What is Justice without a Place to call our own?

About Blog Series:  The blog series is aimed at sharing research, concepts, and issues of politics that are deeply embedded in educational advocacy and discourse.  As parts of educational advocacy work have been weaponized against justice and equity, it is pertinent for us as advocates to distinguish between ‘real talk’ and ‘orchestrated distractions’ (a possible future blog).  More importantly, educational advocacy cannot produce any justice or progress without a serious reflection of ourselves.  Unpacking critical concepts, research, and political issues is a foundational way to check ourselves in this work.  As this blog series serves as an intimate exercise for me to do that critical self-reflection, I hope that it can serve as a resource for you to learn, question, and reflect (also share)!  Thank you so much for taking the time to engage with the series, and please reach out if you have any wonderings, points of dialogue, etc ([email protected]).

As a teacher, researcher, student, and community member, I reconcile with the idea of ‘justice’ regularly.  How do we enact justice in our schools?  What does justice mean for our families and students?  How can we sustain justice systematically?  And other who, what, when, where, and whys.  Each of the roles I occupy tends to demand a singular view.  As a teacher, justice is framed through pedagogy; as a researcher, justice is framed through theories.  The openness in imagining justice as a student and a community member is refreshing, and more importantly multifaceted.  One thing I greatly appreciate as a student and researcher is building my capacity to name feelings and experiences in explicit ways through particular concepts.  Engaging with the concept of Place and Spatial Justice (Soja, 2013; Holme & Finnigan, 2018) from the realm of political geography was one of those profound moments of finding a name to a longstanding feeling.  

An analogy I am going to make here with Spatial Justice is with the Infinity Gauntlet from Marvel comics and movies, an ironic analogy to ‘justice’ (apologies for non-MCU, fandom folks).  In the comics and movies, the Infinity Gauntlet is a glove that houses 6 stones that each represent a bedrock element of our universe (i.e. time, power, space, reality, soul, and mind).  Each stone possesses immense power by the wielder, but only with all the stones together can the wielder transform the universe as they imagine.  Spatial Justice similarly starts with the concept of a singular gauntlet that centers other key elements of our lived experiences together.  Rather than a literal gauntlet, Spatial Justice centers around the concept of ‘place’.  Place is where all key elements of our lived experiences meet and intersect, such as housing, health, and education.  Place is the culmination of people and history politicizing and racializing the spaces we occupy, thus Place is never neutral, a-historical, or post-racial.  Rather than the time or power stone in the Spatial Justice gauntlet, it is health, political capacity, housing, economic well-being, cultural leverage, and education “stones” that are embedded in the ‘Place’ gauntlet.  This means that one cannot truly achieve justice without syncing with other bedrocks of our lived experiences.  

The lack of consideration of all elements of Place in our actions of justice within education policy has limited us in what we can achieve.  So much of our educational policies have solely focused on mechanisms within education, such as curriculum and standards, choice, and finance and governance.  No justice can come to reconciling historical, and thus contemporary racism in education without intentional consideration and coordination with other bedrocks of Place, i.e. housing, transit, health, economics, politics, etc.  One of the positives to hold in the recent teacher strikes across the country is how educators are calling out that we cannot progress towards any educational equity without consideration of Place.  This includes demands for housing and health support for families and students.  However, a full consideration of Place in educational equity reforms will require the dismantling of scarcity and hoarding mindsets that repositions ‘who’ or more specifically ‘for whom’ within Place(s).  In teacher strikes (I experienced in Chicago in 2019 and followed with Seattle in 2023), political games are exercised between district and union leaders as they tussle over the Gauntlet, leaving educators, families, and young people to make sense of the aftermath.  Calls for a more authentic and Place-based justice ultimately left ringing.  

No justice can come to reconciling historical, and thus contemporary racism in education without intentional consideration and coordination with other bedrocks of Place, i.e. housing, transit, health, economics, politics, etc. 

To close this blog, we return to the Infinity Gauntlet in the comics and movies.  The Gauntlet was the ultimate weapon sought after and wielded by an ever-lasting being with an individual and supremacist view of Place.  In our own sense of Place with our real-world Gauntlet, we must consider how we define and navigate Place.  Who truly will wield it in our community?  

For more research and learning about Place and political geography, I recommend checking out works from Dr. Dana Nickson at the UW (one of her articles is linked below).  This post and the recommendations here are largely inspired by my learnings and co-design experience with her (thank you, Dr. Nickson!).  For policy advocates and education practitioners of all contexts, I recommend checking out the ‘Regional Equity Framework’ from Holme and Finnigan (cited below).  This is a great resource that breaks down issues of ‘Place’ in education equity reform policies and exemplifies a contemporary policy that is authentically engaged in consideration of ‘Place’ through the framework.  

Dr. Dana Nickson’s article – https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/23328584221126479

Works Cited

Soja, E. W. (2013). Seeking spatial justice (Vol. 16). U of Minnesota Press.

Holme, J. J., & Finnigan, K. S. (2018). Striving in common: A regional equity framework for urban schools (p. 12). Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.