What Does Injustice Have to Do with Me? A Pedagogy of the Privileged

Spring, 2011

Source: Harvard Educational Review, 81(1), (Spring 2011): 50-63.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article, the author describes his experiences as a suburban high school humanities teacher struggling to engage students with issues of social justice.

The author is influenced by Freiré (1974/1998), who encourages socially conscious educators to place issues of social injustice at the center of pedagogy.
The suburban teacher's job, therefore, can be to help students see opportunities for participation in the struggle for social justice.
However, effective pedagogy needs to be authentic; students must see connections between the material and their own lives.

The author works as an educator in a school primarily serving affluent white students. He finds that his students resist this multiculturally based social justice approach to humanities education.
Furthermore, that students' resistance is articulated in terms of the approach's irrelevance to them.

Hence, the author wonders how does all of this match up against calls for greater authenticity for (and from) students in largely white, privileged environments?

The author, as a teacher of literature, includes African American, Latino, and Asian American voices in the reading lists.
One of the missions of any literature class is to help students access the universal in human experience, even if the characters look or sound quite different than the students themselves. However, the author has also been increasingly drawing on white authors from the pool of anticolonial writers.

In this way, the author can provide his students an opportunity to engage in authentic conversation about times when they perceived that, ironically, a position of power actually limited their freedom.
The students share stories of their surprise at how being a camp counselor or babysitter, made them seek to impose limits on younger children that they themselves would have resented.
The students begin to see that their parameters of the role as someone in power, more than anything the children under their care did, was what made them act contrary to their perceived values.

By selecting texts and materials that explicitly feature white, privileged characters who recognize their privilege and pairing these texts with those of multicultural authors, the author is attempting to create a more workable space in which to address issues of racial and social justice so that privileged students will not immediately dismiss the topic.

In this article, the author has described how he changed his selection of texts in response to student needs, but further transformation may be necessary in order for students to gain firsthand experience in what it is like to construct a just and representative society using one's own classroom as a model.

The author suggests that the use of literature circles and other mechanisms for students to differentiate by preference can free up a teacher from the constraints of a single common reading list with which not all students easily identify.

Freire, P. (1998). Pedagogy of freedom: Ethics, democracy and civic courage. Lanham, MD: Lanham, Rowman & Littìefield. (Original work published 1974).

Updated: Oct. 16, 2012