Social Justice in the schools

This afternoon I received an email from an Urbana High School teacher who gave me permission to post an invitation to the class’s presentation on Social Justice:

For those of you who don’t know me, please allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Ellen Dahlke, and I am an English teacher at Urbana High School.  I also co-chair the Social Justice Committee, and this semester, I have had the privilege of teaching Social Justice, an elective course available to all students, grades nine through twelve.

My students and I would like to share with you what we’ve learned about discipline, punishment, and justice at UHS through a qualitative research project we’ve conducted this semester as well as the recommendations we have for positively contributing to our schools’ culture in terms of social justice.

We’d like to present Tuesday morning, May 15th, during our 1st hour class, 8:00 to 8:50 in the UHS Lecture Hall.  Please let me know if you’ll be able to make it.

Thanks for your time.

As stated by Ms. Dahlke, please let her know if you intend to participate. Her email is

Social Justice in the curriculum

On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to visit a Urbana High School class to see a curriculum that focuses on social justice. I am very intrigued by the premise, and I personally think some really good things can come out of this effort.


First off, I must admit I was somewhat disappointed. Overall, the students were having a really hard time engaging – not sure why. Maybe it was a slow day. I have to keep in mind that I am dropping in right before Spring Break.


However, some students did have a few awesome observations and you could see the wheels turning in their heads. The topic for the week is to ask why behavior referrals (and grounds for suspension) were given to a disproportionate numbers of African Americans. What I like is the context – the teacher is asking the kids for their perspective and ideas on what to do about it. It is not some know-it-all proselytizing the world about his or her views. Their task is to go out and interview folks (mostly students, I think, but I could be wrong) and to learn more about the situations. An excellent point come up – is that nosy? If you get all up in somebody’s face about their business, why should they tell you anything? The class period ended before much discussion could happen on that thread. What came to my mind is “People don’t care what you know until the know you care.”


They also watched a couple videos, trying to discern who the target audience is and how the message is communicated.  While this is a very interesting exercise, it became a bit passive. 🙂 I have to mention the one video – it was a group of students reading demands they have of their school, their administration and their community. It was a very powerful statement. But as discussed, the audience is quite narrow – due to the vocabulary used, it was aimed at mostly “educated” folks. Even the kids reading the demands stumbled over the words from time to time, which makes you wonder “Who really wrote them?” Was it not the students themselves?


I continue to think that social justice is crucial in schools. I am not exactly sure how it should be implemented – I have not yet gone that far. But I leave you with two thoughts.


1. “The education and support of children is some of the world’s most important work.”
PBF Belief Statement #10 — Dr. Edna Olive, Executive Director of ROCKET, Inc.


2. The motto on the School Board letterhead reads “Better Schools Build Better Communities”; I am convinced that better communities build better schools as well – I view it as a symbiosis.


New Assistant Superintendent for Achievement and Pupil Services

Administrative Appointment
January 24, 2012

Dr. Laura Taylor has been appointed Assistant Superintendent for Achievement and Pupil Services for the Champaign Unit 4 School District. The appointment will become effective July 1, 2012.

Dr. Taylor holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois, Masters Degree from the University of Miami and a Doctor of Education from the University of Illinois. In addition to her work in public schools, she also serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Illinois, teaching graduate level courses in the College of Education. She is currently the Principal at Urbana High School. During her tenure in Urbana, the high school made the College Board Advanced Placement Achievement List for two consecutive years and was awarded a bronze medal by U.S. News and World Report.

“Dr. Taylor will be a great addition to our District. Her background in secondary education will be such a great asset to our students, faculty and parents,” said Dr. Judy Wiegand, Superintendent.

I am curious about two things:

1) Do we need this position to be filled? I realize we have taken on a lot of interims to fill the void of the previous administrative vacuum, but it is not clear to me that we actually need these positions. Do we?

2) So I am really happy for Dr. Taylor. But what about the community she is leaving behind? Not only a high school, but she is being taken out of the Urbana school district. Is it a good thing to keep moving good people up the food chain, creating little vacuums? Maybe yes – I can see how this creates room for others to grow and improve. But on the other hand, what happens to Urbana High School? I guess we will see if it continues to make the College Board Advanced Placement Achievement List. 🙂

Urbana School District 116: Social Justice

To date, I have pretty much not said anything about Urbana. To be honest, this has nothing to do with my perception of this fine School District – the issue is that I simply focus my radar on a few things. I mean, there is a ton of stuff going on in Unit 4 I never touch, either.

Today, my radar skimmed over the geographical boundaries and landed upon the Urbana High School. Or more specifcally, the UHS Social Justice Committee. I would link the site here, but the only thing on the page at the moment is a video (a fairly good one at that). So I’ll include the link later on with a bunch of others.

Ms. Ellen Dahlke, a UHS English teacher, has been the more public of the co-chairs of this committee. I have been rather impressed by their involvement so far. I mean, let’s start with the video. It is titled “Think Before you Speak” and covers how certain words set off a chain of emotions and reactions in various people groups. When used in vain, these carelessly tossed hand grenades might set people off. So, think about it first. Ms. Dahlke also convinced two students to join her on a Steve Shoemaker WILL radio show, and they covered many aspects of the Committee (“not a Club”). It is awesome, in my opinion, how they are getting 15-30 folks to show up at Committee Meetings; a group comprised of students, staff (from Urbana and even the University), professionals, parents and community members at large. The lack of intimidation and level of acceptance of these “safe environments” bring my mind back to Dr. Aber’s oft repeated recommendation that Unit 4 create similar “safe environments”.

The Social Justice Committee has been involved in several community service projects such as the Disability Expo held at Lincoln Square, A Woman’s Fund, and Center for Women in Transition, and the Champaign County Nursing Home. In November, the Social Justice Committee was closely involved in planning the East Central Illinois Safe Schools Alliance forum held at Parkland College.

I love this stuff. And now I want to be a part of it. 🙂


Related links: