Education and the Work of Social Justice

Education can be an important vehicle of social mobility, for giving people the capacity to change their lives for the better. Education should allow students to expand their horizons and to choose (and work for) the kind of life they want to lead — rather than merely accept the lot in life that seemed to have been assigned to them.

Education can also be an important vehicle for protecting social privilege, for giving people the capacity to protect their own and their children’s social standing. Education can be an exclusive good, allowing the sons and daughters of the elite to remain on top.

At Wesleyan we have long believed in opening the university’s doors to talented, creative and ambitious students from all walks of life. We have worked hard to recruit students from groups previously excluded by elite institutions and to provide them with the tools for success here on campus and beyond. We know that everyone in the university benefits from having a diverse campus in which students, faculty and staff educate one another to think critically and creatively while valuing independence of mind and generosity of spirit. That’s our mission.

All around us, however, we see the effects of an educational system that functions to re-empower those with resources while undermining the chances for success of those who do not have that good fortune. There are, however, extraordinary men and women working to change that dynamic, and one of them is here today. Geoffrey Canada, president of the Harlem Children’s Zone, will be our Martin Luther King Jr. speaker this afternoon, and he will share his “simple yet radical idea: to change the lives of inner city kids we must simultaneously change their schools, their families, and their neighborhoods.” He does the work of social justice through education.

Mr. Canada’s talk helps kick-off the year’s Social Justice Leadership Conference. Students, faculty, staff and alumni are coming together to discuss a wide range of issues linking education to other efforts to enhance freedom and fairness. A schedule is here.

3 thoughts on “Education and the Work of Social Justice”

  1. Geoffrey Canada’s inspiring speech tonight did more than merely point out the flaws in our current educational system; it was a call to action for Wesleyan students and faculty alike to become more actively engaged in the reform of education for children here and abroad. In order to keep discussing the issues with education and to delineate better solutions, it would be great to see Wesleyan students and faculty come together to create a “Teaching Certificate” program that aims to not only incite passion for reform in students, but that also inspires Wesleyan students to apply their knowledge practically.

  2. Access to education will be one of the most important issues in the next 20 years. Education can support and improve social justice only when those from less privileged circumstances have a real shot to attend institutions like Wesleyan. Secondary education in the US fails many, especially in the cities and less affluent areas. The gap between “haves” and “have nots” with regard to the quality of secondary education continues to grow along with income disparity. Wesleyan must be a leader in finding ways to offer access to those who have not enjoyed the privilege of an elite private or high quality suburban public education. The challenge will be to admit and help promising and talented students whose preparation for college was not at the same level. Only then will Wesleyan truly promote social justice. While the increase in applicants is a great sign of how the value of a Wesleyan education is perceived in the market, another important metric for Wesleyan’s impact on social just is how many less privileged but talented applicants are admitted, enroll and succeed at Wesleyan.

  3. Having attended the 3rd annual SJLC conference on Saturday as one of the few alum (<10%), I sought out sessions that would give me a few different perspectives on the "pulse of the current dialogue" and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of both student led discussions as well as the religious leader (read chaplains) panel among others! In general, I noticed that a diversity of the students, alum and faculty attending (regardless of religious/ethnic/gender/race/ socioeconomic status) genuinely grappled with concerns of equity around not only educational issues but the environment, health care, human rights etc…. I encouraged all to reach out and involve themselves with the work of our 9 month old affinity group – Wesleyan Alumni in Philanthropy and Public Service (WAPPS) – which can be accessed on the WUAA subgroup on LinkedIn! Stay tuned….

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