Two inspiring talks on social justice

The SCoTENS conference on the theme ‘Teacher Education for Social Justice’ took place in Limerick on 15 and 16 October. The opening keynote address was given by Professor Kathleen Lynch from UCD, a well-known theorist and activist in the spheres of social justice and equality.

The title of Kathleen’s talk was, ‘There is no view from nowhere: ideology, social justice and teacher education’. As always, her presentation was inspiring and passionate, and she didn’t hold back from levelling criticism where she felt it was due. She spoke about the tyranny of numbers, which I’m sure would resonate with all teachers who are constantly under pressure to provide statistical data from standardised tests to show evidence of improvement. Another thought-provoking statement she made was that, though we all learn to read, we fail to read the world. This she attributes to colonisation and regulation of thought, which causes us to view the world through the dominant eyes.

Kathleen argued for equality of condition, rather than equality of opportunity: the latter is based on a meritocratic myth, which blames the victim for their situation of inequality and doesn’t alter the underlying structures of inequality and injustice. In the current climate of marketisation, managerialism and consumerism,, there is little space for ethics and no incentive to help the needy. Values such as equality and social justice have only a rhetorical function.

The closing keynote address was given by Professor Ken Zeichner from Washington University. The title of his talk was ‘How Teacher Education can Contribute to Social Transformation and Greater Justice’.

Ken described three types of teachers for social justice: defenders, reformers and transformers. In the schools of the defenders, multiculturalism and diversity are embraced. Knowledge is produced by universities and applied by schools: community-based knowledge is largely ignored. In the reformer schools, the focus is on raising test scores. ‘Sick’ schools are replaced with corporate schools. Teachers are seen as technicians. In the transformer schools, educational reform alone is not sufficient. The epistemology needs to match the rhetoric about social justice. University, school and community knowledge all need to be recognised. Teachers and teacher educators need to work in solidarity with the community, rather than think their role is to ‘save’ the community.

There were other interesting presentations and workshops at the conference also. It was a really worthwhile experience that I was glad to be able to attend.


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