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Social justice education and the role of the transformative educator Bartlett, Steven Carl 2009-09

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SOCIAL JUSTICE EDUCATION AND THE ROLE OF THE TRANSFORMATIVE EDUCATOR by STEVEN CARL BARTLETT B.Ed, The University of British Columbia 2000 BA, Simon Fraser University 1994 A GRADUATING PAPER SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF EDUCATION in THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES (Curriculum Studies & Educ Admin & Leadership) THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA September, 2009 ©Steven C. Bartlett, 2009 Introduction: Combining Personal Experience with Theoretical Concepts Social justice education can, and should, mean different things to different people. In fact, a major argument in this paper is that social justice education is not static curricula, but a negotiation of ideas with our students. This negotiation is contained within a dialoguing and relationship-building pedagogy that encourages and honours students' ideas, perceptions, and their ability to actively take part in the de/construction of their social realities. The educator is there to both guide the conversation-to make room for students to negotiate their identities, and the identities of 'others', as they exist within, and in response to, social realities-and to be an active participant in that conversation. The educator's identity-with its relative power, prior knowledge, and biases-is situated among those of the students; as it shifts with changing context and perspective. It is this shifting-the allowance for the influence of others-that shapes the theoretical understandings of social justice pedagogy into meaningful curricula meant to enhance our students' participation in social realities. This graduating paper acknowledges the importance of both the personal and the theoretical by beginning with a narrative of three conversations that intersect my academic understandings of social justice education. These conversations, all occurring since completing my graduate course work, influence which theoretical concepts I pull from the literature. I start with these conversations because in practice the theoretical concepts I provide later in the paper-i.e., the positioning of justice as the freedom from oppressions, moral dialoguing and relationship-building with students and colleagues, and the role of the transformative educator-are situated in the same social context that prompt these types of conversations. In other words, as educators we not only bring into practice our teacher training and professional development experiences, we also interact and influence from a more personal place. We communicate and negotiate our identities-and the social capital, biases and relative privilege inherent in our identities-in ways that are not limited to our roles as educator. These conversations do not simply relate occurrences; they also demonstrate the challenges educators face when they find themselves positioned in what can be a very personal professional pursuit. When one follows pedagogy outlined in this paper, theoretical frameworks become personal practice; and are therefore up for negotiation. For example, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to facilitate moral dialogues, embrace empathic relationships, and foster critical consciousness in our students, if we ourselves remain neutral to, or static within, or untouched by, the curricula we implement. 1 After providing the narrative of the three conversations, the theoretical framework begins with a delineation of some of the various interpretations of social justice found in the literature, gradually building up a case for a definition of social justice that seeks to confront injustice by actively transforming social reality. The section following that provides a description of the transformative educator. This educator uses among other things, moral dialoguing in the classroom and staffroom, and embraces an empathic pedagogy that firmly situates practice within a commitment to encourage and support critical consciousness and social action among students. The final section explores Critical Media Literacy, curricula that apply some of the social justice pedagogy offered in this paper in an attempt to provide students with the tools to negotiate, and sometimes interrupt, commoditized media identities that often misinform and limit people's awareness of themselves and others. While throughout this paper I invoke various types of injustice, the final sections of this paper narrows the focus to bring awareness and response to homophobia and heterosexism; including curricula specifically aimed at disrupting these injustices. Three Conversations Conversations that negotiate meaning and articulate perspective have always been important to me, as a learner and an educator. The conversations occurring over the past 10 months have been no exception. During this time I gained much through dialoguing with students, colleagues, and parents. Because social justice education is prominent in my focus as an educator, many of these conversations put me in a position of explaining, sometimes justifying, and always reflecting on my practice. Open and respectful dialogue makes explicit the rationale for my approach to education and encourages deliberateness to my practice. The first conversations I wish to share occurred between me and my students, and among the students themselves. At the beginning of the year I transferred schools: I moved from a predominately Caucasian-populated westside Vancouver elementary school (varied but mostly with middle to high socio-economic status) to an English/French duo-track elementary school (again, varied but mostly with middle to high socio-economic status). The school was not only split approximately 50/50 between English and French Immersion, but most of the students enrolled in the English program are ESL students, primarily from mainland China. One reason this context holds relevance for a paper on social justice education is that before I even met my 2 28 grade sixes (23 who originate from Mainland China), many of my colleagues-from both my new and previous schools-suggested that I might not be able to include some of the content I often use in my social justice curricula. Most expressed concern for the assumed resistance I would most likely elicit from doing any of the social activism or anti-homophobia components of my social justice curricula. They argued that recently immigrated Asian parents would not be comfortable having their children exposed to such 'controversial' ideas. After hearing these concerns I decided instead of removing any content from my previously used curricula, I would add content that included more Asian focus and spent more time making global connections. A few examples of what we studied last year include: A unit on the Holocaust and other genocides that included an exploration of the treatment of the Chinese during Japanese occupation, including the differing accounts of the Nanking massacre. We also discussed racism, sexism, and homophobia and students compared what they saw as 'western ideas' of these concepts to how they experienced, or didn't experience, these injustices back in China. Students researched the effects of European colonialism in both African and Asian nations, presenting their findings to other intermediate classrooms. During a unit on historical civil disobedience and social activism, we spent time discussing Tiananmen Square and the implications of media censorship in China. My students, who often argued that the United Sates is 'the best place to live in the world'-because of its wealth and position in global affairs-also expressed conflicting opinions as they witnessed both the election of the first African American president and the results of Proposition 8, denying same-sex marriage in California. In short, instead of stifling the interest I have in social justice education, this group of students-bringing with them vibrant cultural perspectives-added unique insight to the social justice issues covered in the curriculum. As an educator my understandings of the world and social justice theory deepened because of these students. And I am glad to say-as much as it surprised my colleagues-I received only positive feedback from parents who appreciated their children's heightened interest in learning, and who expressed a desire for their children to continue their examination of social justice issues. Some even went so far to say that they left their country of origin so that their children could participate in the social freedoms we were exploring, and exercising, in our classroom. The second set of conversations informing this paper occurred during a series of formal and informal staff meetings with my colleagues. As a member of the Professional Development Committee I collected and reported out the results of a survey asking where staff want to focus their professional development during the coming school year. While a clear majority of the completed surveys indicated a desire to focus on social justice education (a topic I put forth to 3 the committee), only a third of the entire staff completed the form. As I reported this information, confusion and concern quickly filled the room. The confusion centred mostly on the definition of social justice. I provided a brief overview of what social justice education might look like Oust a little more detailed than the one included in the survey) and answered a few questions. For the most part the questions dealt with my own · experience and successes with social justice curriculum and a desire for some specific examples of lessons. At the time this dialogue reassured me because people were seeking to understand and seemed interested in what I was saying. The concern expressed in the meeting concerned whether or not it was fair for one third of the staff (those who completed the survey) to determine a school-wide focus. After reluctantly reminding the staff that the process the committee followed was one we all agreed to in an earlier meeting, several of the more vocal people on staff made a motion-based on the argument that the school had already focused on social responsibility a few years earlier and many primary classrooms already conduct many multicultural celebrations-to have social justice removed from the options considered for next year's professional development. Although the Professional Development Committee offered to postpone reporting out the results of the survey for another two weeks (offering another chance to those who did not express an opinion in the original survey), the vote went ahead and social justice education was removed from the list of options. As a new member of the staff, this part of the conversation wasn't so reassuring. Not only did I feel like I was being accused of trying to push an agenda without due process (I did have an agenda, but there was due process), I also quickly realized that I was now the only one speaking on behalf of the focus many others voiced a preference for. No other staff member who originally opted for a school-wide social justice focus spoke up as the topic was contested and then removed from consideration. Defeated, I remained silent as those who removed social justice from consideration successfully passed another motion to continue the current professional development focus of hands on science (interestingly enough, while it was listed as an option, not a single person opted for this focus in the original survey). This result of this staff meeting-and the fact that people who opted not to participate in a democratic process still held enough power to steer opinion their way-could easily be chalked up to the dynamics of school culture. In fact, many schools have on staff people who can sway decision-making processes, or staff members who lose voice in acquiescence when conflict occurs. But more recent conversations with my colleagues paint a more complex picture. 