Dr Victoria Jamieson
The magnitude of economic disadvantage, poverty, and social inequality suggests that issues of social injustice demand our attention now, more than ever before. Recent years have demonstrated the shifts, changes, and the unpredictability of the world, where new injustices continually emerge. While vulnerability to social injustice is predominantly a function of complex institutional factors, I consider the ethical responsibility of formal education to create new opportunities and make way for a more just future for children and young people.
Diane Reay (2020) suggests that it is necessary to think more about the types of knowledge and pedagogic practices that could enhance social justice. She writes, ‘It appears that, despite the extensive academic energy devoted to delineating ‘powerful knowledge’, we still have a great deal more research to do in order to uncover what types of knowledge and forms of pedagogy both engage learners and enhance social justice’ (p. 825). Education needs to reinvigorate a more contemporary idea about what counts as valuable knowledge in the complex and uncertain world in which children and young people are growing up. It should also provide opportunities to consider the very practical issues affecting their futures. To better understand the concept of social justice, it is necessary to acknowledge the importance of lived experience. Through lived experience children and young people can be exposed to alternative visions, new understandings, and ways of thinking about social justice. My ideas for moving towards social justice are grounded in dialogic pedagogies such as communities of philosophical inquiry and philosophy for children, as a space to foster thinking, practising, and relating to knowing in new ways.
Communities of philosophical inquiry can be spaces to ask questions about life, where there may be more questions than answers. This can leave many feeling vulnerable. To better understand social justice, it is necessary to move deeper into an unknowing rather than a settling of knowing. As such, there needs to be an openness to not-knowing in which vulnerability is recognised as essential for compassionate relationships, and for individuals to begin to understand each other and work together (Jackson, 2020). Within a knowledge driven climate of education, there is of course tension in arguing for ‘not knowing’, and ‘vulnerability’. However, social justice demands a sense of humility, where it should be accepted that one will need to continuously return to, and to make progress with, the concept – and what one’s place is in relation to it.
The search for clarity around what social justice means, what it ought to mean, and how it could be otherwise needs to become part of the process of living in the challenging contemporary social world. A world which is tended to with a long acquaintance and an appreciation that there is no finite to be reached—there may be a way in, but it will be slow and incomplete. Our responsibility for social justice derives from belonging together in a space whereby progress can be made in realising possibilities. Here, there is the hope that we can begin to expose a sense of responsibility to collectively consider new ways of being, thinking, and seeing in relation to matters of social injustice. Within these processes, each of us expects justice towards ourselves, and others can legitimately make claims of justice on us.