MemberMay 5, 2021 at 3:30 pm
James C. Wilson, Ed.D.
We are all now familiar with the concept of social justice. Clearly, we should all agree to equal rights for all Americans. In this vein, Martin Luther King, Junior was famous for his fight for social justice, but he also spoke of the essential need for economic justice for all Americans.
In a capitalistic society, economic justice can have multiple definitions, but for most people it comes in the form of good jobs. A good job provides for the basic economic needs of an American family. The job provides economic stability. Some workers go on to start small businesses and a few start large businesses. This economic stability is based on the ability to get a good job in the first place, which requires technical skills. It also absolutely requires soft employment skills to keep a job.
For the great majority of Americans, jobs are the key to economic justice. The underlying requirement for jobs is job skills. The days of unskilled labor are gone. Thus, the real issue is how we provide job skills for Americans. This accepting of the responsibility for providing job skills is really a paradigm change for the political and educational leaders of America.
American institutions must create a new paradigm of educational justice. In the past, we have thought educational justice meant bringing the proportion of Black, Hispanic, and Native American students up to the same level of college graduates as that of white and Asian students. This certainly is a form of educational justice. Now, however, we must understand that educational justice means that our educational system must provide not only college preparation, but also career preparation. We must accept the necessity of high schools to prepare our youth for work in a systematic manner. This notion of preparing our youth in high school for employment is an important expansion of our definition of educational justice.
Many Americans are very upset about the need for improving social justice. What they do not understand, however, is that social justice is based on economic justice, which is based on educational justice. In other words, if we don’t prepare our population with substantial job skills, we can never have social justice. Economic justice at scale will mean raising the population’s wages so essentially everyone who works will be middle class. It means largely eliminating income inequality. It would also reduce the health injustice in America where poor people have limited access to healthcare. Until healthcare is disconnected from work, jobs are the key to affordable, quality healthcare.
Of course, putting people to work will not be the exclusive solution to improving social justice in America, but it is the major solution to move the country toward social justice. A second addition in redefining educational justice to lead to social justice would be to require coursework in high school to sensitize youngsters to issues such as racism, antisemitism, homophobia, and misogyny. The reality is the high school is the last time our society has a universal captive population. These social justice issues can be presented as workplace issues where insensitivity to these important national issues will result in firing.
Therefore, the difficult issue is how do we modify our societal institutions to provide our youth with job skills in a systematic way, sensitize our youth to discriminatory practices, and how do we help our youth find good jobs. The institution that covers the largest population in a systematic way to provide these essential skills is the American high school. Unfortunately, today’s American high schools have accepted the idea of elitist college preparation for all. In order to provide job skills for the 70 percent of American students who do not go on to graduate from college, we must alter the culture and organization of our high schools.
The present policy of college for all in our high schools is based on implicit educational elitism. Well-meaning leaders seeking educational justice created elite high school education graduation requirements hoping to increase college entrance of Black, Hispanic, and Native American students. Now, however, we must face the reality that there is no research to support this elitist policy. It was put in place blindly in reaction to racial tracking. This new reverse tracking actually hurts more students than the original racial tracking.
Lower achieving and average students are essentially being pushed out of high school into the school-to-prison pipeline. We have almost a million high school dropouts a year. Seventy percent of the 2.5 million in prison and 4.5 million on probation and parole are high school dropouts. This well-meaning, but implicit educational elitist policy is the underlying problem of social justice in America. This is why this broader definition of educational justice is essential to create economic justice in order to create social justice.
The solution to creating this new paradigm of educational justice in America is the high school career academy. High school career academies have proven research that they increase high school attendance, provide technical and soft skills, increase high school graduation, increase employment after high school, and decrease crime and incarceration rates. We have the power to use educational justice to create a better country where we put our youth to work instead of prison.
Some say let’s use the community colleges to provide employment skills for the American population. The crucial problem with this solution is the highest dropout rate in high school occurs in the ninth grade. Thus, in order to break the high school-to-prison pipeline, which is certainly part of social justice, we must begin the educational intervention of career academies in at least in the ninth grade of high school. The community colleges can certainly provide higher level technical education programs after students have obtained employable skills in high school.
High school career academies, with sensitivity education, can be implemented across the country and create a new educational justice paradigm that will change the present paradigm of economic injustice in America. Thus, if we can expand career academies across the country, we can use educational justice to create economic justice and then, social justice in America.
(Dr. Wilson obtained his Doctorate in Education at the University of Southern California. His new book on using high school career academies to overcome the school to prison pipeline, Cataclysmic Failure: American High Schools, is available on Amazon.)
AdministratorMay 6, 2021 at 7:03 am
@Jim What question do you have for the community as it relates to economic injustice, issues of social justice, and the role that high school plays in addressing both of these topics?
MemberMay 6, 2021 at 10:42 am
Nicole, we must understand that today’s high schools are not meeting the needs of non college bound youth. School boards are far too ignorant to make the changes required to alter the trajectory of many students. The community, in the form of mayors, council members, clergy, or community organizations must take up the leadership role. In my books, I explain how high school career academies increase attendance, provide employment skills, increase graduation rates and increase employment rates of graduates. These improvements in high schools can break the school to prison pipeline.
Log in to reply.