2019-2020 Social Justice in Edmonton Catholic Schools
"God doesn't look at how much we do,
but with how much love we put into the doing."
St. Teresa of Calcutta
An integral component of education in a Catholic environment is the growth and development of the individual students in our care. Starting with the youngest of our charges, we endeavor to build skills and offer experiences toward a fully realized capacity for compassion and love for all of God's creations with a particular obligation to care for the poor, disenfranchised and lonely people of the world.
Charity is vital in the Social Justice work undertaken by our schools, regardless of grade level, since acts of charity are the driving force of social doctrine in the Church. At each of the five stages of Social Justice the acquisition of skills and knowledge are built upon so that by Stage Five, "Advocacy for Structural Change", students are aware of and have moved from charity to justice in how they see their responsibilities as advocates of social change.
Edmonton Catholic Schools has a long and impressive record of participation in acts of Christian charity that can be associated with the five stages of Social Justice. Below, after a brief description of each stage, is a sampling of what our schools accomplished last school year. The examples do not tell the full story of the experiences of charity for our students and staff, but they do indicate the breadth and depth of commitment to Social Justice that can be found in our schools.
Stage One: Collections – bring a relief of immediate needs
Since we deal with children and young adults it is not surprising that the Division does most of its Social Justice work at this stage. Acts of charity that involve collecting food for the food bank, winter clothing for the Bissell Centre, or money for any number of worthwhile causes within our city and our world constitute stage one of Social Justice.
Students and staff working together to choose worthwhile organizations and then organizing collections is the starting place for Social Justice and exemplifies the constant need for acts of charity to ease suffering in our world. As well, it is very visual and goal oriented which works best for young children and those taking the first steps to becoming active in Social Justice.
Stage Two: Direct Service - directly filling needs in the community
As students get older they have developed an interest in and are more able to give more directly of themselves through time and effort. Stage Two usually requires that students go to where the need is and be present for those who are being served. Projects in this stage require organization and careful thought so that young students are not put into situations that could be traumatic and older students are given the opportunity to reflect on their experience so that it is positive for everyone involved.
Stage Two is where there is the greatest possibility for individual growth. Although it takes time to create and sustain the necessary relationships with community organizations so that Social Justice acts are genuine and enriching, it is time well spent and possible for students of every age and socio-economic background.
Stage Three: Service for Empowerment - empowering people for lasting change
The third stage of Social Justice asks students and teachers to commit to long term relationships with groups and individuals in order to creating permanent, positive change. Part of Stage Three requires that the givers of service recognize in themselves gifts and knowledge needed by others that can be shared through service. Because of this self-awareness, Stage Three typically engages students in action that empowers its recipients by providing them with new skills or experiences.
Implementing acts of Social Justice that result in lasting change requires that the students recognize the reality of delayed gratification. Often with these acts of charity and justice the effects will not be seen by those who initiate the action so, in an age of instant gratification, the need for teachers to encourage research and reflection is paramount. Stage Three is most commonly undertaken by older students and by entire schools where progress is tracked over years of service.
Stage Four: Reflection and Analysis
Undoubtedly through the acts of charity and social justice undertaken by our schools there are many people who are helped both with their immediate needs and long term needs. It is also necessary, however, to care for the needs of our students as the givers of charity. Through reflection and analysis of the 'who, what, and why' of their giving, students can begin to develop a personal commitment to caring for the world and its people. As adults, there will be no teacher or Division directing or organizing charitable works; our students need to build their own perspective of justice in order to be active and caring after they leave our care.
Through exploration, inquiry and analysis students learn about the various (and numerous) needs of the world so that they can truly understand Social Justice issues and focus their energies where they see the greatest need and their greatest opportunity to help. Students and teachers reflect and do research so that they understand situations of need and their response to those situations. Before undertaking an act of Social Justice, during the execution of the work, and after the goal has been reached, everyone involved needs to look at what they have learned and how they have grown as individuals.
The greatest measure of the growth of Stage Four is the number of student-initiated Social Justice actions, the number of students who become involved in Social Justice outside the school and the number of students who remain committed to Social Justice after they have left our care. Unfortunately, there is no spreadsheet to track this kind of personal growth and so we act in faith that participation in acts of Social Justice is a life skill that we have passed on to our students.
Stage Five: Advocacy for Structural Change
Of all the levels of Social Justice, Stage Five is the most difficult to implement in a school setting. It requires that students follow their own passions and interests and take their commitment to a cause as far as is necessary to create positive change. This kind of commitment is very personal and cannot be mandated by a school nor can it be refused by a school if a student truly has the maturity and has demonstrated the desire to become involved with the struggle for change. Therefore, Stage Five Social Justice actions will not be numerous and will depend on like-minded students finding each other and being supported by the school.
Projects for Stage Five show students responding to social issues of an international and universal nature. Choices and participation in these kinds of actions is the beginning of lifelong commitment to participation in advocacy for structural change.