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Loyola's Curriculum and Instruction for Social Justice Program Shaped My Way of Thinking as a Person and an Educator

It feels like a rush of hot water running from your chest—quickly dropping down through your legs—only to make a sharp 180 circuit up into your arms, chest, and neck. Your mouth quivers, and your hands become clenched fists unbeknownst to you as you try to find the right words in response to a remark that you emphatically disagree with in regards to the civil unrest over Black Lives Matter and your opposition’s apathy towards wearing face masks in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Then you seize your moment to push back, but the words don’t come out the way in which you thought they would. Instead, you can hear your voice trembling as though you were riding a roller coaster and trying to talk at once. To try and interrupt this feeling, your voice escalates and in turn, puts your adversary in an even bigger state of defensive posturing. You don’t come to physical blows, but your verbal sparring match is noticeably undecided, leaving you more distressed than feeling as though you were heard. What went wrong? Why did you feel so tense? And what was the physiological response that you just experienced in the matter of a few seconds?

Regardless of where one places themselves on the political spectrum, or which side one places themselves on social issues, I think that we can all agree that matters of social justice have become amplified in this country over the past few months. Yes, tension has always been part of this country’s fabric, but today feels extra tightly wound. To make it even more difficult, people don’t seem to know how to engage in civil discourse over hot-topic issues such as, race, politics, or wearing PPE gear. 

As educators, I would like to believe that we have all chosen this line of work because we love working with kids. Not because you want to tell them what to think, but because you are hoping to provide them with enough tools to teach them how to think. As I enter my fifteenth year as an educator and school leader, I readily admit that I am far from the model educator that I envision for them (just ask any of my 8th grade social studies students…they’ll tell you the truth!). And yet, where I do feel as though I have provided a strong basis for my students to draw upon today, tomorrow, and in the future, is how to engage in civil discourse. My belief lies in helping today’s students/tomorrow’s leaders to cultivate and foster this success skill, which is something that was awakened in me while enrolled in Loyola University Maryland’s Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction for Social Justice (CISJ) program. My two and a half years in the program taught me to analyze and think critically about everything that I consumed and to look at every issue and resource in a holistic manner, as opposed to simply trusting a book by its cover. My time in the CISJ program undoubtedly shaped my ability to read uncertain, complex, and ambiguous situations—like the ones we see on the news these days—with greater clarity and media literacy than ever before. As a result, my work with students has been directly impacted by this and has become a focal point in my practice as a middle school social studies teacher. Likewise, it has helped inform me of the importance in understanding how my own physiological response to stressful conversations are shaped, and how I must continue to try and see all sides of an issue before jumping to conclusions. This is something that was forged while attending Loyola. 

Brad Belin is a 2011 graduate of the Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction for Social Justice program and member of the CISJ Advisory Board.