In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Social Justice

  • Introduction
  • Ethics, Educator Development, and Practice
  • Black Studies Movement and the Quest for Social Justice
  • Philosophical Studies of Justice and Education
  • Economic Studies of Justice and Education
  • Political Studies of Justice and Education
  • Sociological Studies of Justice and Education
  • Anthropological Studies of Justice and Education
  • Public Policy Studies of Justice and Education

Education Social Justice
Jeffrey S. Brooks, Anthony H. Normore, Gaëtane Jean-Marie, Melanie C. Brooks
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 November 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0172


Social justice has both conceptual and empirical aspects. It is both a way of critically thinking about people, organizations, institutions, and movements and a set of actions that question, interrogate, and challenge inequity, inequality, and injustice. Social justice is most commonly conceived as a process rather than an outcome, as there is no final triumph over interpersonal and systemic oppression. Rather, social justice is an ongoing approach to critical engagement in sociopolitical life that includes such actions as transformational public intellectualism, nonviolent resistance, critical consciousness, coalition building, and critical activism. As a perspective and set of actions related to education, social justice calls for students, teachers, administrators, policymakers, and other community members to teach liberation of self and society rather than conformity to or acceptance of an inequitable status quo. While the ways to approach discussions of social justice are many and varied, this article is organized to provide a review of the key literature in various fields of the social sciences and to consider how these relate to education, seeking both to identify key concepts and to include understudied approaches. In particular, works cited are drawn from fields that include ethics, black studies, philosophy, economics, politics, sociology, anthropology, and public policy. Works of scholarship specific to education, focusing on student, teacher, administrator, and community, and policy research that aligns with each of these areas have been reviewed and included.

Ethics, Educator Development, and Practice

Philosophers and researchers have argued for the importance of including ethical study and reflection in educational preparation programs for prospective teachers and administrators (Shapiro and Stefkovich 2011). A moral foundation allows educators to evaluate the current and potential good of their practices in the midst of an abundance of non-research-based instructional fads, trends, tests, methodologies, and ideologies (Starratt 2004). While ethical reflection and inquiry may clarify some elusive concepts and help educators reframe their thinking about their work, curiosity and perspective-shifting are not enough—action must follow. Ethics seeks to resolve questions dealing with human morality. It involves concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime. The term comes from the Greek word “ethos” which means “character” (Aristotle 2003). Aristotle’s ideas hold great value in that they constitute a framework within which situations can be assessed from an ethical perspective (Brooks and Normore 2005). It seems appropriate to tailor educator preparation programs around the development and enhancement of students’ ability to examine the values and motivations that guide their behavior and that reflect on the intended and unintended consequences of those behaviors. Educator preparation programs must deal explicitly with formal ethical concerns and argue that their framework of ethics of critique, justice, and care are mutually inseparable and complimentary to each other. The ethic of critique calls upon us to “speak out against unjust rules and laws and social arrangements,” while the ethic of justice concerns the “universal application of principles of justice among individuals in society” (Starratt 2004, p. 98). Lastly, the ethic of care “compels us to be proactively sensitive to another person, extending ourselves beyond duty and convenience to offer other persons our concern and attention” (Starratt 2004, p. 99). Scholars of education are connecting the study of ethics with the concept of social justice (Normore and Brooks 2014). Although the two are closely related they are not intended to be used interchangeably. Still, these distinct and separate areas of scholarship are natural compliments to each other, particularly as one examines the relationship between moral/ethical reasoning and the transition of this reasoning into actions that move beyond conventional models of leadership and learning toward rights-based models of social justice leadership.

  • Applebaum, B. 2011. Being white, being good: White complicity, white moral responsibility, and social justice pedagogy. Lexington, KY: Lexington Books.

    The author advocates a shift in our understanding of the subject, of language, and of moral responsibility. Based on these shifts a new notion of moral responsibility is articulated that is not focused on guilt and that can help white students understand and acknowledge their white complicity.

  • Aristotle. 2003. The Nichomachean ethics. Translated by J. A. K. Thomson. Introduction by J. Barnes. New York: Penguin.

