Is social justice really something that should be taught to young children?
Injustices Are All around Them
Though teachers may have some part in controlling the culture within their classrooms, and parents have control of the culture in their homes, no one can control the world that children face when they walk outside, or when they turn on a TV, or when they turn on their computers.
The fact is that injustice is all around them. They face social issues all of the time. They will see it and some will live it, too. Some might wonder why they can’t find television shows with characters that look like them. Some might notice assumptions made about them based on their looks, their sexual orientation, or even their names. They see, and feel, unfairness all around them—even if they don’t realize exactly what they’re seeing and feeling. Children are actually quite the keen observers of the outside world. They experience struggles regarding privilege, power, and identity.
Ignoring social issues isn’t the answer. Even if you don’t talk about it, others will. And children might get a skewed perception of power, privilege, racism, sexism, and other social justice issues if teachers and parents don’t step in to explain—and to teach.
Social Justice as a Tool
Instead of ignoring social issues and avoiding social justice, we should be using it as a teaching tool to help children better understand themselves, better understand others, and better understand the world they live in.
It can help those struggling with identity crises to feel more comfortable with themselves and to understand why they’re being picked on, why they’re being hurt, why things just don’t seem “fair.” It can help those who come from power and privilege to ally with those who are disempowered. It can teach context and empathy for minority groups.
Furthermore, it’s an opportunity to create future social justice warriors who can question, challenge, change, and improve the status quo. It’s an opportunity to empower children to stand up for what they believe in.
By listening to and reading stories of injustice, progress can be actualized.
Teaching children about social issues is, no doubt, a difficult task. It can be uncomfortable and awkward. And it can raise difficult questions that you might not feel ready to answer just yet. But it’s so important. Children need to be able to understand the society they live in as it is—not as we wish it to be. They need our honesty and openness.
We cannot deny that injustices exist, and thus, we cannot deny kids the opportunity to learn about social justice. It should be taught both at home and in the classroom. And diverse books can help start the conversation about social justice.