Social Justice: A Teacher's Perspective
By Cheryl Ichikawa
Children, even young children, understand fairness. At two years old they are developing a sense of autonomy, independence and freedom. The words, “No!” and “Mine!” have become their best friends.
I watched a little boy walk around the classroom picking up items, content with just having them in his possession. He had a doll tucked under his arm, a baby bottle in one hand and a block (which he used as a phone) in another. He knelt down to pick up a bottle of bubbles, but in the process, his baby slipped from beneath his arm and fell to the ground. Another child was walking by, saw the baby on the ground, and picked it up. The little boy screamed and said, “No! No! No!... Mine!” as he lay on the ground in utter dismay. The child, startled by the outburst, handed the baby back to the little boy, who then quietly went about his business.
What this boy was doing was using his voice and asserting his rights, as he saw them. As is typical for young children who are in nurturing and supportive environments, he has learned that his voice and actions give him influence in the world. What happens to many people as they grow, however, is that they lose that sense of influence. Whether it’s because they live in poverty and have scarce resources, or they don’t have a safe place to live, or they've experienced abuse or neglect…any number of factors can chip away at them until they are thoroughly disenfranchised. They learn that society is not always just.
Social justice comes from a very specific place. It is born in the hearts and minds of individuals who want to make a difference in society. It’s about understanding the human condition and finding ways to address the needs of those people and families you encounter along the way. It’s about providing a little peace, harmony and support to mothers, fathers and children that deal with so much each and every day. It’s about letting people know that you see them for who they are and what they are trying to do with their lives and for their families. This desire to make a difference is what brought me to Children Today. What keeps me here are the children that greet me each morning with hugs and smiles.
What I have learned about social justice is that what the compassionate side of our society is trying to accomplish is not simply giving things away, but providing a means by which people are allowed to find their own way. That is what we do at Children Today. Our parents allow us to care for their children so that they can find a way to be self-reliant, responsible, and productive members of their community. They want to be seen. They want to be understood. But most importantly, they want to be valued for who they are and what they are trying to accomplish in their life. For many, that is being able to take care of their family, and isn’t that what most of us are trying to accomplish?
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Various members of the Children Today staff contribute to these blog posts.