The Commission for Social Justice: A History of Its Realization 2003-2010
sj Miller, PhD
In 2003, I was looking for an academic home in the National Council Teachers of English (NCTE). An academic home to me meant finding like-minded people who cared about centering social justice in K-12 classrooms. I first found my way to CEE, which is the university-level section for teacher educators and graduate students in English education. CEE, home to many commissions, included the “Commission for Race, Gender, and Class,” which seemed on par with social justice. However, I was concerned that the Commission’s focus was relegated only to race, class and gender and did not address other identities or intersectionalities of oppression in K-12 schools. Many stressful but open-hearted conversations ensued with the then co-chairs, and the commission agreed to change its name to the Commission on Social Justice at the NCTE convention in November 17th, 2006.
This name change now plays a special role within CEE and NCTE. Not only is it an identity marker for social justice as an affinity group that lets new and veteran scholars and teachers know there is a rich and vital presence and commitment toward social justice within NCTE, but it also signifies to the nation that social justice is fundamental to the ever growing and changing K-12 English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum. Currently, the Commission supports scholars, practitioners, and graduate students in their efforts to realize scholarly research and set political agendas in school districts and universities as it relates to social justice.
At NCTE in 2007 David Kirkland, Laura Bolf-Beliveau, Pete Williamson, and Peggy Rice, and Gina DeBlase joined the Commission and David and I became co-chairs through 2009 and then Laura and I shared co-chairs in 2009-2010. Over the next several years many people started to join. Those earlier members included Nelson Graff, Paula Ressler, Todd DeStigter, Myrrh Domingo, Deb Bieler, Summer McLin, Jennifer King, Gina DeBlase, and Tara Star Johnson. The group was hard-working, focused, and driven, and started presenting in teams at NCTE and AERA.
In 2009, nineteen members of the Commission convened at the CEE Summit at Elmhurst College and created two key documents that formalized the working beliefs, values, and positions for Social Justice in CEE. Documents included a mission statement, which details the vision and mission of the Commission, and The Beliefs Statement about Social Justice in English Education (CEE, 2009), which provides a framework for embedding theory, pedagogy, and applying social justice in ELA classrooms.
In 2010, The Commission decided to elect co-chairs for three years, with a 1-year lag to enable current chairs to mentor incoming leaders. We also decided that the secretary would be in-line to become the next co-chair, which helps to build on the efforts put forth by the secretary and demonstrated longitudinal membership to the commission. A member could become co-chair again after s/he/per has sat out for at least one rotation or unless no one wants to become chair.
The group then rapidly began to grow in membership from those original five to almost fifty people over the next several years and has become one of the largest and most active and activist commissions in CEE Members include university and college faculty, independent researchers, and doctoral students. Some members have served or are on the CEE Executive Committee. Some have won prestigious writing and research awards, mentoring awards, and some are sought-after speakers and authorities on working in social justice education, critical pedagogy, multicultural education, critical race theory, diversity in education, urban education, education policy, and more. Members have authored books, articles, research presentations, scientific research housed by the National Center for Literacy Education (NCLE), and several other major documents which have now been instantiated and embedded within CEE. It was during this same time period that NCTE vetted the Resolution on Social Justice in Literacy Education (CEE, 2010), a resolution that delineates NCTE’s affirmative position on social justice in K-12 classrooms (for more see Miller, Bolf-Beliveau, Charest, George, King, & Williamson, 2011).
Today, members of the Commission come from different educational homes and backgrounds from across the United States. Some come from Colleges of Education (e.g., Curriculum and Instruction, Literacy, Urban Education), others from English Education programs in English Departments, and still others from programs that lack traditional pathways to English education. Such diversity of institutional identities enriches our dialogues, friendships and growing networks, and has led to active and ongoing research projects with deep and sustained foci. Though many collaborate from a distance opportunities for continued face-to-face meetings typically occur during the annual Commission meeting at NCTE, at the CEE summer Summit every three years, at AERA, and LRA.
