May 31, 2017

'Nothing about us without us'

Werklund School's Darren Lund takes an inclusive approach to social justice education

The Werklund School of Education’s Darren Lund has long been recognized as a leading scholar in the field of social justice education. Lund’s work focuses on promoting social justice through teacher education and youth engagement. His current project — the Service-Learning Program for Pre-Service Teachers (SLPPST) — exemplifies this practice.

As the name suggests, service-learning incorporates community service with learning activities for the mutual benefit for all parties involved. In the Werklund School, undergraduate students are given the opportunity to apply theoretical concepts to the real world through placements with community and campus agencies that support students with disabilities, LGBTQ, First Nations and other marginalized youth.

“Participation in this initiative results in a deeper understanding of social justice and classroom diversity on the part of our students, as well as offering them a chance to build meaningful relationships with kids different from themselves,” explains Lund. “A key outcome from the program is an increased awareness of previously unfamiliar communities and groups of students.”

Meaningful collaboration

Lund adds that during placements, students are taught to foster a sense of cultural humility, which involves an awareness of personal biases and the willingness to be humble and open to learning about another’s cultural identity in order to build trust.

“The participants reported dispelling negative stereotypes they might have unknowingly held, and were able to see the lives of students from both within and beyond the classroom.”

Lund says his approach when working collaboratively toward social justice can be summed up in the simple statement, "Nothing about us without us."

“This expression comes from disability studies, and I believe it has relevance to working collaboratively with youth or any groups on social justice issues. When we are pursuing equity and justice, it makes sense that, as adult allies, we don't speak for youth or make pronouncements about what they need. I prefer activism that meaningfully includes young people from the outset.”

An invitation from the United Nations

It is perhaps this inclusive technique that garnered Lund an invitation to Vienna to participate in the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Education for Justice (E4J) initiative.

The three-day meeting brought together UN representatives, government, academic, youth agency, cyber-crime and terrorism authorities from 30 countries to discuss the development of teaching methods and educational materials that will help students manage ethical or legal dilemmas and encourage critical thinking on issues of law and justice.

The E4J initiative’s objective is to prevent crime and promote a culture of lawfulness through education, an approach with which Lund agrees.

“As an educator with over three decades of experience, I strongly believe in the importance of education as a fundamental tool in preventing crime, corruption, and violence. This program takes an important step in promoting justice and integrity through the creation of meaningful resources for teachers and students around the world.”

Much to learn from listening to youth

Lund says he has collaborated with a number of international agencies to promote social justice, and views his experience with the UNODC as an extension of his ongoing work and inclusive method of engaging with vulnerable populations.

“Adults have much to learn from listening to and working with youth, so my contributions during the sessions included stressing the importance of including secondary students themselves in the planning and implementation of learning materials for them.”

Lund’s education expertise also came into play when the discussion turned to questions of international partnerships and dissemination of the materials created.

“I made the suggestion that we turn to regional, provincial, state, and national teachers’ associations and federations. I shared specific examples of the Alberta Teachers’ Association and the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, and their active role in creating and distributing progressive resources to their members.”

Knowledge exchange influences future work

For his part, Lund says that he found the exchange of ideas to be highly enriching and he is already incorporating some of the concepts developed into his work on social justice.

“I have referenced some of the shared materials and resources in generating plans for the next stage of my ongoing research and teaching around the SLPPST.”

As the SLPPST continues to grow and evolve, Lund has recently been awarded a three-year national Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Grant to extend his research findings on this program in collaboration with other teacher education programs across the country.