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Educator Examines Inequity, Social Justice Issues in K-12 Schools

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Alison G. Dover, a former high school English language arts teacher, examines approaches to teaching social justice within K–12 schools. She is a co-author of “Preparing to Teach Social Studies for Social Justice: Becoming a Renegade,” with Nick Henning, CSUF associate professor of secondary education, and her work has been published in numerous education journals.

Dover earned an Ed.D. and a master’s degree in social justice education from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a bachelor’s degree in women’s studies and English from Tufts University. She taught at Northeastern Illinois University before coming to Cal State Fullerton as an assistant professor of secondary education.

What inspired you to go into your field and what was the defining moment?

I’m a first generation college graduate and never planned to become a teacher, not to mention a professor. My professional roots are in community organizing and activism. My first jobs were at nonprofits dedicated to promoting social and educational equity. I got to know young people taking up the fight for social justice — and this inspired me. Ultimately, I went graduate school to learn more about the systemic factors that impact educational opportunity, access and experience, and what we can collectively do to address these issues.

What are your research interests?

My research focuses on how teachers advocate for educational equity and justice. I’m interested in the ways teachers work with and, when necessary, against educational structures — standards, curriculum mandates, standardized tests and so forth — to best serve their students. I also study how teachers and students see themselves in enacting sustainable and transformative change in their schools and communities.

How do you engage students in your classes?

My classes are hands-on and interactive. Students work in small groups, do field-based research and facilitate sessions about topics related to course content. Students also lead conversations about relevant ‘hot topics’ related to diversity and social justice, which gives them the opportunity to co-create curriculum and experiment with different teaching methods.

What changes do you envision in your field five years?

I anticipate teachers and teacher educators will continue to grapple with the complexities of what it means to be a ‘good teacher’ and how to prepare candidates to effectively navigate competing curricular, pedagogical and political philosophies.

Why does social justice education matter?

Educational inequity is a fundamental issue facing U.S. schools and society. By engaging young people, teachers and communities in critically examining issues of social and educational equity, we have the opportunity to collectively transform our worlds.