Social Justice and Educational Equity

What We Know Now


Social jus­tice refers to the idea of cre­at­ing a soci­ety or insti­tu­tion that is based on the prin­ci­ples of equality and solidarity, that under­stands and val­ues human rights, and that rec­og­nizes the dig­nity of every human being. Edu­ca­tional equity is a fed­er­ally man­dated right of all stu­dents to have equal access to classes, facil­i­ties, and edu­ca­tional pro­grams no mat­ter what their national ori­gin, race, gen­der, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, dis­abil­i­ties, first lan­guage, or other dis­tin­guish­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic. In uphold­ing edu­ca­tional equity, school dis­tricts are required to pro­vide cer­tain pro­grams for stu­dents to ensure equal education.


Based on the con­cepts of human rights and equal­ity, social jus­tice can be defined as “the way in which human rights are man­i­fested in the every­day lives of peo­ple at every level of soci­ety”. A num­ber of movements are work­ing to achieve social jus­tice in soci­ety. These move­ments are work­ing towards the real­iza­tion of a world where all mem­bers of a soci­ety, regard­less of back­ground or pro­ce­dural jus­tice, have basic human rights and equal edu­ca­tional access to the ben­e­fits of their society.

Considerations or Implications:

If you ask a lot of peo­ple to define social jus­tice and edu­ca­tional equity you are going to get many dif­fer­ent def­i­n­i­tions. Def­i­n­i­tions will be based on a vari­ety of fac­tors, like polit­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion, reli­gious back­ground, and polit­i­cal and philo­soph­i­cal beliefs. If you ask a post-​modernist about this con­cept, he or she is likely to tell you it is a fairy­tale that is not in any way achiev­able in any form of soci­ety. From a polit­i­cal stance that is left­ist, you may leg­is­late to cre­ate a just soci­ety, and var­i­ous pro­grams needed to exist in order to col­lect monies to even the play­ing field between rich, mid­dle class, poor and those peo­ple who are rou­tinely mar­gin­al­ized by society.

Equal rights can be defined as equal access to things that make it pos­si­ble for peo­ple in any soci­etal sec­tor to be suc­cess­ful. The left would argue that there are cer­tain basic needs that must be offered to all. These include things like truly equal edu­ca­tion and safety in all schools and pro­grams that would help all chil­dren have the finan­cial oppor­tu­nity to attend col­lege. The right polit­i­cal stance may equally endorse a just soci­ety, but may crit­i­cize those who make poor choices and feel that while equal oppor­tu­nity should exist, a gov­ern­ment should not leg­is­late for this. In fact it is argued that social jus­tice is dimin­ished when gov­ern­ments cre­ate pro­grams to deal with it, espe­cially when these pro­grams call for greater tax­a­tion. Instead, those who have more money should be encour­aged to be phil­an­thropic, not by pay­ing higher taxes, which is arguably unjust. From a reli­gious per­spec­tive, you may find peo­ple all over the polit­i­cal spec­trum who argue for social jus­tice. Many Chris­t­ian groups believe you bring about jus­tice through Christ­like actions of mercy, espe­cially those that help peo­ple who have been mar­gin­al­ized by soci­ety. An Islamic per­spec­tive on social jus­tice is sim­i­lar; one of the Five Pil­lars of Islam that is all must give to the poor. How­ever, cer­tain sects of Islam pro­mote views of women and men as dif­fer­ent; women are not equal to and are sub­servient to men. The post­mod­ern cri­tique on the idea of a just soci­ety pro­vokes inter­est­ing debate. Can there ever be a just soci­ety? Can we ever view all peo­ple as inher­ently equal and enti­tled to the same rights and priv­i­leges? It’s hard to know, since most philoso­phers would argue that no one has ever cre­ated a com­pletely just soci­ety, where all peo­ple have an even chance. Even in the most social­ist nations, there is poverty and unequal dis­tri­b­u­tion of wealth.


Lead­ing for Social Jus­tice: Trans­form­ing Schools for All Learn­ers, Frat­tura & Cap­per (2007)

Kurt A. Schnei­der, Ph.D., WASCD Board of Directors

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