The What, the So What, and the Now What of Social Justice Education

by Warren J. Blumenfeld (Author)
©2019 Textbook XVI, 298 Pages


The What, the So What, and the Now What of Social Justice Education uses a three-tier format to present a foundational guide for the implementation of social justice education. The book also outlines some best theoretical practices that can be developed to work toward more equitable communities.
The What, the So What, and the Now What of Social Justice Education begins with the What of social justice education by defining primary and secondary terminology and introducing an overarching conceptual framework within this field of inquiry. The So What of social justice education highlights the importance of studying this field of inquiry and promotes why one should strive to reduce social inequities and make our world more socially just. The Now What of social justice education provides some best theoretical practices that can be used and adapted by individuals, institutions, and larger societies to work toward short- and long-term solutions in working toward a more equitable and less oppressive world. Each tier introduces influential researchers, theorists, and practitioners who have significantly advanced our understanding of issues connected to social justice education pedagogy and practice.
The What, the So What, and the Now What of Social Justice Education is suitable for both graduate and undergraduate courses in education. The book can also function as a primary academic and training source for educators and educational staff, as well as a reference for academic researchers in several disciplines and as a resource for community organizing and activism.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for The What, the So What, and the Now What of Social Justice Education
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Figures and Tables
  • Acknowledgments
  • Part I. Terminology
  • Chapter 1. Introduction to Social Justice
  • A Personal Journey
  • Social Justice
  • Book Format
  • Chapter 2. Culture and Identity
  • Equitable v. Equal
  • Culture
  • Identity
  • Intersectionality
  • Border Identities
  • Chapter 3. Social Construction of Identities and Other Forms of “Difference”
  • Left-Handedness: A Case Study of the What, the So What, and the Now What
  • “Racialized” Social Constructions
  • Jews and Jewishness
  • Disabilities
  • Sexual Identities
  • Chapter 4. Socialization
  • Urie Bronfenbrenner’s Bioecological Model of Human Development
  • The Family as Early Socializing Institution
  • Bobbie Harro’s “Cycle of Socialization”
  • Indoctrination and Surveillance
  • Chapter 5. Binaries
  • Binaries Defined
  • Binaries: Polytheism and Monotheism
  • Stigma
  • Terrorism and Violence
  • Bullying and Cyberbullying
  • The Psychology and Sociology of Cyberspace
  • Scapegoating
  • Chapter 6. Oppression
  • Oppression Defined
  • Hegemony
  • Colonization
  • Prejudice and Discrimination and a Case Study
  • Levels of Oppression
  • Dominant Group Privilege and the Myth of Meritocracy
  • Chapter 7. What Causes Prejudice and Discrimination?
  • Social Learning Theory
  • Social Modeling Theory: Albert Bandura
  • Social Rank Theory
  • Psychodynamic Theories
  • Chapter 8. Elements, Characteristics, and “Faces” of Oppression
  • Lee Anne Bell’s “Defining Features of Oppression”
  • Suzanne Pharr’s “Elements of Oppression”
  • Are There “Positive” Stereotypes?
  • Internalized Oppression and Domination
  • Iris Marion Young’s “Five Faces of Oppression”
  • A Case Study of Cultural Imperialism
  • Chapter 9. The Many Spokes on the Wheel of Oppression
  • Ableism
  • Adultism
  • Ageism
  • Cissexism/Transgender Oppression
  • Class and Classism
  • Environmental Oppression/“Ecoism”
  • Ethnocentrism
  • Heterosexism
  • Jingoism, Chauvinism, Nativism, Patriotism, and Nationalism
  • Linguicism
  • Lookism
  • Racism and White Supremacy
  • Religious Oppression
  • Sexism, Misogyny, Patriarchy
  • Oppression Affects Everyone
  • Chapter 10. Backlash
  • Backlash: A Case in Point
  • Sherry Watt’s “Privilege Identity Exploration Model”
  • Chapter 11. The Social Production of “Knowledge(s)”
  • Part II. Social Justice Education
  • Chapter 12. Connections between Social Justice Education and Multicultural Education
  • Robert Kegan
  • Emily Style
  • Chapter 13. Dimensions and Characteristics of Multicultural Education
  • Types of Multicultural Education
  • James A. Banks’ “Approaches to Multicultural Curriculum Reform”
  • G. D. Borich and M. L. Tombari’s “Educator Leadership and Power” Taxonomy
  • Some Concluding Chapter Thoughts
  • Part III. Liberatory Praxis
  • Chapter 14. Liberation
  • Chapter 15. #NeverAgain Youth-Led Firearms Safety Movement: A Study in Activism
  • Civil Disobedience
  • Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District
  • Chapter 16. Visioning Social Justice and Liberation
  • Ally (Upstander) and a Conceptual Model
  • Nancy J. Evans and Jamie Washington’s “Steps Toward Becoming an Ally”
  • Empathy and “Empathic Listening”
  • Bobbie Harro’s “Cycle of Liberation”
  • Barbara Love’s “Liberatory Consciousness”
  • Suzanne Pharr’s “Liberation Politics”
  • Pat Griffin and Bobbie Harro’s “Action Continuum”
  • Some Additional Social Justice Action Strategies
  • Rheua Stakely’s “Action Strategy Planning Sheet”
  • “Dialogues on Diversity” and a Conceptual Model
  • Bullying, Cyberbullying, and Social Norms Theory
  • Empowering the Bystander to Act as an Upstander
  • Not on Our Campus! “Principles of Community”
  • Principles of Community
  • Liberatory Praxis Appendices
  • Appendix A. Multiple Identities Essay
  • Appendix B. Critical Consciousness: Reflecting, Thinking, Observing, Reading, Researching, and Writing Through a Critical Lens
  • Appendix C. Meritocracy Activities
  • Appendix D. Raising Issues of Religious Pluralism in Schools
  • Appendix E. Making Universities Welcoming for Students, Staff, Faculty, and Administrators of All Sexual Identities and Gender Identities and Expressions
  • Appendix F. Immigration as Official U.S. “Racial” Policy: A Brief History
  • Appendix G. Religious Imperialism: A Case in Point
  • Appendix H. Investigating Gender Roles Classroom Exercise
  • Appendix I. A Civics Course on the Second Amendment
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

