The Three "R's".

The 3 R’s

Here we are in the midst of Black History Month after an intense few weeks in a new academic year (in the northern hemisphere at least), with a new class and lots of new covid-19 measures in place.

Here we are.

It feels like I’m coming up for breath as half-term/Fall break approaches.


Can’t breathe.

This is why we need to integrate Black history and the stories of people of colour throughout the year in the curriculum. Then we might all be able to breathe, post-pandemic.

Reading, Writing and Arithmetic?

These 3, traditionally known as “The 3 R’s” of education, are not the 3 R’s I want to talk about today. Nancy Fraser, an American critical theorist and feminist writes about injustice by identifying three the ”R’s” of social justice: redistribution, recognition and representation.

Fraser defines justice as “parity of participation” whereby “overcoming injustice means dismantling institutionalized obstacles that prevent some people from participating on a par with others, as full partners in social interaction.”

Fraser describes how the maldistribution of resources, the misrecognition of status and misrepresentation of social belonging all affect just social relations within society. In other words, people get marginalised without the people in charge noticing because they cannot see the subtle ways in which the institution systematically excludes or disadvantages others economically, socially or politically. The unconscious bias of the white, often elite, ruling classes prevails. Or as a colleague of Fraser’s, Amanda Keddie, summarises: “marginalised students tend not to be accorded a voice; their cultural backgrounds tend not to be respected or given status; and there are insufficient human and material resources to support their achievement. As such, classrooms and schools continue to perpetuate the inequalities of the broader social world.“

A Note about Intersectionality

As teachers with a passion for social justice, viewing life through our critical lenses, we want to ask questions wherever we see a lack of representation and recognition in the classroom. This means we are thoughtful about the texts and pictures we use so that they are representative, we are intentional about the resources available that could be used (redistributed) to create equity and we are deliberate about recognising diversity of all kinds so that it is reflected in what we teach and how we teach it. And whilst for some of us, the issue of racism is the catalyst that has inspired us to get to work on enriching our Curriculum in order to reflect our multi-cultural context, we cannot isolate it. For a helpful summary of equity and inequality go to this clip here at Psychology Today and scroll down to the short video.

Erez Levon defines intersectionality as “the belief that no one category (for example ‘woman’ or ‘lesbian’) is sufficient to account for individual experience or behaviour”. Whilst Gay, another researcher, explains: “The race, culture, ethnicity, individuality, and intellectuality of students are not discrete attributes that can be neatly assigned to separate categories, some to be ignored while others are tended to. Instead they are inseparably interrelated; all must be carefully understood, and the insights gleaned from this understanding should be the driving force for the redesign of education for cultural diversity. “ Neither therefore can class, gender, disability or sexuality be isolated. We are never one of these things, we are always a combination.

Whilst we want to reform our Curriculum quickly, so that it is much more relevant for black students and students of colour, we should not miss the opportunity also to acknowledge the impact of poverty (Frasers maldistribution), or gender (Fraser's misrepresentation) or disability (Fraser's misrecognition). With our critical lenses, we can apply Fraser’s 3 R’s to all sorts of inequalities and gain some insight into how to redress the imbalance.

What does this mean in practical terms?

Taking a questioning approach, let’s put Frasers concepts for social justice into a chart and see if we can pinpoint some application for our classrooms:

As teachers, we ask these kinds of questions and make these kinds of decisions all the time. What Frasers 3 R’s does is give us a useful theoretical framework through which to gain further insight into the issues that we deal with from day to day in the classroom. Allowing her 3 R’s to inform and shape our thinking can make us more aware of some of the underlying realities around us that can be difficult to identify or name. This is where theory and practice can work powerfully as they bounce off one another. And it can remind us that there are times when it is good to stop and come up for air, to step away for the coal face and reflect, gather some theory to inspire us, get some fresh air.

Let's make space to breathe.

Further Resources and References:

Nancy Fraser (2015) chapter: Reframing Justice in a Globalizing World in "Fortunes of Feminism"

Amanda Keddie's 2012 article: Schooling and Social Justice through the Lenses of Nancy Fraser.

Channel 4 The School that Tried to End Racism.

ITV's Back to School series. Alison Hammond looks at Black History.

Reaching Higher's excellent course on teaching Black History can be found on YouTube here.

Further Reflection

Which students in my class are the most likely to be experiencing misrepresentation, maldistribution and misrecognition? What small steps could I take to address this?

How do gender, poverty and race intersect in the cohort(s) I am currently teaching?

Where do I need to develop more representation in the texts we read and images we look at in the classroom?

Who may be feeling particularly overlooked or misrecognised in my class? Why is that? What could I do about it?

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