“He’s on Fire for Justice!”: Using Critical Conversations to Explore Sociopolitical Topics in Elementary Classrooms

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12 Scopus citations


Despite the dominant discourse that childhood is a time of innocence, elementary students (kindergarten through fifth grade) notice the world around them, witness and experience injustice and deserve to explore “controversial issues” in their classrooms. This article introduces readers to Olivia and her second grade students. Olivia wanted to create what she called a “social justice classroom” and made intentional curricular moves in order to bring this vision to life. Primarily, she implemented “social justice read aloud time” and read and discussed thoughtfully chosen trade books on “controversial issues” every Friday afternoon. Students were highly engaged in these read alouds and developed understandings and insights well beyond academic content standards. Olivia’s approach to teaching aligned with critical literacy, a pedagogical framework that values multiple perspectives, brings sociopolitical topics into the classroom, disrupts the status quo, and moves toward social action and the Inquiry Design Model of social studies education. Using this interdisciplinary lens, empirical examples of the purposeful exploration of “controversial issues” in a second grade classroom are discussed. Through Olivia’s voice, along with the voices of her students, description of the learning that happened in this social justice classroom is offered as evidence that teaching controversial issues in elementary classrooms has repercussions far beyond school walls. Implications for both practicing teachers and teacher educators are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-54
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Curriculum Studies Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
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  • Controversial issues
  • Curriculum studies
  • Education
  • Social justice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Education


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