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Figure 1.1. Wolf, Simon, and Bascha Mahler.

Figure 4.1. Cycle of Socialization.

Figure 5.1. The Androgynous Form of Shiva and Parvati (Ardhanarishvara).

Figure 16.1. Cycle of Liberation.


Table 3.1. Lenses of Perception in Understanding the Social Construction of Disability and Issues of Ableism.

Table 16.1. Action Strategy Planning Sheet.

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I wish to thank the administrators, faculty, students, and staff—past and present—of the Social Justice Education Program at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst for their pioneering and continuing efforts in helping to craft the field of Social Justice Education and for taking actions daily to ensure a more peaceful, just, and equitable world community.

I wish also to thank my brilliant series editor, Dr. Virginia Stead, for her remarkable talents and for her perennial support and encouragement.

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[W]hen you think about how a Challeh is made, you’ve the three braids, the three ropes, and that you fold them over in a certain way that at one point in the loaf, one of the [ropes] is most prominent, is higher; and at the next piece of the Challeh, … that rope is hidden; it’s under the other rope that came out over it. And then there’s a third rope that interplays with the first two, … but it’s not the same rope that began because it’s mixed with the dough of the others. … In terms of what has happened … to each of these ropes … and where they each came from, and how they’ve interwoven …, once you have a Challeh [and] you bake it, you can’t take it apart.

—in Blumenfeld, 2001

This statement offered by a participant in my doctoral dissertation who used the metaphor of the Challeh—a traditional Jewish braided bread—captures the connections and intertwining of the three strands of the braid motivating a holistic approach that recognizes the interconnections of my life’s work. One braid represents my quest for lifelong learning as a student; another embodies my engagement as a community social justice activist and organizer; and another symbolizes my passion and service as an educator. These three strands intertwine to accomplish a synergized agenda that outreaches the sum of the individual parts. ← 3 | 4 →

A Personal Journey

One day, when I was very young, I sat upon my maternal grandfather Simon (Shimon) Mahler’s knee. Looking down urgently, but with deep affection, he said to me, “Varn” (he always called me “Varn” through his distinctive Polish accent), “you are named after my father, Wolf Mahler. I lived in Krosno, Poland with my father, Wolf, and my mother, Bascha, and 13 brothers and sisters, and aunts, uncles, and cousins.”