4 Several of the teachers who were instrumental in removing social justice as an option for school-wide professional development, approached me with a request for me to teach their students social justice curriculum throughout next year (in exchange each will teach my students another subject). At first I was perplexed-and to be honest still felt a bruised pride-because I assumed that these teachers did not believe. social justice warranted the kind of focus I offered. But as we talked I began to understand that these teachers were not only unsure of what they saw as a broad and nebulous topic, but also lacked confidence in their ability to teach such curricula. During the staff meeting they dealt with the discomfort and fear of being asked to teach something they barely understood by exercising the power they have to determine school-wide focus. Apparently only the naive and very keen newcomer was surprised by the outcome of this scenario. Of course I enthusiastically agreed to this platooning opportunity, but did manage to have them agree to work with me to create several lessons that might integrate social justice with other curricula they enjoyed teaching . I have already alluded to the third set of conservations in my discussion of how parents of my students responded to the social justice curriculum. While it's true that I received no negative feedback from parents of students in my classroom regarding their children's participation in our studies, I did have resistance to an aspect of my practice from a parent from the French Immersion side of the school. For two periods a week I taught English writing lessons to a group of grade sixes and sevens from the French track-while their teacher taught Core French to my students. Throughout the year we practiced writing in many contexts, culminating our learning in a unit where the objective was to use writing strategies learned to critically respond to various types of thought-provoking visual prompts. It didn't take me long to realize that these students, while highly articulate and academically successful, also sometimes demonstrated a lack of empathy for the condition of others. After consulting their classroom teacher and the school's principal-who were both concerned with some of these students' sense of entitlement and lack of empathy for one another at school-we decided that they could use some exposure to social justice education. USing aspects of Critical Media Literacy (more about this in the last section of this paper) we explored various representations of injustice and social activism in television and motion pictures. With some variation, I have conducted a similar unit for the past five years; so I knew I would need parental permission to show some of the media I intended to use. When the permission slips came back I had four parents indicate reluctance to have their children view 5 one of the films. I was surprised by this because in the five years of including this film as part of the unit, I have only had one student not participate. This film in question was Schindler's List, a graphic depiction of the violence of the Holocaust and the attempts of one man to save lives; rated A-14 in British Columbia. Honouring parents' requests, the principal and I came up with an alternative two-week Holocaust unit these four students could participate in-enthusiastically facilitated by the school's principal, who also focused on social justice during her Masters of Education. Everything seemed ready to go ahead until one parent of the four not watching the film decided to try to stop me from showing the film altogether. Even though 26 students had parental permission to participate-in fact many went out of their way to express gratitude for taking the time to show, and teach to, this film to their children-this one parent contacted an official at the school board to prevent me from using this film. After many meetings and much support from my administrator, the School Board, and the majority of the parents from this class, the unit went ahead unchanged. The students who watched the film wrote articulate, emotional, and justice-provoking responses to the images they experienced and discussed . Many of the grade seven students, during their 'graduation' ceremony in June, spoke of the impact this unit-and especially this film-had on developing their awareness of 'others' and their role in creating a just world . I knew my reasons for showing the film were sound, and more importantly it was my professional opinion that no other material would have had the same effect and generated the same response from the students during their critical-writing sessions. While dealing with the challenge to teacher autonomy was important, it was the face to face contact with this parent who opposed me that taught me a great deal. This parent was absolutely positive that my showing this film was wrong; and furthermore, that my permission slips 'unjustly' excluded these four students from studying with their peers. It was an articulate and passionate argument that clearly demonstrated another point of view; one that in five years of implementing this curriculum I had not encountered nor considered . The idea that my actions could be interpreted as the antithesis of what I was trying to promote in the classroom stuck with me throughout this experience. The positioning of our identities around this issue intrigued me, and helped me not be overly defensive-I was sincerely interested in her position. It struck me later that this is exactly what social justice education is about. It is respectfully dialoguing difficult ideas, contesting knowledges, and passionately arguing the right for all to express opinion. Granted, I ultimately had the power to conduct the unit in the way I saw fit as an educator-and she had the power to keep her child out of the room during this one film-but the strength of this parent's 6 argument has added to my understanding and will only benefit my practice as an educator. This particular experience underscores the conflict that can result from following a pedagogy that-with the use of controversial materials-seeks to disrupt and critically challenge perspectives of 'appropriateness'. While I do believe teacher autonomy is important in the choice of curricular content and materials, I also defend parents' right to withhold permission when materials exceed the general age restrictions of certain media. A distinction I make is that these age restrictions are a part of the conversation between educator and parent, not the deciding factor. When using such age-restricted material the onus is on the educator to assert a rationale and seek permission; and the right of the parent to either grant or deny such permission. What is Social Justice Education? Stepping away from the personal and into the theoretical, I rely heavily on the work of Sharon Gerwirtz (1998) to provide an understanding of justice that moves beyond an awareness of the 'haves and have nots', to an educational call for social action. But before beginning Gerwirtz's unravelling of concepts of justice, it might be helpful to articulate what is not social justice education: Social justice education is not the same as the celebrations of diversity many schools conduct through multicultural units, assemblies, and the happenstance inclusion of ethnicity in curriculum (Nieto 2000: 183). Social justice education is not something that can be easily reduced to worksheets and reproduced for classroom consumption. Nieto maintains that social justice education is about looking critically at inequalities, injustices that face students and others, analyzing procedures that maintain these injustices and actively confronting injustice encountered (2000: 183). How we as educators approach social justice with our students depends on how we view in/justice and how we define the parameters, if any, of possible intervention. Gerwirtz (1998) sought to remedy the lack of explicit discussion of what social justice means, or ought to mean, by establishing "a definitive conceptualization of social justice in education ... [by mapping] the territory in order to initiate a productive debate" (469). She begins by delineating various conceptualizations of justice, pOinting out both the assumptions inherent to each conceptualization, and the approaches to intervention each conceptualization implies. 7 Distributive Justice Distributive justice, the first conceptualization of justice Gerwitz (1998) looks at, originally referred to how goods are distributed to individuals in society (the privileged having greater access to goods and positions than the underprivileged), but has since broadened to include the notions of equality of opportunity and equality of outcome (Gerwitz 1998:472). The latter equality differing from the former in that "it seeks to ensure equal rates of success for different groups in society through direct intervention to prevent disadvantage" (Gerwitz 1998:472). Pointing out that both opportunity and outcome as notions of equality do not confront systemic inequalities in hierarchies of privilege, including power and wealth, Gerwitz invokes Lynch's equality of condition (1995:24). This third notion of distributive justice argues for "an educational system devoted to developing equally the potentials of every member of society [and] the equal participation and influence of all citizens (Lynch 1995:24-25). While the equality of condition still looks at the opportunities people have and strives for direct intervention to ensure equal rates of outcome, it places emphasis on people working outside and within systems/institutions to develop a critical awareness of inequalities inherent i.n these systems/institutions to take action against injustices through "radically democratic politics ... and a restructuring of family and personal life for the sake of enriching the personal relationships of every individual" (Lynch 1995:24-25). This action requires all involved to understand the privilege they themselves hold in comparison to others, and understand how the difference of privilege is maintained and encouraged for some and not others. The emphasis here is that although there is an awareness of 'difference', it is not welcomed; equality is only understood as 'sameness' . Relational Justice Relational justice differs from distributive justice in that instead of developing an awareness of who achieves equality of opportunity, outcome and condition, it is "essentially concerned with the nature of inter-connections between individuals in society, rather than with how much individuals get" (Gewirtz 1998:471). These inter-connections make it important to maintain "an ethic of mutuality in which citizens are bound together through a system of duties and obligations" (Gerwitz 1998:473). The emphasis on mutuality situates individuals not only in comparison to others, but also in relation with others; where they are expected to not only be aware of difference between individuals, but also act to remedy any injustice among the 8 interconnected group. Etzioni (1996) explains this ethic of mutuality, which he calls Communitarianism, adding a concern for balance between individual autonomy and collectivity of the group. Etzioni characterizes this concern for balance in Communitarianism as a lack of equilibrium between the two forces [that] will either threaten the common good, through too much emphasis on the individual, or threaten autonomy, through too much emphasis on social duties. Communitarianism ... operates at the midpoint between the anarchy of excessive individualism and the collectivism of excessive order ... Strongly linked to ideas of communitarianism are discourses of citizenship, stakeholding, inclusivity and social capital (Gerwitz 1998:473). So here we have a notion of social justice as a negotiation between individual identity and group identities. How much privilege we hold as individuals is held in relation to the privilege we perceive in others. When we see inequalities in this relational comparison we seek to rectify these injustices so that we might experience equilibrium in our collectives. But again, justice and equality are perceived as a pursuit for 'sameness', equilibrium occurs when perceived difference is eliminated. Justice as Recognition Two potential drawbacks of relational justice are the emphasis on sameness, through which equilibrium is measured; and the need for surveillance that results from this ongoing attempt to avoid any possible difference that might pop up and disturb the equilibrium of the collective. A politics of recognition infuses relational justice with an ethic of otherness, involving "not only a commitment to respond to others and otherness but also a commitment to avoiding practising the power of surveillance, control and discipline upon others" (Gerwitz 1998: 476). Justice as recognition encourages us to become aware of difference not to eliminate it, but to make room for it. Through recognition we create the opportunity to listen to not only the audible voices, but also the voices that are often silent in dominant discourse. During the cac Massey Lecture in November of 2000, Michael Ignatieff (2007) pointed out that, Recognition is a very Canadian idea, since it was a Canadian philosopher, Charles Taylor, who first put it into common parlance among political philosophers. To recognize someone in common speech is to put a name to face, to single him or her out from a crowd. To be recognized is to emerge from anonymity, to be seen and acknowledged for what you are ... Groups are fighting for a similar kind of recognition. They want the majority to recognize them, to see them anew, to acknowledge that they are equal, not only in law, but also in moral consideration. Equality of rights is the precondition for recognition, but it is not sufficient to ensure it (86). 