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Actualizing social justice: An exploratory case study of a public middle school

Camille Lee, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Researchers and k-12 practitioners have been struggling with inequity and diversity issues for the past four decades. These struggles have produced multiple philosophies, theoretical perspectives and educational approaches—each with strengths and limitations. The various approaches to addressing diversity indirectly and implicitly address, but have not managed, the systemic changes necessary for education to be socially just. Ideally, all diversity approaches should result in academic achievement and social change—the goals of social justice education. Past research has mainly focused on crisis intervention strategies or on meeting individually-based needs rather than on systemic practices and strategies at the school or district level. Toward this end, the purpose of this study was to explore how social justice goals are manifested in one school. The specific objectives were as follows: (1) Explore how the different members of the school community describe or define social justice. (2) Examine what current programs the participants believe support social justice-related goals. (3) Investigate current practices the participants believe to be socially just. This qualitative case study used interviews, document review and observations of administrators and teachers at the research site (Middle School). This study was designed to be exploratory in nature. Through the syntheses of the literature, I developed a tri-focal lens framework for social justice education which I use as an analytic tool. From the analysis, I offer a description of Middle School’s efforts to implement social justice goals. The findings of this study indicate that implementing social justice education theory in real contexts is a highly complex and evolutionary process, but not impossible. The purpose of this study never intended to establish a privileged binary of theory over practice, but rather I set out to explore the complexity of the intersections—the convergences and divergences of theory and practice. And, as is usually the case when moving between theory and practice, the study reveals the necessary trade offs and unintended consequences of well-intended decisions.

Subject Area

Middle School education|Social studies education

Recommended Citation

Lee, Camille, "Actualizing social justice: An exploratory case study of a public middle school" (2010). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3409618.