Diversity and social justice in education are central issues for today’s teacher. While education has long been heralded as a part of a society where a true meritocracy reigns, educators know further work needs to be done to truly create a level playing field for people of all races, ethnic origins, and economic backgrounds.

This is especially an issue for those who wish to earn a master’s of education and move into leadership positions in the field. School districts in Massachusetts and around the country are much more demanding than in past generations in this critical area especially for those who plan to focus on curriculum design in graduate school.

But what do people mean in the 21st century when they talk about diversity and social justice in education?

Defining Diversity and Social Justice in Education

The importance of diversity and social justice in education has never been higher. The National Education Association (NEA) defines diversity as “the sum of the ways that people are both alike and different.” That can include many different aspects of a person, including race, ethnicity, primary language, cultural background, religion, physical abilities, mental abilities, and socio-economic class. It can also include immigration status.

Diversity is not an issue, of course. It’s a person’s or community’s reaction to the diversity that is the focus of diversity in education. Acceptance of diversity is just one part of social justice. Social justice also involves creating an education system that offers “democracy and the freedom to exercise one’s full humanity,” according to Education Week.

Diversity, Social Justice and Curriculum Design

In the Education Week article, Crystal Belle, an educator of teachers, said it is impossible to talk about schools without also “addressing race, class, gender, ability, sexuality, and politics because education is a political act. “

Educators who work in curriculum design can take a lead role in establishing social justice teaching and learning practices into curriculum. Belle writes that education should “look at curriculum as a primary mechanism for making the world a more equitable place.”

The NEA, in a toolkit for teachers in social justice, notes that the absence of social justice results in oppression and all kinds of “isms” – racism, sexism, ageism, classism, ableism, and heterosexism.

The organization advises teachers to focus on diversity, under the mechanisms that cause and continue social injustice, and approach education with a mindset of inclusion, always asking, “Who is being left out?” The NEA also has a toolkit for diversity in education. One strategy it suggests is to treat diversity as an opportunity for students to learn about other cultures. Celebrating diversity is also a sound strategy.

Education World offers a list of ways to incorporate social justice into classrooms for the youngest students, including topics such as “Can a Girl Be a Plumber?” and “Put-Ups,” in which students offer each other compliments rather than “put-downs.”

What You Learn in a Master’s Degree Program

At Merrimack College, educators who earn a master’s degree in education will learn about the issues surrounding diversity and social justice in education. Students learn about the history of power and privilege and how that plays out in diverse populations. Students are asked to explore their own biases and prejudices. Graduate students also learn how to influence social change through education, advocacy, and outreach.

Diversity and social justice in education are key areas for those who wish to succeed in the field, particularly in curriculum design and other leadership positions. A quality master’s degree program can offer what educators need to excel in their job in the modern world.