9 Justice as recognition echoes this sentiment when it encourages us to witness identities that are often left unrecognized in curricula. These identities, even though left out of curricula, exist in the lives of our students whether we choose to ignore them or not. They exist in the home lives of our students, in their relationships with peers, and in the media they consume. Students are already aware of some of the struggles for recognition by the time they enter our classrooms. Students will interpret and negotiate these struggles for recognition with or without our support and guidance. As educators with a social justice focus we invite our students to recognize what Wenzel (2001) refers to as the justice motive. Wenzel explains the justice motive as "the motivation to maintain or strengthen identity-relevant values" (331). This involves bringing into focus issues and experiences that threaten the identities of others. For example, the discussion that occurred in my classroom about the apparent inconsistency of the United States holding itself up as a leader of democracy, while refusing to grant all its citizens the same rights (i.e., the right for gays and lesbians to marry and adopt children); or the discussion we had about nations, including Canada, who refused boatloads of Jewish refugees fleeing an oppressive regime during WWII. Bringing into focus circumstances like these is meant to disturb us and our students: Wenzel explains it is "because injustice threatens people's identities that we all experience it as so disturbing" (331). It is when we recognize injustice and through action-such as dialoguing, envisioning alternative realities, or direct intervention-we seek to gain understanding of the motives, relationships, and institutions responsible for injustice. As we understand these realities better we re-establish our disturbed identities. We may still strongly disagree with the injustices we become aware of, but in the understanding of contexts surrounding these injustices-from where and by whom they originate-we build stronger identities for ourselves and our students. Wenzel describes this shift in identity by explaining that although injustice disturbs identities, "Likewise, justice acts as a powerful motive for us because when maintaining or re-establishing justice, we actually maintain or re-establish our identities" (331). Justice as Freedom from Oppressive Relations Invoking injustice in our classrooms is a great responsibility; one which utilizes our skills as informed and caring adults. Exposing our students to injustice demonstrates for them how their social world intersects identity, privilege, and power-and how these three constructs shift with changing context. I have seen students grapple with these notions as they discuss their experience with their relative positions as students, older/younger siblings, immigrants, 10 males/females, etc. The concept of justice as freedom from oppressive relations takes into account the many contexts we inhabit in the social world (Gertwitz 1998:476). This conceptualization of social justice "builds on postmodern insights around mutuality and recognition but which ... can more usefully inform anti-oppressive political and social activities" (476). It places us not in fixed position in relation to others, but in positions that shift with changing interpretations of context and interdependency. Harvey (1993) notes that this conceptualization "emphasises the heterogeneity of experience of injustice-someone unjustly treated in the workplace can act oppressively in the domestic sphere and the victim of that may, in turn, resort to cultural imperialism against others" (107). In other words, injustice is more complicated than the dichotomy of 'oppressor/oppressed'. Re-examining the results of Proposition 8 (the California referendum mentioned earlier, resulting in the populous over-turning a state Supreme Court decision to grant same-sex couples the right to marry), we can ask ourselves (as my grade six students did) why a group of people who have struggled for civil rights (i.e., African Americans, and to a lesser extent Latin Americans) can vote in large numbers to deny a right to another minority group. Again, it is not our role as educators to provide answers to these questions; we need only pose them in a safe and open environment. In so doing we support our students' exploration of, and expression in, their social worlds as they seek to develop their own answers. The idea of shifting position with changing interpretations of context and interdependency becomes especially relevant for students as they explore how they represent themselves differently in the shifting contexts of the classroom, the home, or the schoolyard. Bringing these differences into our students' awareness allows them to reflect on the ways their identities can shift with context and the multitude of interpretations of their relation to others that are open to them. Our students learn that they need not be passive in how they observe or are influenced by their social realities; but can participate actively in the interpretation and construction of those realities. Our students also develop an appreciation-with the shifting of position and perspective, and the diversity of ideas and identity this engenders-of the importance of 'difference' in social contexts. Expanding on justice as freedom from oppressive relations, Fraser (1997) points out how the politics of difference comes into playas we begin to appreciate the shifting dimensions of identity, interrelationships, and oppression (202). Using sexuality as an example, Fraser (1997) provides an illustration of the politics of difference as a remedy for oppression by pointing out that sexuality 11 is a mode of social differentiation whose roots do not lie in the political economy because homosexuals are distributed throughout the entire class structure of capitalist society, occupy no distinctive position in the division of labor, and do not constitute an exploited class. Rather, their mode of collectivity is that of a despised sexuality, rooted in the cultural-valuational structure of society. From this perspective, the injustice they suffer is quintessentially a matter of recognition (202). Elaborating on Fraser's ideas, Gerwitz (1998) points out the limitations of mainstream multiculturalism by arguing that this affirmative solution to cultural injustice is meant to counter cultural oppression by '''revaluing unjustly devalued group identities, while leaving intact both the contents of those identities and the group differentiations that underlie them" (479). This involves a critical examination of the value judgements we hold concerning group identities. Fraser's transformative solution, on the other hand, involves "deconstructing identities by transforming the underlying cultural-valuational structure and by destabilizing existing group identities and differentiations" (1997:24). This is similar to the notion of 'disturbing identities' Wenzel (2001) mentioned earlier. By deconstructing identity and relationships we begin to unravel the underlying cultural values informing our very understanding of these identities and relationships. What was taken for granted-such as rigid gender dichotomies, dehumanizing racial stereotypes, or unchallenged heteronormative assumptions-are now up for negotiation. The object of this negotiation is social transformation, by way of broadening narrowly defined identities and relationships, and creating more space for them in social realities. Again with a focus on sexual identities, Gerwitz (1998) points out that Fraser's model for the transformative remedy to injustice is queer politics (479). As part of this remedy, Fraser (1997) stresses that "the point is not to dissolve all sexual difference in a single, universal human identity; it is, rather, to-sustain a sexual field of multiple, debinarized, fluid, ever-shifting differences" (24). Later in this paper, when discussing the implementation of Critical Media Literacy in our classrooms, I will return to a more thorough account of using aspects of queer theory to help students deconstruct and disrupt homophobia and heterosexism. For now it suffices to say that the implications thus far for the social justice educator include avoiding the desire to whittle away difference by focusing primarily on perceived common experiences; or whole omissions of identities that make us uncomfortable. Both of these occur when educators allow-by remaining silent or glossing over identities with the insistence that we are all the same-injustices such as homophobia and heterosexism go to unchallenged. Education, particularly when dealing with issues of justice or equity, should not be about encouraging 12 'sameness' and eliminating difference. Wain, et al (1995) point out that by confusing equity with sameness "we ignore ... differences hoping to conjure away distinctions ... [and] inadvertently reinforce these same differences, and create new ones along the way" (9). Transformative Educators The implementation of a social justice education seeking to bring awareness and remedy to injustice requires educators themselves to be transformative in how they engage students. Transformative education, according to Shields "is deeply rooted in moral and ethical values in a social context...[signifying] needed changes [that] go well beyond institutional and organizational arrangements ... [that focus] on the collective interests of a group or organization (2004: 113). Again, we are talking about following a pedagogy that places students in discussion that draws out, and disrupts, assumptions of identity and relationship as they exist in varying contexts. Astin and Astin (2000) emphasize the part transformative educators play in social change when they state, We believe that the value ends of leadership should be to enhance equity, social justice, and the quality of life; to expand access and opportunity; to encourage respect for difference and diversity; to strengthen democracy, civic life, and civic responsibility; and to promote cultural enrichment, creative expression, intellectual honesty, the advancement of. knowledge, and personal freedom coupled with responsibility (11). No small pursuit, but it is important to remember that it is in the attempt of these value ends that we discover the voices of our students as they seek to make meaning and construct knowledge with one another. After reviewing the literature there appears to be three main pursuits for the transformational educator: Facilitating moral dialogues and strong relations; embracing empathic education; and encouraging critical consciousness and social action in both students and colleagues. Facilitating Moral Dialogues and Strong Relations Giroux (1997) argues that "how we understand and come to know ourselves cannot be separated from how we are represented and how we imagine ourselves" (15). Bogotch (2000) defines educational leadership as "deliberate intervention that requires the moral use of power" (2). Shields (2004) builds on these notions, adding that "one of the central interventions of educational leaders must be the facilitation of moral dialogue" (110). Taking these ideas together it is not difficult to recognize the importance of communication and relationship 13 between teacher and student. The manner in which we, as educators, relate to our students models for them ways of relating to one another, interpreting social contexts, and making room for diverse identities. Moral dialoguing provides us the opportunity not only to get to know our students; it also supports meaningful discourse that encourages the expression of values-ours and our students'-in the classroom. Successful moral dialoguing also involves overcoming the silences that keep ideas silent and identities hidden. Shields (2004) takes us back to the unfortunate and harmful practice of rendering differences as unimportant because of the assumption that children are all the same and the exaggeration of shared experiences. She argues that while these practices may seem "safer, kinder, and perhaps even the only reasonable position ... [they are] misguided attempts to act justly, to display empathy, and to create democratic and optimistic communities" (Shields 2004: 117). As a counter to these misconceptions-and as an attempt to bring voice to the diversity of children's experiences and possibilities-Shields maintains that it is the role of the educator to lead in the creation of space needed for a multitude of experiences and voice to be included in dialogue; thus overcoming the pathologies of silence (2004: 117). Grumet (1995) places great emphasis on the educator when she puts forth the idea that our "relationships to the world are rooted in our relationships to the people who care for us" (19). According to Grumet, curriculum is conversation-not the text, topic, method or syllabus-"It is the process of making sense with a group of people of the systems that shape and organize the world we can think about together" (1995: 19). Shields (2004) agrees that pedagogical learning relationships involving moral dialogue are "fundamental to the creation of learning environments that are both socially just and deeply democratic" (115). Elaborating further, Shields argues that "an educational orientation to social justice and democratic community requires pedagogy forged with, not for, students to permit them to develop meaningful and socially constructed understandings" (2004: 115). An image of a classroom emerges where the encouragement of the articulation of students' voice and values occurs, not just for the students' benefit, but also for the development of the classroom curricula. It is paramount to remember that these dialogues and relationships will not always be comfortable, nor should we want them to be. Burbules (1993) points out an ongoing communicative relationship may be filled with tension as the participants move towards discovery and new understandings; but it must be one in which the participants are firmly committed (19). In doing so, Shields adds, "Difference becomes not something to fear, or to 14 avoid, but part of the rich fabric of human existence with which we interact on a daily basis ... Understood as part of our very being, difference is the basis for human relationships, for organizational life, and certainly, for leading and learning" (2004: 116). Similar to the notion that we are not seeking sameness in identity, we are also not seeking sameness in dialogued ideas. Conversations where everyone agrees-either through compliance or a lack of critical thinking-will not lead to much in the way of deeper understanding. Differing opinions and a critical analysis of ideas, on the other hand, lead to an expanded understanding