    Widely considered Aristotle’s best known work on ethics, this book plays a preeminent role in defining Aristotelian ethics. He believed that the pursuit of eudemonia (e.g., happiness or good spirit) was the ultimate goal to live a happy life, and also necessary for the perfect polis (the city to which Socrates was dedicated).

  • Brooks, J. S., and A. H. Normore. 2005. An Aristotelian framework for the development of ethical leadership. Values and Ethics in Educational Administration 3.2: 1–10.

    The authors describe an approach to the teaching of ethics to one subset of educators, namely prospective educational administrators, which may prompt them as practitioners to readily understand the value of an ethical orientation in their leadership practice. By focusing on Aristotle’s principles of character, emotion, and logic, a framework of moral leadership is introduced.

  • Burant, T. J., S. M. Chubbuck, and J. L. Whipp. 2007. Reclaiming the moral in the dispositions debate. Journal of Teacher Education 58.5: 397–411.

    DOI: 10.1177/0022487107307949

    This article suggests that teacher preparation and practice must put the study or morality at the center of scholarly conversations about teacher dispositions. Removing the moral aspects of dispositions and looking at them only as technically oriented is problematic in the teacher-student relationship.

  • Cloutier, C. J. 2013. The consciousness quotient: Leadership and social justice for the 21st century. Maple Ridge, BC: HeartStone.

    Using a transnational multipronged approach to research, The Consciousness Quotient provides a critical understanding of leadership as a phenomenon that affects ethics, morality, and social justice. Brain functionality, leadership practices, and legitimacy of decisions are among the major themes discussed.

  • Dotgers, B. H., and G. T. Theoharis. 2010. From disposition to action: Bridging moral/ethical reasoning and social justice leadership. Values and Ethics in Educational Administration 6.3: 1–8.

    A call for action suggests that school leaders address issues of equity and justice in the midst of a growing sociocultural diversity within schools. The authors focus on issues of race, disabilities, English language learners, low socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation, among others, by examining social justice leadership with the research base on moral/ethical reasoning.

  • Fried, J. 2010. Ethical standards and principles. In Student services: A handbook for the profession. 5th ed. Edited by J. H. Schuh, S. R. Jones, and S. R. Harper, 107–127. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    Fried examines and reviews ethical standards and principles in higher education. The chapter provides both a review of basic ethical principles and a consideration of their application in various higher education contexts.

  • Noddings, N. 2002. Educating moral people: A caring alternative to character education. New York: Teachers College.

    Noddings proposes an ethic of care as the basis upon which all moral education should take place. Central to this ethic of care is open-ended dialogue and discussion. In the collection of essays, classroom and controversial issues in education are covered. Noddings describes the similarities and differences between character education and care ethics and suggests ways to embed moral education throughout the curriculum.

  • Normore, A. H., and J. S. Brooks. 2014. Educational leadership for ethics and social justice: Views from the social sciences. Charlotte, NC: Information Age.

    This edited book includes a collection of essays that examine how leadership for ethics and social justice is conceptualized in the applied sciences in a way that educational leadership programs might help improve the preparation and practice of school leaders. By adopting this approach, leaders connect and extend long-established lines of conceptual and empirical inquiry and thereby gain insights that may otherwise be overlooked or assumed.

  • Palmer, P. 1998. The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    A reflective analysis of the way that ethics and morals undergird the act of teaching. The author reflects on his own experience as an instructor and draws relevant examples from research and practice to illustrate key points related to moral clarity and dilemmas.

  • Shapiro, J., and J. A. Stefkovich. 2011. Ethical leadership and decision making in education: Applying theoretical perspectives to complex dilemmas. 3d ed. New York: Taylor and Francis.

    Through discourse and instructional analysis of real-life moral dilemmas, Shapiro and Stefkovich demonstrate the application of their four ethical paradigms—the ethics of justice, care, critique, and profession. The book is a valuable resource for analyzing professional and personal codes of ethics and should be in every school leader’s library.

  • Starratt, R. 2004. Ethical leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    In this must-read book Starratt calls on every educational leader to become an ethical leader of learners by morally committing to three essential virtues: proactive responsibility; personal and professional authenticity; and an affirming, critical, and enabling presence to the workers and the work involved in teaching and learning.

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