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We need social justice education more now than ever (opinion)


Submitted by Dallas Smith

I am writing in response to the recent protests lodged against the Washoe County School District in their consideration of implementing a social justice curriculum.  The protests particularly oppose any social justice program that would be implemented for young children in grades K-5. 

The dictionary defines social justice as, “justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society.”

Protestors make the assumption that teaching social justice would “inculcate children with a false perception of oppression and victimhood and contempt for our laws and institutions.” They further asserted that “the moral complexity of our history is a concept that is incredibly difficult for adults, let alone school-aged children, to grasp.”

A Black Lives Matter protest in Carson City. Image: Ty O'Neil
A Black Lives Matter protester on June 20, 2020 in Carson City, Nev. Image: Ty O’Neil / This Is Reno

On the contrary, I believe that it should be the goal of education, starting with students as young as in grades K-5, to instill an awareness of the need for justice and equal opportunity for all, particularly for those groups in society for whom social justice has been denied.;

It is a misguided notion that somehow young students are better off if the negative realities of our history are ignored or censored. I am referring, of course, to the continuing legacy of slavery, the historical suppression of Native Americans, and the denigration of immigrants, Moslems, Jews, gays, transsexuals, etc. 

Young people do not suddenly gain the capacity to understand the values of social justice only when they reach sixth grade. It is naive to assume that children in grade school will not have already heard racial and/or sexual slurs. Indeed, children belonging to certain groups or minorities will likely have personally experienced racism or discrimination, aimed at them personally, or to their parents or ethnic group.

Black parents are compelled to have “the talk” with their children as to how to avoid the dangers unfortunately experienced by Blacks all too often during interactions with the police. The fact that white parents do not need to have “the talk” with their kids is an example of “white privilege.”

I believe in the ideals put forth in the U.S. Constitution, which I learned in school. Social justice values equality before the law and free speech. These are best served starting with instruction for young pupils as early as is feasible.

Clearly, it wouldn’t be necessary to teach the values of social justice if they were demonstrated and lived every day, in every family, and in all parts of our society. Grades K-5 are not too early to start teaching values of social justice. We need to lead by example and teach those values, now more than ever.

 Dallas Smith is a local business owner, professional musician, and longtime Reno resident.

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