of the knowledges that emerge in the classroom. It is important to remember-as educators attempt to negotiate value-laden ideas and perspectives to create knowledge with students-that dialogue may be either convergent or divergent: It may seek some sort of agreement or it may simply focus on increasing understanding of the different perspectives held by members of the community. In an educational community, dialogue will at times serve one purpose, at times another; but it will be grounded, as the community itself is grounded, on the norms of inclusion and respect and a desire for excellence and social justice" (Shields 2004: 116). Again, curricula emerge from these dialogues, whether they are convergent or divergent. Educators may enter this discussion with a set of learning outcomes and a unit plan guiding the lessons; but students will-if permitted-inform educators which curricular point needs expanding upon due to their curiosity and/or needs for further information. Shields reminds us that to be effective educational leaders we must move beyond weak interpretations of strategies for communication, to be selected or discarded at will, and embrace dialogue and relationships as "ways of life-recognitions of the fundamental differences among human beings and of the need to enter into contact, into relational dialogue and sense making (participating with our whole being) with one another ... Thus conceived as an ontology, dialogue opens each individual educator to differing realities and worldviews" (2004: 115-116). Embracing Empathic Education Creating a space where students are encouraged to actively participate in their learning as outlined in the preceding sections, requires transformative educators to explicitly express respect and care for all students. Because social justice education endeavours to do the difficult work of deconstructing identity, opposing oppressions, and creating meaning through moral dialogue-empathic education plays a valuable role in social justice pedagogy. Noddings (1986) argues that empathic education goes beyond the emotional aspect of caring-which often 15 manifests itself as pity or condescension-and moves towards an understanding of caring "as a value and a cognitive commitment.. .firmly grounded on positive interpersonal and pedagogical relationships" (cited in Shields 2004:124). Shields maintains that while all learning takes on meaning when embedded in caring relationships, educators who strive for social justice must be concerned with the quality of relationships with all the people they interact with at school, including their students (2004: 124-125). Wiedeman (2002) draws a stronger connection between Noddings' ethic of care (1986, 1999) and social justice education: "[A]n ethic of care builds on our understanding of justice and equality by suggesting that we consider interpersonal relationships, which .. . have the potential to sustain social justice and equality" (202-203). Taking into consideration interpersonal relationships requires an examination and understanding of "the systematic, structural , and interpersonal frameworks that can lead to the development and maintenance of caring relations" (Wiedeman 2002:203). In short, transformative educators are required to know their students as full human beings so that they might better support and advocate for them. This attempt to know, support and advocate, further develops more responsive relationships needed for moral dialogue to continue even further (Noddings 1999; Thompson 1998). In this pedagogical framework, Wiedeman (2002) argues, "the teacher acts as a facilitator who listens, negotiates, and compromises with her students; the styles of teaching and learning are flexible and responsive to students and communities" (203-204). For example, when dealing with classrooms of mixed racial backgrounds-or classrooms consisting of a majority of students from a similar racial background but different from the teacher's, such as my experience last year-the teacher must seek to understand the "historical, political, and racist forces that shape relations of power in classrooms, schools, and communities .. . [therefore providing] the opportunities students have to access knowledge, develop strategies for seeking out and activating resources, and develop skills for critical analysis of oppressive social and educational structures and systems" (Wiedeman 2002:203-204). The same awareness and care is extended to all diversity we encounter and invoke in our classrooms, including differences of culture, gender, and sexuality. Encouraging Critical Consciousness and Social Action in Students and Colleagues Because the end result of social justice education is to develop an awareness of injustice in order to conceive of alternative realities and possible ways of addressing these injustices, a 16 major aspect of this pedagogy-and therefore a pursuit of the transformative educator-is the development of critical consciousness and social action in both students and colleagues. Often we see students as incapable of dealing with difficult social issues or realities. It is sometimes easier to view our students as victims of social realities-such as video games, the music industry, or other 'corrupting' influences-than to teach students ways of interpreting and (if necessary) resisting these influences. And as suggested earlier, it is tempting to try to protect them from these influences by limiting exposure or by censoring discussion of these influencing interests. The transformative educator welcomes students' interests to the discussion-not just the ones he or she is falT)iliar and/or comfortable with. Ginwright & Cammarota (2002) argue that "Although young people are influenced by oppressive social forces, they still have the capacity to respond to forms of social control. .. and agency is really about how young people negotiate, contest, and challenge the institutionalized processes of social division within which they are situated" (86). This ability to negotiate, contest, and challenge, can be encouraged through social justice education by developing critical consciousness among our students. Critical consciousness, according to Ginwright & Cammarota, is an awareness of how institutional, historical, and systemic forces limit and promote the life opportunities for particular groups ... This awareness that life is not predetermined is the first step toward changing these conditions, and taking control over our fate. However, people can only truly 'know' that they can exercise control over their existence by directly engaging the conditions that shape their lives." (2002:87). In fact, Ginwright & Cammarota (2002) argue that "social action and critical consciousness are a necessary couplet; that is, acting upon the conditions influencing one's social experience leads to an awareness of the contingent quality of life" (87). These authors invoke Freire's (1993) concept of praxis (reflecting and acting upon the world in order to transform it), when they maintain that "Through their own praxis, [students] explore their own and others' experiences with oppression and privilege ... Critical consciousness and social action provide young people with tools to understand and change the underlying causes of social and historical processes that perpetuate the problems they face daily" (87-88). By developing critical consciousness and encouraging social action transformative educators help students become closer to their humanity, as they act as agents of their own development, transforming the conditions influencing their own existence (87). Promoting praxis and critical consciousness, according to Ginwright & Cammarota (2002) , requires progressing through three levels of awareness: self-awareness, social awareness, and 17 global awareness (88-91). Each level focuses on a mode of exploration that gradually connects educator and student to key issues of identity as they relate to an ever-widening relationship with others. Self-awareness, focusing on self-evaluation and self exploration, encourages young people to explore identity issues related to race, class, gender, and sexuality. Here awareness is facilitated by not merely celebrating ethnic, racial, and cultural diversity, but rather through an analysis of how power, privilege, and oppression threaten their identities and capacity for self-determination" (88-89). The emphasis here for the transformative educator is to develop an understanding with our students how closely tied identity is to privilege and oppression. Ginwright & Cammarota (2002) point out that "once young people see the connection between identity and power relationships, they develop a healthy self-awareness that recognizes how oppression and privilege mark their own struggles and the struggle of others" (89). The second level of awareness, social awareness, is an extension of the awareness developed during level one in that it "fosters an understanding and ideology about how [students'] immediate social world functions ... [encouraging] the capacity to think critically about issues in their own communities" (Ginwright & Cammarota 2002:89). Developing this ability goes beyond establishing an informative knowledge base about social issues, it also provides students with "a set of cognitive skills that promote investigation, analysis, and problem solving ... [that] they can apply throughout their lives" (89). Students use these powerful tools of inquiry to analyze power as it relates to "how groups and institutions sustain or ameliorate inequalities at the community level" (89). It is through the analysis of their community, according to Ginwright & Cammarota, that "youth develop a deep sense of how institutions could better serve their own communities and initiate strategies to make these institutions responsive to their needs ... [providing] young people with an analytical foundation to achieve greater equality for themselves and for others in their communities" (90). It is during the third level of awareness, global awareness, when students "accomplish an effective and complete praxis through ... [the] practice [of] critical reflection in order to empathize with the struggles of oppressed people throughout the world" (Ginwright & Cammarota 2002:90). From this perspective, "young people become familiar with the various historical forms of oppression and with the larger processes and systems that have caused the suffering of many people around the globe" (90). There is a strong connection here with the empathic education outlined in the previous section in that global awareness is achieved "through forms 18 of consistent behavior that demonstrates connectedness with others, empathy with suffering, and resistance to oppression" (90). Ginwright & Cammarota explain that Young people who have reached a global awareness often view the world as a place of possibilities and change. In their everyday behavior, they work toward creating a better world through the type of work they choose, the form of recreation they participate in, and even the kind music they listen to. They become more intentional about their life choices and strive to value the 'humanness' in everyone" (90-91). have experienced this during my own practice as students, beginning grade six, often demonstrate little awareness of, or interest in, the larger world around them-evident in how they unempathically interact with one another, exaggerate the need for having the latest high-tech consumer products, or absentmindedly litter the classroom and playground. Through the use of social justice education these same students begin to show interest in engaging the world around them-demonstrated by the way they challenge sexist, racist, and homophobic language around the school and at home; conduct 'Social Justice Fairs', including one seeking to educate other students on issues of poverty and sexual violence in Africa; volunteer around the school to make it a cleaner, friendlier and safer place for all; and so on. These students, once introduced to a critical consciousness and social action, developed a passionate curiosity for more knowledge and understanding of their world, and collectively discovered ways of making a difference in that world. Critical consciousness need not, nor should not, be contained in the walls of our classrooms or only in the dialogues we have with our students. As with the expectation that our students will take their critical consciousness into their communities, educators articulating a social justice focus are expected to bring a respectful but critical dialogue into their staffrooms (Neito 2000:185). Kelly & Minnes Brandes (2001) remind us that " ... schools are not apart from the wider society; they are themselves sites of struggle and social change ... Both inside and outside schools, societal inequalities (based on class, race, gender, or sexuality) place limits on the actual practice of democracy" (438). Initiating this dialogue can feel daunting, especially in a culture where conflict is avoided and 'niceties' trump open discussion; but it is important to begin selecting peers who may welcome critical dialogue, and then build upon those connections. Nieto (2000) points out the importance of such connections when she asserts that "Working in isolation, no teacher can single-handedly effect the changes that are needed in an entire school, at least not in the long term" (185). She goes on to explain that, What is needed are not simply peers who support one another, essential as this may be, but also peers who debate, critique, and challenge