Drexel University
    E-mail Author
    AYANA ALLEN-HANDY, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of urban education and the founding director of The Justice-oriented Youth (JoY) Education Lab in the School of Education at Drexel University. Her research seeks to advance educational, racial, and social justice through youth and community-led critical participatory action research. She has recently published articles in the Journal of Negro Education, Urban Education, Urban Review, Educational Psychology Review, and Theory Into Practice.
  • John A. Williams III
    Texas A&M University
    E-mail Author
    JOHN A. WILLIAMS III, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of multicultural education at Texas A&M University at College Station. His research centers on dismantling inequitable discipline practices toward African American students in K–12 schools. Additionally, his research investigates how to prepare and support culturally sustaining teachers. His recent article, “The Discipline Gatekeeper: Assistant Principals' Experiences With Managing School Discipline in Urban Middle Schools,” was just published in the Journal of Urban Education.
  • Bettie Ray Butler
    University of North Carolina at Charlotte
    E-mail Author
    BETTIE RAY BUTLER, PhD, is an associate professor of urban education and the director of the M.Ed. in Urban Education program at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. Her research interests include education policy/reform and culturally responsive practices. Her scholarly research has recently appeared in publications including Theory and Practice, Urban Education, The Urban Review, and Multicultural Perspectives.
  • Alysha Meloche
    Drexel University
    E-mail Author
    ALYSHA MELOCHE is a PhD candidate in education leadership and policy at Drexel University School of Education. Her research interests involve critical approaches to access, social justice, and diversity in the fields of creativity, aesthetics, and art education. Recent articles can be found in the Journal of Creative Behavior, Children and Youth Services Review, and Art Education.
  • Chance W. Lewis
    University of North Carolina at Charlotte
    E-mail Author
    CHANCE W. LEWIS, Ph.D., is the Carol Grotnes Belk Distinguished Professor of Urban Education and the director of the Urban Education Collaborative at UNC Charlotte. His research interests include African American student achievement and the recruitment/retention of African American teachers. Recent articles have been published in the following journals: Professional School Counseling, Journal of Advanced Academics, Journal of African American Males in Education and Urban Social Work.
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