While outcomes of the work related to the Commission have and will continue to create more equitable contexts for teaching and learning, there is one outcome that most of us are proud to have been part of creating—and it is truly resultant of the collective effort of every person who was ever part of the Commission: Standard VI.
A Brief History of Standard VI
While NCTE has long expressed strong values for supporting diverse learners in education (1996, 2006), the expression of this value as a project of social justice is still relatively new. The detailed timeline of the removal of “social justice” as a performance indicator for teacher candidates in national policies and its return and successful vetting is detailed in the research of Alsup and Miller (2014, see figure 1). The role of the Commission within this sequencing, advocating for social justice in K-12 ELA classrooms, has been instrumental in pivoting the field toward the conception of Standard VI (see 2009, 2010 in figure 1). Combined, these histories provide a critical context to understand the studies that have occurred and emerged in simultaneity, and which have informed the discussions within the NCTE Task Force for National Standards that ultimately created Standard VI. A full history of the Standard is described below.
Iterations of Social justice in English Teacher Education, 1973-2013
- Inception- 1973, American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE) issued a policy statement calling for teacher preparation programs to consider the importance of diversity. NCATE developed standards that focused on diversity in all areas of teacher education (focus was on tolerance).
- In 2000, NCATE mandated adoption of Standards 2000 that said teacher candidates in NCATE accredited programs must develop professional knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to help all students learn.
- In 2002, Teacher education programs were charged with defining and creating their own performance-based methods. NCATE’s value-driven definition for a disposition was: “The values, commitments, and professional ethics that influence behaviors toward students, families, colleagues, and communities that affect student learning, motivation, and development as well as the educator’s own personal growth. Dispositions are guided by beliefs and attitudes related to values such as caring, fairness, honesty, responsibility, and social justice.” (NCATE, 2002, p. 53)
- In 2006, NCATE suggested that “social justice” was merely an illustrative example for a professional disposition and that institutions (Wasley, 2006) could require that teachers embody it (contrary to popular belief, it was never a standard of measurement). Social justice was removed from NCATE’s definition of professional dispositions altogether.
- In 2009, CEE adopted a position statement on social justice in English education that included the following definition: “Thus it means that in schools and university classrooms, we educators must teach about injustice and discrimination in all its forms with regard to differences in: race, ethnicity, gender, gender expression, age, appearance, ability, [disability], national origin, language, spiritual belief, size [height and/or weight], sexual orientation, social class, economic circumstance, environment, ecology, culture, and the treatment of animals.” (CEE, “Beliefs about Social Justice in English Education,” http://www.ncte.org/cee/positions/socialjustice).
- In 2010, members of the CEE’s Commission on Social Justice proposed the Resolution on Social Justice in Literacy Education, which was adopted by NCTE (http: www.ncte.org/positions/statements/socialjustice)
- In 2012, NCATE approved the revised NCTE-NCATE standards for initial teacher preparation in ELA, which contain a social justice standard.
- In 2013, CAEP accepted the newly vetted Standard VI from NCTE and it will be used to assess dispositions.
- Alsup, J., & Miller, s. (2014). Reclaiming English education: Rooting social justice in dispositions. English Education, 46(3),195-215.
- Commission for Social Justice. (2009). Commission for social justice mission statement.
- Conference on English Education Commission on Social Justice. (2009). CEE position statement: Beliefs about social justice in English education. First Biennial CEE Conference. Chicago: CEE. Retrieved from http://www.ncte.org/cee/positions/socialjustice
- Miller, s., Bieler, D., Bolf-Beliveau, L., Charest, B., George, M.A., King, J., & Williamson, P. (2011). Applying the CEE position statement Beliefs about Social Justice in English Education to Classroom Praxis. English Education, 44(1), 63-82.
- National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). (2002). Standards, procedures, and policies for the accreditation of professional educational units. Washington DC: Author.
- Wasley, P. (2006, June 16). Accreditor of education schools drops controversial ‘social justice’ language. Chronicle of Higher Education, 52(41), A13.