one another to go beyond their current ideas and practices. Developing a community of critical 19 friends is one way of facing difficult issues, and it is one more step in the journey of transformation (185-186). A part of establishing a critical pedagogy in our schools and extending the invitation to dialogue to our colleagues is conveying to our peers Kelly & Minnes Brandes' (2001) sentiment that "teaching is inevitably political and that teachers cannot be value-neutral" (439). Kelly & Minnes Brandes sum up the responsibility of teachers embarking on transforming their schools into places of critical dialogue: [O]ur preferred teacher role is one of inclusive and situated engagement: 'inclusive' to signal a concern to attend to the perspectives of excluded minorities; 'situated' to signal that all teachers (or knowers) are located within a particular landscape of identities, values, and social situations from which they view the world; and 'engagement' to signal the need to make their viewpoints open to critique as well as to model reasoned inquiry and action" (451-452). Bringing political and value-laden teaching into our schools and classes places great onus on the transformative educator-and his or her students-in the selection of struggles to address. Due to limited time and resource, the choice of topics educator's use to accomplish Ginwright & Cammarota's (2002) global awareness is an important one. While I maintain student involvement in this selection is necessary, it is the educator's role to 'front load' students with the necessary knowledge to better inform choice. The remainder of this paper includes both a more detailed argument for the inclusion of homophobia and heterosexism in social justice education, and a specific curricular approach to bring awareness and disrupt these injustices. Including Homophobia and Heterosexism in Social Justice Education Addressing the visibility of identity, Robinson, Ferfolja & Goldstein (2004) point out that "Historically, anti-homophobia education has been an under-represented, under-theorised and silenced issue" (4). Little (2001) argues that students "struggling with gender and sexual orientation are reported to comprise ten percent of our youth population yet they may often be unknown to teachers and other school personnel..[as they] face unique challenges in developing their identity and gaining social acceptance" (99). She goes on to say that On one hand, we want to include all students in the educational experience; on the other hand, some 'fall through the cracks' because we, and sometimes the youth themselves, are unable to name or acknowledge the invisible struggle involved in coming to terms with one's own gender and sexual orientation ... youth cannot escape having to operate in a society that condones homophobia, and this threatens their physical, mental and emotional health and development. .. Like racism and sexism, homophobia can be subtle or it can be 20 overt ... Unlike racism and sexism, however, homophobia is essentially the last bastion of political incorrectness. Societal attitudes towards racism and sexism have evolved to be more inclusive of diversity. Societal attitudes towards gender and sexual orientation differences are still largely intolerant (99-100). This intolerance is masked by a veneer of heterosexism which "results in an absence of gay and lesbian positive images and a deafening silence about the homosexual reality, a serious problem for the ten percent of students who are lesbian and gay" who must not only face the usual trials of adolescence, but also "[struggle] with their emergent sexuality [while they] experience contradictory messages about normalcy, sexuality, pleasure, and deviance" (Brisken 1994:4-5). Little (2001) emphasizes this by adding that for gay and lesbian youth, "When there is no positive mirror from which to reflect yourself, a distorted and ugly image is constructed" (102). Citing a list of research, Little (2001) points out some of the consequences of homophobia and heterosexism, including: chronic depression, substance abuse, school failure, relationship problems, rejection, isolation, abuse and suicide (102). She goes on to say that "school based settings are not immune to homophobia and heterosexism, no matter how good the intention of the practitioners" and by not confronting homophobia and heterosexism, schools are condoning and participating in the damaging silences of these injustices (105). Once again, bringing voice to silence-and thereby attempting to keep our children safe-is achieved by developing critical consciousness, taking part in social action, and reaching for global awareness (Ginwright & Cammarota 2002). It is from this point of awareness that educators and students seek to construct a social reality that no longer reflects and reproduces homophobia and heterosexism in schools. Similar to the points made by Burbules (1993) and Shields (2004) around disturbing identities through divergent moral dialoguing, Robinson, et al. (2004) maintain that the process of addressing homophobia and heterosexism involves pedagogies that will, and must, "disrupt and challenge individuals' worldviews, or threaten core values within their existing belief systems," resulting in "both dynamic and volatile sites of learning, in which students and educators must confront and negotiate a range of complex and contradictory discursive subject positions associated with the politics of identity" (3). Robinson (2005) invokes the notion of 'difficult knowledge' to describe the terrain encountered as students and educators shift out of their comfort zones into more contested ground; reflecting a 'hierarchy of rights' "that operates within society, often resulting in lesbian and gay equity issues being placed at the bottom of this hierarchy and gay and lesbian voices being marginalised in society" (176). Robinson (2005) goes on to say that "In order to make a significant difference in terms of 21 social justice, educators and educational institutions need to engage more actively in taking risks in this area, challenging and disrupting everyday relations of power that underpin the various forms of inequality that operate" (185). Similar to the argument briefly introduced earlier around the appropriateness of using certain age-restricted media in the classroom, for some educators and parents the silence and marginalization of homophobia and heterosexism occurs through "defended ... claims of irrelevance and/or being developmentally and morally inappropriate for children" (Robinson 2005:185). Addressing the issue of appropriateness and difficult knowledge, Robinson (2005), influenced by the work of Britzman (1998), maintains that teaching difficult knowledge is necessary for doing social justice education because it is "associated with learning that 'interferes' with the individual's 'knowing', 'truths' or belief systems, and learning that disrupts and challenges the individual's discursive locations within discourses relating to difference that perpetuates social inequalities" (176). As pointed out earlier, invoking difficult knowledge'-including homophobia and heterosexism-is challenging because it "requires educators to move beyond touristic approaches towards diversity, involves challenging some of the institutionalised discourses around childhood that act as barriers to exclude this type of work with children" (Robinson 2005:183). Just as Fraser (1997) offered queer politics as a remedy for avoiding the negotiation of sexuality as only a single, universal human identity (24), Grace (2001) posits the notion of 'Queer knowledges' within this discourse of social justice education He maintains that these knowledges "enable learners to challenge heterosexualizing discourses and heteronormative ways of being, doing, becoming, and belonging ... [opening] paths to educational pedagogies that are democratic, unsettling and unsettled, dynamic, inclusive, transgressive, and perhaps most importantly, transformative" (2). In the pursuit of de/construction of social reality and identity, difficult knowledges, including Queer knowledges, are meant to create dis/ease, dis/locating people from their often taken-for-granted social positions. Attempts to represent alternative knowledges in curricula without creating discomfort will surely be superficial and not lead to any meaningful change. This is true because the status quo thrives on the comfort of uncontested discourse; whereas the inclusion of contested discourse results in social disequilibrium ... and eventually, a social reality constructed by more than the dominant group (in this case the heterosexual majority). 22 Resistance from educators, students, parents and media can result from the inclusion of homophobia and heterosexism in social justice education because-through the interruption of the social reproduction of 'heterosexual normalcy'-it challenges a status quo that thrives on the comfort of uncontested discourse. Robinson (2005) points out that "Resistance will be greatest from those who perceive and fear they have most to lose from a shift in power relations of this nature and who see their positions and status as threatened" (179). Some resistance stems from "fears associated with disrupting well-established 'truths' or knowledge that often underpin early childhood educational philosophies about childhood, children's development and their place in the world" (177). Much of this resistance is based on the assumptions that sexuality is a 'private matter' or that "gay and lesbian issues are considered 'minority issues' and are therefore irrelevant to the majority, or 'normal' student'" (Robinson & Ferfolja 2001: 125). Robinson & Ferfolja (2001) go on to explain that "Unless difference is obvious, i.e. visible and vocal, it is perceived as non-existent" (125). In this sense homophobia and heterosexism act as tools of social control, rendering silent the voices that may disrupt a dominant worldview. Coming up against this resistance involves taking risks, both real and perceived. Robinson (2005) characterizes these risks as personal risks (harassment, ostracism from colleagues, the questioning by others of one's sexuality, loss of employment, etc.), and institutional risks (financial interference, interference from parents, management bodies, and broader communities) (177). The need for disrupting the social mechanisms of homophobia and heterosexism-and the consequences of not taking these risks-are found in the daily reality of homophobic and heterosexist violence, hate crimes, and gay and lesbian suicide attempts. Robinson (2005) furthers the argument for the inclusion of homophobia and heterosexism in social justice education in elementary schools-and not waiting until secondary education-by reminding us that "a large percentage of hate crime based on sexual identities is carried out by adolescent boys and young men ... [evidence that] processes of prejudice, hatred and discrimination are well under way in the early years of children's lives" (177). It is soon after our students leave our elementary schools that some of them violently act out the homophobia and heterosexism that is learned and left unchallenged during the elementary school years. Robinson (2005) maintains that in order to create an 'innovative society'-that includes diverse sexual identity-educators need to foster risk taking "[increasing] our understandings of ourselves and [extending] our perceptions of what we, as individuals and communities, are capable of achieving in our lives and those of future generations" (181). Again, it is through the encouragement of critical 23 consciousness and social action that transformative educators facilitate participation in the construction of this just and innovative society. Reiterating concepts introduced earlier, Sykes & Goldstein explain that educators "as active agents in the construction of their subjectivity ... can claim or resist discourses according to what they want to establish" (2004:54). Invoking Foucault's concepts of 'discourse,' 'knowledge and power,' and 'subjectivity,' Sykes & Goldstein (2004) provide the background from which active agency occurs: One's subjective positioning within discourse can shift and change according to various contexts and one's reading of the power relations operating within. For example, fear of the repercussions of harassment or violence for engaging with anti-homophobic discourses might discourage some educators from dealing with sexual difference and discrimination in their classrooms (54). With the inclusion of homophobia and heterosexism in social justice education, both educator and student are encouraged to understand their own prejudices and biases, privileges, and social location. Little (2001) asserts that a good place to start is with the question "why is it so important to maintain a heterosexist environment?" (106). Questions like this invite educators and students to begin being "more critically informed about homophobia and heterosexism ... how sexuality is constructed, how power operates in these contexts, how sexuality and gender intersect and how they also intersect with other sites of identity, such as class, race, ethnicity and so on" (Robinson 2005: 181). By seeking answers to these types of questions we reposition ourselves so that we can challenge inequalities of power; thereby socially construct opportunities for the silenced identities to be seen and heard. Using Critical Media Literacy to Empower Silenced Identities Giving Voice to Identities As indicated before, invoking a diversity of identities in the classroom begins by making space for the voices of students. When educators begin to listen to their students they witness what identities the students mayor may not be hearing in dominant discourses. This step is the first in a process supporting students in the deconstruction of their knowledge and perceptions of themselves and others. Making room for our students and diverse identities in our classrooms is never simply a matter of having the right number of desks, textbooks and pencils; our students also need encouragement and assistance in finding social space within our classrooms. These social spaces are where each student can express, experience, and negotiate identities. As pointed out earlier, the social space of the classroom exists in relation to the other social spaces 24 of 'home,' 'school yard,' 'friendships,' etc. I have found that media literacy is an excellent way to assist students and educators in expressing, experiencing and negotiating identity in the social space of the classroom; thereby offering students the skills and confidence to continue their pursuit of global awareness. Using Critical Media Literacy involves exploring, as a group, the media representations of identities and critically challenging those representations in a way that seeks to get behind the motives and perceptions of both the people generating those images and the audiences meant to consume the images. Instead of transmitting intact representations of identities, media take snippets of people, places and things and frame them as representations of social reality. What are often taken for granted are who and what gets represented in these snippets; and by what processes are these snippets selected. Looking critically at media, a dominant identity emerges. 