Teaching Critical Thinking for Social Justice

In its efforts to see more people involved in the practice of democracy, CCLET has developed a unique approach to engaging educators in teaching critical thinking about rights and freedoms for social justice.  Using principles that inform the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, CCLET provides teachers and students with a simplified framework for introducing a basic structure of questions that are applicable to nearly any issues involving considerations of fairness.

As anyone who has entered a school can attest, even young children are very quick to identify and to express concerns about their perceptions of unfairness. CCLET maintains that anyone who has the capacity to say “that’s not fair,” has the capacity to engage in critical thinking about rights and responsibilities.

Using age-appropriate stories, both real and imaginary, as well as current events and actual court cases,  basic questions are introduced for open-ended classroom discussion.

The primary focus is: What is a reasonable or fair limit to the specific rights or freedoms that arise in the story?

The subsidiary questions which structure and guide the analysis of the primary focus are:

  1. Why? What is the purpose for the limit – or rule or law – under consideration?
  2. Will or does it work?  Does the regulation or limit actually have the capability to achieve its goal or primary purpose?
  3. What else does it do? Does the rule go too far? What are some of the side effects that you could anticipate being caused by the limit?

This scaffold of questions  is the basic set of tools that CCLET provides to educators for engaging in the exercise of teaching for democracy.

Please see the  opinion pieces and resources linked to this page. They help to explain why we all need to participate in educating the next generation for civic engagement.

Click here to visit Danielle McLaughlin’s Huffington Post blog page, or click the links below to view individual posts:

Summer 2012 – Education Canada – What happened to the “public” in public education? (by Janet Keeping & David King)

Many Canadians seem to have lost track of the role that public education plays in the nurturing of our civic culture. We have allowed consumerist thinking – the more choice, the better – to infect public policy around education. A moment’s reflection reminds us that the corollary of consumerism is fragmentation. It is important that choice in public education be conducive to the attainment of both public policy objectives and the needs of the student. In our view, public school systems should not facilitate choice that is simply a market response to consumer demand for different “packaging”, elite accommodation, or any other factor irrelevant to those two primary objectives. Not all choice-based schools threaten Canadian democracy and civic values, but some do – particularly those that segregate children along lines such as race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or economic status. History teaches us that segregation promotes elitism and militates against the development of a fair-minded, inclusive democracy.

Winter 2012 – Education CanadaThe King of Denmark and the Naked Mole Rat: Teaching Critical Thinking for Social Justice (cover story)

Asking hard questions is just that – hard. But if we are truly committed to teaching for social justice, we need to encourage our children to find as many points of view as they can, and to ask questions we may never be able to answer, knowing that education for citizenship lies in the process of thinking critically about the many sides of a question and working toward addressing the inequities this process reveals. If we find everyone to be in agreement, if we quickly find a consensus, we should acknowledge that someone must be missing. Whose voice is not being heard? We need to actively seek out views that contradict our own, or we may never truly understand our own views. Read more…

October 27, 2011 – Windsor Star – The Peanut Problem

Peanut butter has been getting a lot of ink lately. There have been media stories about schools that have forbidden both peanut butter and “safe” peanut butter substitutes – while food banks want donations of peanut butter.

Working toward building a tolerant and critically thinking society, my colleagues and I have been using peanut butter for years.

It turns out to be a great tool for teaching even young children about democratic rights and responsibilities.

June 27, 2011 – Windsor Star – Learning is not about gender, race, or ethnicity

Look at the photograph of Grade 3 boys from David Maxwell Public School on the front page of the June 8 Windsor Star. What do you see? Some rather charming little guys whose teacher, Cathy Boyer, is very proud of them? Or do you see apartheid in education?

In Jan Wong’s recent article in Toronto Life magazine, entitled “Why educational apartheid is not the answer to curbing dropout rates for specific racial and ethnic groups,” she argues that the recent move to create an Afrocentric high school in Toronto is a mistake. Read more

March 29, 2011 – Presentation at the University of Windsor Centre for Studies in Social Justice: “The King of Denmark and the Naked Mole Rat: Teaching Critical Thinking for Social Justice “

Educators have a unique role in democracies. Because well-functioning democracy depends upon a well-educated citizenry, teachers are charged with preparing the next generation to engage with the institutions of society and to take responsibility for the survival of democracy, itself. But, today’s teachers face controversies and conflicts in their classrooms on a daily basis. How are teachers to help students think their way through weighty decisions, when they may find only conflicting, but equally valid, rights? For example, what if equality rights conflict with freedom of speech? How far should religious freedoms extend? On what basis should decisions be made about which books are appropriate for our schools and library shelves? Embracing disagreement is crucial for developing a reflex to justice; creative critical thinkers may be our only hope.

>>>>Click here to watch the full-length video of the conference <<<

March 14, 2011 – Windsor Star –  Begley School leading the way in urban education

Yogi Berra once famously said: “In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice, there is.” This puzzling statement describes the situation that faces educators and schools around the world when it comes to improving education.

How can we help children who have trouble achieving in school? We know that the old “boot camp” style of teaching does nothing for many children, particularly those who are disadvantaged or who may have a learning disability. But many schools cling to the old methods because the teachers and principals themselves learned that way.

They find themselves setting aside all the research and theory they learn in faculties of education when they face complexities in classrooms of their own. Change can be difficult to implement when you are under pressure. We all tend to rely upon “traditional” ways of behaving, even when there may be no good reason to do so. Read more

November 15, 2011 – Windsor Star – Engaging students in the process of considering rights

Did you vote during the recent election? What does your six year old think about that? With any luck, your child is asking some interesting questions.

You may be surprised to learn that even very young children are capable of thinking critically about what it means to be a citizen — and of taking responsible action.

As the Law Foundation of Ontario’s Community Leadership in Justice Fellow at the University of Windsor’s Faculty of Education in 2010-2011, I have the great honour of working with people who are learning to teach the five “Rs.” Along with teaching reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic comes teaching rights and responsibilities. Through its focus on social justice, the University of Windsor’s Faculty of Education is at the forefront.

While many of us may think young children have limited capacity to think about complex situations, some teacher-candidates at the University of Windsor’s Faculty of Education are seizing the opportunity to teach critical thinking. Read more