Both as agents of the state, and as models for children who learn through observing their speech and actions, public school educators and policy makers are responsible for enacting justice. However, because of historical or contextual injustices within the school system and society as a whole, they often face situations in which there are no truly just options. Under these circumstances, they are faced with deciding what “least unjust” action they might take, rather than what the truly just or ethical action would be. Examples include whether to retain an under-served student who has not met the benchmarks to be promoted but who will likely drop out if she is held back, discipline policies that disproportionately punish black boys even when applied in a prima facie neutral manner, budget-driven teacher firings in Los Angeles Unified School District, and conflicts over school closures in a number of urban school districts. In each of these situations, educators and policy makers must act—they cannot sit on the sidelines and do nothing—but in so doing, they may find themselves further perpetuating injustice. These educators hence also experience moral injury: the trauma of doing moral wrong toward others, which inflicts a moral wrong upon themselves. In this lecture, Levinson will draw upon case studies of dilemmas of educational justice to address the questions: What options are open to teachers, principals, and policy makers in these situations? How can they best be prepared to identify, reason, and take action about these dilemmas of educational injustice? What principles define educators’ and policy makers’ obligations toward students? Likewise, what principles should guide society’s obligations toward educators who suffer moral injury?
Meira Levinson is a normative political philosopher by training, who draws upon scholarship from multiple disciplines as well as her eight years of experience teaching in the Atlanta and Boston Public Schools. Her most recent book, No Citizen Left Behind (Harvard University Press, 2012), shows how schools can help tackle a civic empowerment gap that is as shameful and anti-democratic as the academic achievement gap targeted by No Child Left Behind. In 2013, it was awarded the Michael Harrington Award from the American Political Science Association, the Exemplary Research in Social Studies Award from the National Council for the Social Studies, and a Critics Choice Award from the American Educational Studies Association. Levinson’s other publications include The Demands of Liberal Education (Oxford University Press, 1999), the co-authored Democracy at Risk (Brookings Press, 2005), the co-edited Making Civics Count (Harvard Education Press, 2012), and more than 30 scholarly and popular articles and book chapters.
Burke Lecture co-sponsors include the Center for American Political Responsiveness; College of Education; Democracy Institute; Department of Communication Arts and Sciences; Department of Curriculum and Instruction, College of Education; Department of English; Office of Multicultural Programs, College of Education; D.J. Willower Center for the Study of Leadership and Ethics; University Libraries.
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