'Alternate' identities may be included, but in passing, or 'off to the side' of what is deemed 'mainstream.' One way to encourage the development of critical consciousness posited by Ginwright & Cammarota (2002) is through Critical Media Literacy. This approach to curricula can assist both educator and student in appreciating the challenges and opportunities of a widening discourse; thereby making room for various identities in the classroom. The emphasis is not just on 'teaching' students about identities, but using Critical Media Literacy to construct knowledges with students. Students are encouraged to engage actively with both identities and in the ways media culture represents and manipulates the perception of identities. An example of this-expanded on later-is the inclusion of gay and lesbian identities to help frame not only the ways media shape our understanding of sexual identity, but also how adults relinquish the responsibility of addressing sexual identities because of the unwillingness to disrupt heteronormative assumptions discussed in the previous section. Again, exploring gay and lesbian identities in this manner highlights many of the biases educators and media hold when it comes to including children in social discourse in general, and the inclusion of children 's voices around issues of sexuality in particular. Rendering any identity 'off limits' to children not only puts those who hold those identities at risk, it also robs all children of the critical skills to fully engage their identities within the diversity around them. Hobbs (2004) makes an argument for the implementation of Critical Media Literacy in general when she maintains that U[w]hen teachers use videos, films, Web sites, popular music, newspapers, and magazines in the K-12 ... they may aim to motivate students' interest in the subject, build communication and critical-thinking skills, encourage political activism, or promote 25 personal and social development" (42). Pointing out the role media plays in how we construct our images of identities and understandings of the world, Kellner & Share (2005) maintain that education must meet "the dual challenges of teaching media literacy in a multicultural society and sensitising students and the public to the inequities and injustices of a society based on gender, race, and class inequalities and discrimination" (370). They go on to argue that, Through the inclusion of some groups and exclusion of others, representations benefit dominant and positively represented groups and disadvantage marginalized and subordinate ones ... These biases become especially pernicious when two factors exist: (1) limited and dominant groups do the majority of the representing, as in the case of the multinational corporate mass media; (2) messages are naturalized, such that people seldom question the transparent social construction of the representations" (Kellner & Share 2005:370). In short, there are social mechanisms at work when identities are hidden. Once again, educators have the choice of either maintaining the status quo, thus perpetuating the dominance of particular identities; or learning to challenge this dominance by bringing voice to those identities relegated to the shadows of social reality. In the classroom we can start our work with students and media by articulating 'who we are' (what identities the educator and student claim) and explore the places where we see, or don't see, ourselves and others represented in media. This begins a process that Brown (1988) asserts will "help recipients of mass communication become active, free participants in the process rather than static, passive, and subservient to the images and values communicated in a one-way flow from media sources" (47). Educator and student are both involved in this 'centering of self' to observe the limitations of media representation of any identity. A deepening of our understandings of 'self' allows us to see the biases and assumptions we hold in relation to those we define as 'other'; as well as the elucidating the ways in which we are influenced and informed by incoming media messages. This self-critical exercise invites the student and educator to position his or her own identity as topic for discussion, for deconstruction. Again it is not enough to merely observe media messages; we must actively deconstruct the images we see and messages we interpret in order to critically analyse their influence on identity. Kellner & Share (2005) assert that because individuals are often unaware that their identities are informed by the frequently invisible and unconscious pedagogy of media culture, "[i]t is highly irresponsible in the face of saturation by the Internet and media culture to ignore these forms of socialization and education ... This situation calls for critical approaches that make 26 us aware of how media construct meanings, influence and educate audiences, and impose their messages and values" (371-372). Through the use of Critical Media Literacy, and the understanding that-like all knowledges-media messages are socially constructed, educators and students "can expand critical inquiry into multiple forms of information and communication, including television programmes, Internet, advertising, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and books" (Kellner & Share 2005:381). Adult Perceptions of Children'S Role in Media Participation A major challenge in developing this form of critical pedagogy "results from the fact that it is not a pedagogy in the traditional sense, with firmly established principles, a canon of texts, and tried-and-true teaching procedures. It requires a democratic pedagogy which involves teachers sharing power with students as they join together in the process of unveiling myths and challenging hegemony" (Kellner & Share 2005:373). One specific obstacle to this collaboration between educator and student are the preconceived, and sometimes disrespectful, attitudes educators hold about children and their ability to discuss media. Buckingham (1998) points out that" ... research suggests that children are a much more sophisticated and critical audience than is conventionally assumed, not least by many media educators themselves ... [and although] [t]here are bound to be gaps in children's knowledge ... those gaps may not necessarily be where they are often assumed to be" (37-38). As pointed out earlier, adults often characterize, or 'Otherize', children's engagement in media culture as 'victimization' or 'over indulgence'. Herring (2008) points out that adults "have a moral imperative to respect youth ... [taking] care not to define the younger generation in terms alien to its members or in terms that construct its members as alien. Definitions are never 'just words', especially when the definers hold structural power over the defined, as is the case with adults and youth" (88). In short, instead of engaging with children about their experiences with media, adults often look upon children and media from a distance, making judgements that often reflect our own inabilities, concerns, and self-doubts. Best & Kellner (2003) point to moral panics as examples of how adults sometimes seek to control and/or censor children's engagement with media by demonizing Internet technology and other forms of media, and thus "[circumscribing children's] rights to obtain entertainment and information, and create their own subcultures" (88). This is not to say that media culture holds no danger for children; but perhaps the dangers would be lessened if children had the skills to 27 critically engage media. In fact, the moral panics themselves offer an excellent topic for classroom engagement with media in that uNews reporting often sensationalizes these cases ... in which new media environments are represented as a threat to societal values and interests" (Herring 2008:74). Discussion around these notions of 'societal values and interests' open up the discourse, offering children a chance to partake in defining for themselves what their values and interests are; and whether the media they consume (sometimes to the horror of their parents and teachers) even reflect what they see as important in the shaping of their identities. This latter point of discussion brings to light the fact that adults not only seek to censor the media culture children are immersed in, u ... adults create and regulate the media technologies consumed by young people, and profit financially from them ... [by] interpreting new technologies and youth practices in normative, moral terms, a process that reinscribes youth as 'other'" (Herring 2008:71). Again, offering students the skills to analyze these influences and manipulations is an act of social justice in itself. So what we have here are adults (parents and educators, politicians, etc) seeking to mitigate the influence of other adults (manufacturers of media content and technologies), while a third set of adults (the News media) sensationalize this battle for the control of children. Again, I do not argue that some concern is unwarranted, for as Herring (2008) reminds us U[h]istorically, commercial · interests and the mass media have not behaved responsibly toward youth, and it is unlikely that their discourses will change .. . " (88). But it is important to remember that while u ... commercial interests seek to manipulate young people into requesting and buying certain products, thereby restricting their range of action and expression" they do not always reflect youth perspectives (Herring 2008:78-79). In other words, children sometimes 'get it,' or at least have the ability to 'get it'. It is much more complicated than simply asking children to 'abstain' from the media messages that make us feel uncomfortable as adults; we must actually engage with children in these very media messages and technologies. Including children in media discourse offers a different perspective from one provided by adults alone. As Herring (2008) points out U[d]ifferent generations have different unique strengths to bring to this conversation. Youth necessarily lack a historical, comparative perspective. While this could be seen as limiting, it also potentially allows for genuinely new practices to evolve, free from the burden of excessive reflection and evaluation that often characterizes adult understandings" (87-88). As educators we have much to learn from our students. 