Simon talked about our family with pride, but as he told me this, he seemed rather sad. I asked him if our relatives still lived in Poland, and he responded that his mother had died of a heart attack in 1934, and his father and most of the remainder of his family were no longer alive. When I asked him how they had died, he told me that they had all been killed by people called “Nazis.” I questioned him why the Nazis killed our family, and he responded, “Because they were Jews.”

Those words have reverberated in my mind, haunting me ever since.

According to Ashkenazi (European heritage) Jewish tradition, a newborn infant is given a name in honor of a deceased relative. The name is formed by taking the entire name or just the initial letter of the name of the ancestor being honored and forming a new name. I had the good fortune to being named after my great-grandfather Wolf. As it has turned out over the years, he not only gave me my name, but he and my great-grandmother Bascha also gave me a sense of history and a sense of my identity.

Simon left Krosno with three sisters in 1912 bound for New York City, leaving his remaining family members. Already in this country was one older brother. As he left, a series of pogroms targeting Jews had spread throughout the area. He often explained to me that he could only travel by night with darkness as his shield to avoid being attacked and beaten by people who hated Jews. He arrived in the United States on New Years’ Eve in a city filled with gleaming lights and frenetic activity, and with his own heart filled with hope for a new life.

Simon returned to Krosno with my grandmother, Eva, in 1932 to a joyous homecoming. This was the first time he had seen his family since he left Poland. He took with him an early home movie camera to record his family on film. While in Poland, he promised that once back in the United States, he would try to earn enough money to send for his remaining family members who wished to come to the United States, but history was to thwart his plans. During that happy reunion, he had no way of knowing that this was to be ← 4 | 5 → the last time he would ever see these family members. Just 7 years later, on 1 September 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland.

Figure 1.1. Wolf, Simon, and Bascha Mahler. Krosno, Poland, 1932.

Simon heard the news sitting in the kitchen of his home in Brooklyn, New York. He was so infuriated, so frightened, and so incensed that he took the large radio from the table, lifted it above his head, and violently hurled it against a wall. He knew what this invasion meant. He knew it signaled the end of the Jewish population in Europe as he had known it. He knew it meant certain death for people he had grown up with, people he had loved, and people who had loved him.

Simon’s fears soon became real. He eventually learned from a brother who had eventually escaped into the woods with his wife and young son that Nazi soldiers murdered many members of his family either on the streets of Krosno or up a small hill near the Jewish cemetery. We later learned that the Nazis murdered his father, Wolf, in the Krosno ghetto. The Nazis eventually loaded other friends and relatives onto cattle cars and transported them to Auschwitz and Balzec concentration camps.

Simon never fully recovered from those days in 1939. Though he kept the faces and voices from his homeland within him throughout his life, the Nazis also invaded my grandfather’s heart, killing a part of him forever. My mother, Blanche, told me that Simon became increasingly introspective, less spontaneous, and less optimistic of what the future would hold. After the war and ← 5 | 6 → continuing today, virtually no Jews reside in Krosno or in all of southwestern Poland.

In this country, my own father suffered the effects of anti-Jewish prejudice. One of only a handful of Jews in his school in Los Angeles in the 1920s and 1930s, many afternoons he returned home injured from a fight. To get a decent job, his father, Abraham, was forced to anglicize the family name, changing it unofficially from “Blumenfeld” to “Fields.”

