Engaging Students in Autobiographical Critique as a Social Justice Tool: Narratives of Deconstructing and Reconstructing Meritocracy and Privilege with Pre-service Teachers
Neikirk, Joseph R.
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This self-study involves instructors of a Social Justice in Education course at a large university who engaged pre-service teacher education students with assignments intended to solicit their critical self-reflection and to facilitate an awareness of themselves as sociocultural beings. Our work responds to the continued need to involve pre-service teachers in experiences that foster critical consciousness and cognizance of their own socialization. For the assignments, students were first asked to describe key moments in their educational experience in the form of a multimedia submission and reflection. After a semester of critical discussions and readings, students were then asked to re-visit their initial projects and critique those using course concepts. In addition, they were prompted to include plans for themselves as future social justice educators. In this paper, we analyze those student submissions, and we find that many reached new conclusions about social justice topics such as race and gender, critiqued personal and social artifacts, and recognized the connections between privilege and meritocracy. Despite the limitations in class size and structure, we affirm the potential value of a multi-stage autobiography assignment. We also explore instances of student resistance, wherein students avoided the assigned task and our requirement for self-reflection. We conclude by offering implications for teacher education and posit considerations for future adaptions of the assignment, including the necessity to engage students in opportunities to take social action and to move beyond critique.