28 In this way, making room for children in media discourse opens up new ways of constructing knowledge. Invoking the importance and the benefits of including children in media discourse, Best & Kellner (2003) make the point for adapting to a new media-rich reality: Youth-and all of us-need to learn to interact in many dimensions of social reality and to gain a variety of forms of literacy and skills that will enable us to create identities, relationships, and communitie-s that will nurture and develop our full spectrum of potentialities and satisfy a wide array of needs. Our lives are more multidimensional than ever, and part of the postmodern adventure is learning to live in a variety of social spaces and to adapt to intense change and transformation. Education too must meet these challenges and use multimedia and information technologies to promote empowering learning and devise strategies to create a more democratic and egalitarian multicultural society (90). Of course it is one thing to agree that children should participate in media discourse and quite another to agree on including certain 'hot topics' which will test educators' comforts and values. Because the transformative educator is always seeking to expand the awareness of diverse identities invoked in the classroom discussions, it is important to include the deconstruction of media's representation of sexuality in Critical Media Literacy. There is a specific need-for the reasons outlined in the previous section-to open our classroom dialogue to include the engagement of the representations of gay and lesbian identities in media. Sexuality as a Topic of Media Discourse Even asking whether or not we should address sexuality in the classroom is problematic because it assumes that a form of sexuality is not already present in curricular discourse. Rottmann (2006) makes this point when she maintains that U[f]or those who might argue against public debate of sexuality or the inclusion of sexual diversity issues in public schools ... [which are] structured around heterosexual forces ... sexuality is already a public matter" (15). In other words there already is sexuality in elementary and secondary school curricula-and it's a heteronormative curricula. In a similar way to how adults sometimes hide behind 'moral panics' concerning the influences of media messages and technologies, parents and educators also use a lack of knowledge and/or fear of sexuality as a means of silencing discourse permitted to children. And, as in the case of media, we are na'ive to think that we are keeping children 'safe' from such messages. By not including the discourse of sexuality, we simply leave children on their own to negotiate the messages they do receive; without the skills to critically engage these messages. Rottmann (2006) argues that "As representatives of a profession that prides itself on democratic practices and sensitivity to diversity issues, it behooves all educators .. . to challenge 29 any omission of a group of people or a way of thinking and to continually monitor the distance we have yet to go to reach our goals" (17). Leaving heterosexuality as the default, uncontested and all-encompassing sexuality, renders all other sexualities invisible. For example, Chung (2007) points out that" [t]he school curriculum that teaches students social norms, cultural values and human sexuality from a heterocentric cosmology is bound to deny lesbian and gay youth their learning performance, motivation, psychological development and social skills of interacting with others, as well as preventing them from successfully contributing to society" (102). Mayo (2007) adds that this invisibility, or perceived invisibility, enables educational leaders to ignore non-heterosexual identities altogether: " ... straight administrators do not believe that their sexuality affects their leadership practices, whereas LGBT students give very clear examples of how this is so, including greater attention to multiple forms of diversity and an understanding of the visibility and invisibility of identities" (88). Again, students who do not fit into the heterosexual majority, "to a greater extent than heterosexual students, experience physical and psychological harassment, academic struggles, strained and broken family ties, loss of support networks, internalized homophobia, poor self esteem, homelessness, eating disorders and suicidal behaviour ... " (Rottmann 2006:3). It is important to add here that omitting any voices from social discourse affects not only those with that particular voice; it also robs those represented in the discourse the opportunity to be informed and challenged by 'other' voices. If non-dominant sexualities are not included in curricula where do children learn about them? The answer to this question brings us back to media culture. Chung (2007) points out that "[t]he lack of discussion about homosexuality or of a homocentric curriculum has forced school children to resort to the media for distorted information" (102); and Raley & Lucas (2006) maintain that "[m]uch of the identity formation of Gay male, Lesbian, and Bisexual youths is being learned from heterosexist and homophobic sources of misinformation on TV" (22). Let's take a closer look at these images and so that we might work with them in our classrooms. Representations of Sexualities in Media As suggested earlier, media are in the business of packaging snippets of identities for the consumption of a general audience and profit. In the pursuit of profit, media representations of 30 identity cannot serve the interests of those represented; instead they must create little to no room for real controversy or contestation. Chung (2007) makes this point when she asserts that "[t]he media industry is in the business of making profits, not in raising social consciousness ... [they] rely on and purposefully construct stereotypical characters and images to tell a story efficiently .. . Stereotyping is a critical instrument for media programmes to survive in the fast-paced, profit-driven business arena ... " (100). Because representations of identity are for quick and easy consumption, they reflect and reproduce stereotypes that are already dominant in the social realm. In terms of gay and lesbian representations that are not engaged in other social contexts (like schools), stereotypes become the only knowledge (mis)informing the mass audience. This, of course, has a negative impact of how this mass audience perceives gay men and lesbians: "The heterocentric media expression of homosexuality reinforces prejudiced and inaccurate representations of gay people, which depersonalises gay people as moral outsiders, a socially denied group deprived of equal rights and treatment" (Chung 2007:101). Levina et ai, (2000) add that while "[c]ommercials, situation comedies, dramas and educational programs virtually always consist only of heterosexual characters, and the love between a man and a woman is portrayed as the only available romantic scenario ... ,[e]ven when such less powerful groups attain visibility, their representation in the media will be framed by the lens through which the dominant class views that particular minority group" (742). At issue here is that mainstream media, and all its 'for-profit' stereotypes, become the dominant means by which children , as well as most adults, learn about others and acquire and internalise social norms, values and beliefs ... the media generation learns about social issues like homosexuality not from direct contact with gay people or from their parents, teachers and peers, but from characters and scenes depicted in films, television programmes, fashion magazines and commercial advertisements (Chung 2007:99). Therefore, when children do not have the critical skills to engage these media messages they are left to scavenge these stereotypes for guidance in how to negotiate these incomplete identities. For better or for worse, all children's identities are informed as they uncritically consume these stereotypes; and the ways children express those identities---built from incomplete and inaccurate media pieces-Clare not discovered from within an authentic self, but are found out in the world: proposed, suggested and imposed on [them] by [their] culture, [their] society and [their] social group" (Linne 2003:670). While harmful to all children, stereotypical media representations of gay and lesbian identities hold extra meaning for children who are 31 negotiating their own non-heterosexuality with only these representations for guidance. Linne (2003) makes this point: With few if any role models young proto-queers - individuals with queer feelings yet lacking language to name them-are left with personal desires that have no social context to give them meaning. Like any person becoming part of a culture, gays or lesbians have to learn the ways of being, knowing, and acting sociodiscursively within the community ... Unique to queer acculturation however, is the way many if not most individuals have initially entered the group on a virtual level via art and media (670). For youth questioning their sexuality even inadequate or insulting stereotypes are consumed with eagerness because "[t]he desire to see oneself reflected in the culture is so strong that even the most reprehensible characterizations may initially seem more desirable than no characterizations at all" (Linne 2003:674). Fouts & Inch (2005) remind us that because "[m]any homosexual adolescents do not have homosexual role models in their immediate environment with whom to identify and help them to develop a healthy sexual identity ... the media may have an important function to serve, i.e., exposing them to kindred individuals with whom they may otherwise never or seldom have contact..." (37). Couple this last observation with the knowledge that these kindred individuals are more often than not based on heterosexual interpretations of gay and lesbian identities, constructed for profit, we appreciate the limitations (and possible harm) of such unchallenged exposure. Resisting these stereotypes is difficult for any young person not equipped with critical media skills, " ... especially when the rules (regarding sexualities) prove illusive to contest because nobody will even discuss them seriously outside of the joking and taunting on the athletic field and school hallways. That which is not acknowledged often serves as a louder message than that which is spoken in a culture" (Linne 2003:670). In fact, without a critical understanding of media and their role in reproducing or manufacturing stereotypes, "[t]eachers uninformed about homosexuality are likely to use heterocentric lesbian and gay stereotypes to suppress their homosexual students, or legitimise unjust attitudes and behaviour toward them" (Chung 2007: 105). Again this lack of school education of gay and lesbian identities "causes students to resort to inaccurate information from the stereotypical media representations ... " (Chung 2007: 1 05). When these stereotypes are ignored and not purposefully interrupted they do not simply go away; they persist and spread in uncontested discourse. 32 Continuing the discussion around 'appropriateness', some adults may shy away from engaging lesbian and gay identities in the classroom because of 'overt' or 'blatant' sexual content. Fouts & Inch (2005) observe that "this presumed preoccupation with [overt] sexuality is in contrast with the fact that lesbian and gay characters on television have relatively few actual sexual encounters compared to heterosexual characters, who often focus on and emphasize their sexual orientation through overt actions rather than through verbal comments ... " (42). In other words lesbian and gay characters may talk about their sexual identity, but rarely do we see them doing anything sexual; heterosexual characters, on the other hand, of all ages, seem preoccupied with asserting their sexuality (another great topic for discussion in the classroom). As suggested earlier, the absence or under-representation of gay and lesbian identity in entertainment media, "also has important implications for heterosexual young viewers, since television is one of the most powerful socializing agents regarding sexuality" (Fouts & Inch 2005:37 -38). Fouts & Inch characterize the implications for heterosexual youth in the following way: First, the lack of representation likely (a) results in being unaware of the normal diversity in sexual orientation within society, and (b) contributes to developing stereotypical beliefs about homosexuality. Second, it implicitly represents the values, fears, and intolerance of program developers and producers, thereby symbolically modeling discriminatory behavior. Third, the absence of models is a form of 'symbolic annihilation' ... that represents a group's lack of power, thus reinforcing the powerless position of viewers in that group (37-38). Lesbian and Gay Identities through the Lens of Critical Media Literacy The purpose of Critical Media Literacy of any kind is not to impose values on to students, but instead to allow students the opportunity to develop a skill set to engage media in an informed manner. In other words, "to provide learning experiences where students strengthen critical-thinking skills to reach their own understandings about how to fully participate as citizens and consumers in a media-saturated society ... " (Hobbs 2004:44). In this way we are not encouraging children to take on a preset constellation of attitudes and values around media and media representations, instead we encourage them-by forming their own opinions and determinations-to develop their own values around media messages and technologies. Kellner & Share (2005) add that "[c]ritical media literacy involves cultivating skills in analysing media codes and conventions, abilities to criticize stereotypes, dominant values, and ideologies, and competencies to interpret the multiple meanings and messages generated by media texts" (371-33 372). Implicit here is developing skills of critique, thereby "[fostering] critical thinking and discussion of media-related issues, including how media messages are created, marketed, and distributed as well as their potential influence (or how they are received)" (Scharrer 2003:355). Students and educators engage in a more "self-reflexive style of teaching and learning, in which students are enabled to reflect on their own activity both as readers and as writers of media texts" (Buckingham 1998:40). When engaging with lesbian and gay identities, Critical Media Literacy takes on the queer theory perspective mentioned earlier in this paper; whereby educators are not "merely [furthering] knowledge about a small minority of marginalized oppressed consumers ... Rather, the application of queer theory demonstrates the way in which representations of normative heterosexuality (white, married, procreative, male-female couple, healthy, sexually conservative in