Education professor's research leads to new social justice minor

November 20, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Ashley Patterson's research will show up in practice when she teaches Principles of Social Justice (CI815) as part of a new Social Justice in Education minor in the College of Education at Penn State.

Patterson, assistant professor of education (language, culture and society) in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, also is helping to develop curriculum for a class on social justice at State College Area High School.

Ashley Patterson

Ashley Patterson

IMAGE: Penn State

Patterson works on each of her two projects with Efrain Marímon, assistant professor of education and director of the Restorative Justice Initiative, with whom Patterson co-directs the D.C. Social Justice Fellowship in the College of Education.

The new minor in the college will consist of six courses, and six of the 18 credits must be courses that take a student outside of the traditional four-walled classrooms, such as the D.C. Social Justice class, the Urban Education Seminar, the Ecuador Immersion Project or the new Maymester program in Oaxaca, Mexico.

It’s important, Patterson said, for students to get into the field and apply the knowledge they gain in the classroom. 

“We do evaluations at the end of the time they spend together in the spring and also the Maymester after they’ve taught in D.C. Students always say that they’ve learned so much during the spring but they always say at the end of the Maymester that they can’t believe how much more they’ve learned,” Patterson said of the D.C. Social Justice Fellowship. 

“The distance between theory and practice perhaps widens for them; initially they’re kind of thinking everything should work out fine because they see it written nicely in the articles they’re reading, but when you’re actually trying to do ground-level social justice work, you see that it’s messy. Those are some of the best lessons that stick with students.”

Patterson said going beyond reading, writing and arithmetic as traditional ways of thinking about what education means must occur if something is actually going to be considered social justice in coursework.

“For the people who have been historically marginalized and underserved by our education system, a lot of people who belong to those communities don’t have the luxury of pacificism,” she said. “They have to be active; they have to know what they learn in school can save their lives or put their lives on a totally different trajectory. In that way I don’t think it’s a new idea, but I do think it is gaining new momentum.”

Thinking about it in those terms, research and practice go hand-in-hand, she said.

“As for me, research that doesn’t relate to practice, that action component, that’s not where I want to center my time or focus. I got into the field and I do this work for the people who are impacted by it. … The people and the work are two different things but each needs the other in my opinion,” Patterson said.

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Last Updated September 03, 2020