Teaching Social Justice: Mini Video Lessons

by Agatha Beins

In 2022 it’s been difficult to keep up with the barrage of institutions and individuals attempting to censor and impose restrictions on what teachers can do in their classrooms. The K-12 system seems to be facing most of the scrutiny (Ujifusa), but university campuses are not exempt (Vock; Wyskow). Throughout the educational industrial complex, we find a surge in efforts to ban books (Beauchamp) and regulate what school libraries can keep on their shelves (Hixenbaugh); inflammatory charges that teaching about race “indoctrinates students” and causes “reverse racism” (Gustin); and proposals that threaten to narrow or remove tenure, which makes faculty who teach certain subjects more vulnerable (Zahneis). These moves not only limit the range of ideas and perspectives that students can learn about but also potentially erase large swaths of US history and contemporary life from the curriculum. And such measures are pervasive enough that the Critical Race Theory (CRT) Forward Tracking Project has formed to keep track of what they call “anti-CRT activity” directed at “K-12 education, private businesses, non-profits, state and federal government agencies, and higher education” from local, state, and national governments—including forums like school boards (CRT Forward Tracking Project; see also Schwartz).

Whether school boards actually pass resolutions determining what can be read and taught (Sawchuk), or whether state legislators enact bills targeting “controversial issues” (Kelley), when elected representatives talk about legislating the topics that can be taught, it leads to what many call a chilling climate (Greene). The broader political moment affects not just what we teach, but how it feels to teach. Worries and anxieties accompany preparing assignments and activities, making decisions about required readings, and simply entering a teaching space. One instructional coach who works with Texas public schools observed that teachers “are already self-censoring. They're ‘afraid to speak out on issues because they feel there are going to be repercussions from their districts’” (Florido). While the media coverage highlights the consequences of anti-antiracist teaching on the content students might learn or have access to, it gives less attention to the affective impact of this “chilling climate.”

As an educator, I feel lucky to work at a university—albeit one in Texas—where I face fewer threats for teaching courses like Gender and Social Change or Art, Activism, and Social Justice in a multicultural women’s and gender studies program. And I am far from alone in my commitment to highlighting structural inequities that reflect and uphold some of the deepest traditions of nation building in the United States. Editing Films for the Feminist Classroom reminds me of this. I am one of many educators, activists, and artists whose work creates space for underrepresented voices to be heard and where we can learn about how power dynamics function at structural and interpersonal scales. “Teaching Social Justice: Mini–Video Lessons,” contributes to this ongoing liberatory conversation, taking FFC in an exciting new direction.

This special feature is the first in which educators are contributors and videographers. The pandemic required the vast majority of teachers and students to build learning communities online, which involved hours and hours in Zoom or other video platforms and navigating course management systems like Blackboard, Canvas, and D2L. FFC explored this transition in our two previous special features: “Audio-Visual at a Distance in Pedagogy and Practice” and “When Class Time Is Screen Time.” Here we offer some of the tools that educators have used to engage students in the virtual realm. In the spirit of offering practical pedagogical tools for a feminist classroom and honoring the work that teachers are already doing, we invited educators to share a mini-lesson with us in the form of a short video. These videos offer an introduction to or overview of a topic, issue, or concept, and because of FFC’s commitment to a critical feminist approach, we aim for this special feature to offer knowledge and tools that support more accurate and sophisticated analyses of social structures, power, and privilege.

It’s with great appreciation that we offer four videos crafted to bring us closer to the liberated worlds we might hope to enact through our teaching and writing. Although representing a range of topics and areas of study, these videos all encourage us to think more deeply, critically, and expansively about the politics of representation. How do we perceive and construct racialized and gendered differences? What tools do we have in our repertoire for disrupting the status-quo narratives and modes of narration that bind us to stereotypes and social hierarchies?

These videos together provide a kaleidoscopic exploration of storytelling, each approaching the topic through different texts and motivating questions. David Fakunle’s video introduces us to the ways that storytelling as a mode of producing knowledge can be a radical, valuable source of truth. When white-supremacist heteropatriarchal neoliberal capitalism enforces narratives that maintain the hierarchical status quo, he advocates that we move toward vernacular stories and oral traditions. Hip-hop feminism, Jelisa Clark explains, helps us expose and resist the “angry-black-woman stereotype.” Rhapsody’s 2019 album Eve offers one example of a black woman speaking back to the intersections of racism and sexism and celebrates alternative versions of black femininity. Also drawing from popular culture, Luke Rodesiler and Katherin Garland use feature films about sports to unpack the “white savior trope,” which reproduces the idea that minoritized folks can overcome their disenfranchisement only when “rescued” by white people. Stacye Blount opens another path to liberatory pedagogies through visionary fiction. Even though this genre often takes readers beyond the realm of what is possible, it nonetheless has potential to activate a “critical social consciousness” through the way it affirms human dignity.

We hope this special feature nourishes and sparks your pedagogical fantasies. We invite you to use and share the videos in “Teaching Social Justice” and also to be energized by the way that educators—in these chilling climates—continue to expand our ways of knowing the world and build critical literacies that help students succeed not only in their coursework but in all areas of their lives.

Works Cited

Beauchamp, Zach. 2021. “Why Book Banning Is Back.” Vox, February 10.

Florido, Adrian. 2021. “Teachers Say Laws Banning Critical Race Theory Are Putting A Chill On Their Lessons.” NPR, May 28.

Greene, Peter. 2021. “Teacher Anti-CRT Bills Coast To Coast: A State By State Guide.” Forbes, February 16.

Gustin. Felicia. 2021. “The Latest Culture Wars: The Censoring of Teaching About Race and Racism.” Medium, June 15.

Hixenbaugh, Mike. “2022 “Banned: Books on Race and Sexuality Are Disappearing from Texas Schools in Record Numbers.” NBC News, February 1.

Kelley, Alexandra. 2021. “Texas Passes Law Banning Critical Race Theory in Schools.” The Hill, June 17.

Sawchuk, Stephen. 2021. “Local School Boards Are Banning Critical Race Theory. Here’s How That Looks in 7 Districts.” Education Week, August 25.

Schwartz, Sarah. 2022. “Map: Where Critical Race Theory Is Under Attack.” Education Week, updated September 28.

Vock, Daniel. 2021. “GOP Furor over Critical Race Theory Hits College Campuses.” Kansas Reflector, July 2.

Ujifusa, Andrew. 2021. “Critical Race Theory Fights Have Made Life Miserable for School Board Candidates.” Education Week, December 14.

Wyskow, Matt. 2022. “Legislation to Limit Critical Race Theory at Colleges Has Reached Fever Pitch.” Chronicle of Higher Education, June 8.

Zahneis, Megan. 2022. “‘A Naked Attack’: Texas Lieutenant Governor Pledges to End Tenure for All New Hires.” Chronicle of Higher Education, last updated February 21.