practice) pervade advertising and other cultural institutions-even the gay ones" (Kates 1999:33). Kates (1999) illustrates the application of queer theory in exposing heterosexist assumptions in the following read of an ad depicting two men standing together, obviously enjoying each other's company: Imagine that the ad exemplar was found in Time magazine or Sports Illustrated. In those media, the common assumption would be that the two men are heterosexual brothers or friends. Queer deconstruction would be useful, for we can challenge the 'friendship' assumptions by changing the sex of one of the men to female, working from there to spin the chain of associations into strange and perverse possibilities. The ostensibly platonic relationship between the two men can be challenged by the repressed sexual themes if we understand that platonic, masculine, and heterosexual friendship ('male bonding') is defined by its homophobically denied opposite: the possibility of intimate sexual contact between heterosexual men, an underlying, repressed anxiety beneath the fraternal fa9ade (33). Similarly, we can read underlying messages or hidden assumptions in other representations of lesbian and gay identities. For example, when we engage in Critical Media Literacy student and educator will observe not only a lack of representation in general , but also a lack of diversity within representations of lesbians and gay men. Linne (2003) notes that "Hollywood films and mainstream literature are full of helpless, gay characters. Fictional lesbians and gays are consistently punished for their sexualities with physical abuse, death, or suicide .. . and youthful gay characters beginning to explore sexuality and romance are especially in danger of being killed ; being institutionalized, or committing suicide before the final chapter or last reel. .. " (683). While there are a handful of young people depicted as gay or lesbian, most representations are adult. Even though there are many young people depicted in media, rarely do we see young 34 people negotiating a non-heterosexual identity. This is problematic for both homosexual and heterosexual viewer, according to Fout & Inch (2005) because U[t]his likely contributes to [lesbian and gay youth's] feelings of invalidation, marginalization, and isolation ... [while] [y]oung heterosexual viewers ... may also develop inappropriate beliefs about homosexual individuals, e.g., emphasizing their 'differentness' and unimportance, a message inferred from their relative absence in television programs youth watch" (40-41). Like age, race and class are other examples of the lack of diversity found in representing lesbian and gay identities. Hennessy (1995) argues that the commodification of lesbian and gay identities as white and middle class, U[blots] from view lesbians, gays, queers who are manual workers, sex workers, unemployed, and imprisoned ... [and ignores] [a]bout a quarter to a half million [American] homosexual and bisexual youths [who] are thrown out of their homes and subjected to prostitution and violence in the streets" (69). A misleading media representation specific to gay men is that of the 'witty, but weak gay neighbour'. Linne (2003) notes how this clownish portrayal exists as the flip side to the 'perverse and dangerous homosexual', reflecting homophobic fears: U[R]ather than projecting that [homophobic] fear onto monster figures, the anxiety [around homosexuality] is diffused through a representation of gays as being completely the opposite: weak and ineffectual" (673-674). Both these representations provide heterosexuals (especially heterosexual men) the reassuring distance from any unsettling doubt of their own sexuality, and the normative place it holds in society. The problem of course is that when any of these representations are not interrupted or contested, they are read as representations of social reality; thereby narrowing the opportunities available to both dominan~ and non-dominant identities. In more general terms, when homosexuality is presented in media it is framed as an issue 'to be dealt with', Uresulting in homosexual characters being more preoccupied with sexual orientation than heterosexual characters" (Fouts & Inch 2005:38). In a similar way, u[j]ournalists now routinely include gay-related issues and events as a category of news ... Yet those appearances are almost invariably in the context of some controversy ... [such as] the exclusion of gay people ... service in the military ... the institution of civil marriage .. . [and] the right to adopt children ... " (Gross 2005:519). When homosexuality is represented as 'an issue' in discourse, it exists only in relation to the non-issue of heterosexuality. Critical Media Literacy explores the question of how heterosexuality is served by this positioning of gay and lesbian experiences as 'issues of concern'. 35 Interrupting Heterosexism and Homophobia through Critical Media Literacy As a method of social justice pedagogy, Critical Media Literacy invites both educator and student to disturb the assumptions or biases found in media representations through the use of alternative readings. Chung (2007) points out that, Media images such as magazine advertisements, television commercials/shows and films that depict lesbian and gay people can be effectively used to counter gay stereotypes and examine gay issues in the classroom. A 'countertype' is a positive stereotype used to problematise or 'counter' a negative stereotype that has previously been applied to a cultural group. Although countertypes are still oversimplified views of the group being stereotyped, they propel students to deconstruct stereotypes through a different lens. Countertyping like this should lead students to move beyond a simplistic view of lesbian and gay people and explore more in-depth, humanistic characteristics of lesbian and gay people that are often overlooked by the media (103). During the implantation of Critical Media Literacy, identity is seen as a "production, which is never complete, always in process, and always constituted within, not outside, representation ... [I]dentities are points of identification, unstable points within the social, political, economical and cultural discourses. (Andersson 2002:5). Building on the fluidity of identity, our role as transformative educators is to assist our students in 'trying on' identities through the use of empathy that informs our overall practice. Experiencing with our students how clumsy we feel when we try 'to walk a mile in someone's shoes', and how impossible it is to truly understand another person's perspective; but to still try because our efforts make us more aware of who we are and the situation of 'others'. This highlights the importance of the empathic pedagogy and strong teacher/student relationships outlined earlier in the paper. Scharrer (2003) reminds us that U[o]verall, if a student develops the ability to 'deconstruct'-break down the components of and closely analyze-media messages, practices, processes, institutions, or influence, then media literacy has been effective and that student is becoming a 'critical thinker' about the media" (357-358). When we apply these skills to gay and lesbian identities, U[m]edia images can be used to help students problematise stereotypical portrayals and examine prejudiced social practices" (Chung 2007:99). We discover that while stereotypes of gay and lesbian people may not always be wholly inaccurate, they are "[attempts] of heterosexual society to define gay people in terms that inevitably fall short of the ideal of heterosexual society (that is, taken to be the norm of being human) and to pass this definition off as necessary and natural" (Gross 2005:518). The closer our students are allowed to 36 scrutinize media messages and representations, the greater will be their understanding of how imperfect those messages are in representing real people in social contexts. Through Critical Media Literacy, alternative scripts are imagined and constructed "[offering] insight into other ways of living ... When countertexts reveal monologic views of culture as simplistic and unrealistic, they encourage readers to see through the dominant discourses and question the rules that typically remain unexamined. Culture begins to seem more contingent and pliable" (Linne 2003:671). Chung (2007:104) offers a few questions to guide K-12 students to analyse and examine media representations of lesbian and gay people: • What is the purpose of this advertisement! scene? (e.g., product sale, service, advocacy or viewpoint) • What pictorial elements/design techniques are used to gain our attention? • What is the scene trying to tell us? (viewpoint, plot, belief or value) • What responses are the scene meant to elicit from the viewer? • Are there other implicit messages in this advertisement? • Is there a lesbian or gay character in this scene, and how do you know? • What is the character doing? How is he/she portrayed? • What assumptions do you make from the scene? • What does the scene say about lesbian and gay people? • What connections can you make between lesbian and gay people and what is advertised? • Is the scene portraying a lesbian or gay stereotype? Which stereotype? • How do we know the portrayal is a stereotype? • What other lesbian or gay stereotypes do you frequently see in the media? • Can we brainstorm some ways to challenge this stereotype? Students as Activists: The Ultimate Aim of Critical Media Literacy and Social Justice Education As with any of the knowledge or skills we teach our students, the ultimate aim of social justice education-including Critical Media Literacy-is not to get through particular lessons or pass a particular test; but to prepare our students for future challenges they will face when they are far past the social space of our classrooms. "[Critical Media Literacy] advocates moving beyond the acquisition of skills alone to dialectically engage the negative effects and positive emancipator 37 possibilities of media literacy .. . And it promotes the production of alternative counter-hegemonic media, embracing its creative potential and power to allow students to challenge dominant discourse and create their own representations" (Van Heertum & Share 2006:255-256). The critical analyses begun in the classroom will expose structures of oppression, creating space for diversity of voice and experience. Our students-now more informed and more involved-will need to know that this work they have started can continue after they leave our classrooms. Kellner & Share (2005) point out that this "process of empowerment is a major aspect of transformative education and it can take many forms, from building self-esteem to creating alternative media that voice opposition to social problems" (371). Van Heertum & Share (2006) go on to say that beyond offering our students the social space to voice their developing opinions of media, educators, " .. .focusing on diversity, democracy, and civic participating, ... can empower and inspire youth to act and change the world ... [with an] agenda ... underwritten by a commitment to social justice and critical examination of the surrounding reality" (263). In other words, we introduce our students, through social justice education and Critical Media Literacy, to a new way of engaging the world that is "part of broader social, economic, and political transformation that addresses asymmetries of power, access, and opportunity along the lines of gender, race, class, and sexuality ... [thereby planting] the seeds that could later germinate into projects for profound social transformation" (Van Heertum & Share 2006:263). Social justice education and Critical Media Literacy informs students of their right to engage their world, including media, and come actively involved in opposing injustices encountered. The social justice pedagogy of Critical Media Literacy will "serve as a mechanism to openly politicize education itself and offer the hope and critical tools necessary to empower children toward becoming active citizens" (Van Heertum & Share 2006:259-260). When we invite our students to participate in Critical Media Literacy, and respect that they can handle this participation, we empower children; ensuring them the social space to actively participate in both the classroom and the world beyond. Conclusion Throughout this paper I depict social justice education as a pedagogy that requires educators to both understand issues of identity and oppression, and to invoke those issues in the classroom and staffroom. Social justice education requires educators to both transform and be transformed. This pedagogy stresses the importance of facilitating strong empathic relationships 38 and moral dialogues to create space for diverse voices and conflicting ideas in our conversations with students, colleagues and parents. Social justice educators, participating in transformative action, encourage their students to develop a critical consciousness of social realities so that they might playa role in interpreting, constructing and sometimes disrupting those realities. Social education curricula are conversations that welcome difficult knowledges, shifting identities, and dissenting and/or silenced voices. Conversations, like the ones I begin this paper with, are not always easy to start or maintain; but as I conclude this paper-and prepare for another school year-I find myself eagerly anticipating the conversations I will have with students, colleagues and parents. 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