Social Justice pedagogy poster

Eleven Chicago Teachers Union teachers and three members of the CTU Educational Policy Department attended a fantastic workshop this summer at University of Illinois at Chicago. The workshop, “Advancing Racial Justice in Schools,” was presented by the school’s Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy (IRRPP) as part of its Summer Education Workshop series.

A presentation by Chicago Public Schools science teacher Alejandra Frausto and former CPS teacher, now U.I.C. professor Daniel Morales-Doyle highlighted a method of developing student projects that creates high levels of interest, deep subject matter learning and a relationship to social justice. They used a chemistry lesson titled “Beauty and the Beast” as an example. This lesson came out of questions the teachers frequently heard from students related to beauty and identity. At the start of the project, students brought in a cosmetic or beauty product they used regularly and a picture of a “beautiful” person. These assignments heightened students’ interest in reading articles that placed “beauty” in a social context. The lesson incorporated other important activities to help them understand both chemistry and social justice issues. For their final projects, students invented their own products, using their knowledge of chemistry to make a safe product.

Teachers at the workshop then began to develop a unit that they could use with their own students, based on thinking about guidelines provided by the presenters. Teachers were also influenced by an earlier presentation by U.I.C. professor David Stovall, who developed the idea that schooling and education are two different things. School was never intended to educate, according to Stovall—students learn in spite of the system, and school is about order and compliance and is hyper-segregated by design. Teachers who want to actually educate might think of themselves as “fugitive teachers,” Stovall said.

The four-day workshop allowed participants to collaborate and learn from each other as well as from presenters. Other sessions that were part of the week included “How Race Matters in Schools and Classrooms,” “The School-to-Prison Pipeline,” “Restorative Justice and Restorative Conversations,” and “Youth Implementation of Grassroots Campaigns.” Participants were united in their common desire to play a role in both helping students live in the world as it is, and helping students change the world to be a better place.

This work will continue, as participants and others interested in teaching social justice meet throughout the school year.

Carol Caref, Ph.D., is the CTU Director of Education Policy. If you are interested in being part of this collaboration, please contact CTU Chief of Staff Jennifer Johnson at

This article appears in the September 2018 issue of the Chicago Union Teacher.