Social Studies Teachers’ Perceptions and Experiences of Social Justice

Sercan BURSA** Arife Figen ERSOY***
**Research Assistant, Faculty of Education, Anadolu University, 26470, Ekisehir, Turkey.
***Assoc. Prof., Faculty of Education, Anadolu University, 26470, Eskisehir, Turkey,
DOI: 10.14689/ejer.2016.64.18


Problem Statement: Social justice addresses inequality in society, including economic inequality, global migration, racism, xenophobia, prejudice against disabled people, and class discrimination. In Turkey, social studies curriculum aims to cultivate active, democratically minded citizens who value justice, independence, peace, solidarity, tolerance, freedom, and respect and demonstrate critical thinking skills, problem solving skills, social participation, and empathy.

Purpose: Since social justice education affects teachers’ values, beliefs, experiences, practices, and views on social justice, we aimed to understand social studies teachers’ perceptions and experiences of social justice.

Methods: Following a phenomenological research design selected in accordance with maximum variation sampling, we recruited 10 teachers for our sample. We collected data by conducting semi-structured interviews with the teachers and classroom observations of four of them. We analyzed data by following an inductive approach.

Findings: Teachers perceived the concept of social justice in terms of equality, justice, discrimination, human rights, respect, and tolerance. Teachers expressed their sensitivity to equalitarianism, as well as their efforts to prevent discrimination in their daily lives, abide by social rules, protect the environment, and not violate disabled citizens. A few teachers reported their active engagement in the activities of non-governmental organizations, and all teachers generally indicated that the development of their perceptions of social justice had been affected by their families, educational backgrounds, living environment, and the schools where they work. The teachers expressed not discriminating students, exhibiting positive attitudes toward them, and to some extent, demonstrating aspects of human rights, democracy, and environmental protectionism during lessons. However, teachers indicated no perceptions of struggles against injustice and did not report having experiences with such struggles during lessons. In general, their experiences were affected by their perceptions, their experiences in non-governmental activities, curricula, and course textbooks, and the socio-cultural structure of their schools.

Conclusions and Recommendations: Social studies teachers’ perceptions of social justice were consistent with their experiences demonstrated during lessons. The teachers mentioned several examples of historical and recent social injustice, but did not conduct any discussions or solicit suggestions about how to overcome such injustices. It is thus necessary to reconsider pre- and in-service training programs within the context of social justice and education.

Keywords: Social justice, Social studies, Citizenship education, Social justice education, Phenomenology.