My parents did what they could to protect my sister and myself from the effects of anti-Jewish prejudice, but still I grew up with a constant and gnawing feeling that I somehow did not belong. The time was the early 1950s, the so-called “McCarthy Era”—a conservative time, a time when difference of any sort was held suspect. On the floor of the U.S. Senate, a brash young Senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy, sternly warned that Communists (often thought of as Jews in public perceptions) corrupt the minds and homosexuals corrupt the bodies of good upstanding Americans, and he proceeded to have them officially banned from government service. In terms of what today would be referred to as LGBTQ people, during this era, there were frequent police raids on their bars, which were usually Mafia owned; the U.S. Postal Service raided their organizations and even published the names of their mailing lists in local newspapers, and people lost their jobs. They were often involuntarily committed to mental institutions. Some underwent electro-shock treatments; some were lobotomized.

Not knowing what else to do at this time, my parents sent me, beginning at age four and lasting for the next eight years, to a child psychologist because they feared that I might be gay (or to use the terminology of the day, “homosexual”). And as it turned out, their perceptions were indeed correct.

My journey of “coming out” as “gay” and then as “agender queer” over successive years was often difficult and painful, but looking back, I conclude that it was certainly rewarding, for it has been the prime motivator for my work as a writer and social justice educator. I am committed to this work, on one level, to ensure a better future for the young people growing up today. To be completely honest, though, a major motivation stems from the fact that, essentially, I haven’t felt safe in the world, and, therefore, I have a deep personal stake in the work I am doing. Often, when I leave my little university enclave, I tend to feel like an outsider in my own country. Maybe that feeling will never completely leave me; I don’t really know. I can take solace, at least, that the fear has diminished somewhat over the years.

More recently, on a snowy February morning in 2002, while in my university office organizing materials for that day’s classes, I received an email ← 6 | 7 → message that would forever poignantly and profoundly change my life. A man named Charles Mahler had been looking for descendants of the Mahler family of Poland, and he had come across an essay I had written focusing on Wolf and Bascha Mahler.

Charles informed me that he had survived the German Holocaust along with his sister, parents, and maternal grandparents and uncle, but the Nazis murdered his father’s parents (Jacques and Anja Mahler), sister, and her two children, and other relatives following Hitler’s invasion and occupation of Belgium, their adopted home country.

My cousin Charles related their story in hiding from August 1942 until the final armistice in Europe. His father, Georg, altered the family’s identity papers from Jewish to Christian, and they abandoned Antwerp for what they considered the relative safety of the Belgium countryside. During their plight, members of the Belgium resistance movement and other righteous Christians shepherded them throughout the remainder of the war to three separate locations as the German Gestapo followed closely at their heels. On several occasions, they successfully “passed” as Christian directly under the watchful gaze of unsuspecting Nazis.

Though most of the Jewish inhabitants of Antwerp ultimately perished, many survived. However, at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. and Yad Vashem (The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Israel) one will observe “Krosno” chiseled into the glass and stone walls, listing towns and villages where Nazis and their sympathizers decimated entire Jewish communities.

One piece of my family puzzle met a tragic end, another partial segment survived. In both instances, the bystanders determined the balance of power: in Krosno, the overwhelming majority conspired with the oppressors, while in Antwerp, significant numbers dug deeply within themselves transitioning from bystanders into courageous, compassionate, and empathetic upstanders in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

Each day we all are called on to make small and larger choices and to take actions. Which side are we on? Today as in the past, no question seems more urgent, for in the spectrum from occasional microaggressions to full-blown genocide, there is no such thing as an “innocent bystander.”

For a free download to my manual, “Imagining Poland as a Country with Open Doors to Jewish People,” which has application to countries throughout Eastern Europe, follow the link to the webpage below:

Social Justice

What: Though the concept of “social justice” has been defined several ways. According to Lee Anne Bell (2007), social justice includes both a process and a goal: “The goal of social justice is full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs” (p. 1).


XVI, 298
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2019 (February)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Vienna, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XVI, 298 pp., 4 b/w ill., 2 tbl.

Biographical notes

Warren J. Blumenfeld (Author)

Warren J. Blumenfeld is former Associate Professor in the School of Education at Iowa State University and current Lecturer in the College of Education at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is the author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice, editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price, co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States, and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life.


Title: The What, the So What, and the Now What of Social Justice Education