Education School launches new minor that ties teaching and social justice


Engineering sophomore Radu Tolontan and Education senior Nick Maternowski may come from different colleges at the University of Michigan, but they share appreciation of the School of Education’s new Education for Empowerment minor. 

“I don’t think it’s for LSA students, I don’t think it’s for Arts students, I don’t think it’s for Engineering students,” Tolontan said. “I think it’s a minor for pretty much anybody who likes working with people and bringing power to people.”

The 15-credit Education for Empowerment minor was launched this fall and offers students the chance to critically examine the role of education in social change and justice.

Simona Goldin, director of instructional design at the School of Education, explained the minor was developed after faculty who taught the Schooling in Multi-Culture Society course noted students’ continued desire to pursue questions of social justice and its impact on educational institutions — regardless of whether they were pursuing a teaching career.

“Something that we noticed in that class (Schooling in a Multi-Cultural Society) is that 50 percent of the students who take that class go on to be teachers, which is fantastic,” Goldin said. “The other 50 percent kept speaking in very similar ways; even though it was across 10 years, even though they were not standing next to each other, they were saying very similar things. The things they were saying evoked a real hunger. What they were saying is, ‘I’m committed to social justice, I’m really deeply interested in the ways in which schools can be a force for justice in society.’”

The minor is made up of one foundation class, three electives, a field internship and a final capstone course. After completing the initial foundation course, students have the chance to select one of three pathways on which to focus: Children and Youth in Context: Culture, Communities and Education; Advancing Equity through Education Policy; and Education in a Global Context. There is also an option for students to create their own pathway.

Goldin said the goal of establishing pathways is to ensure students’ gained expertise in one particular area.

“The reason we have these discrete and coherent pathways is because we want student to have some depth and some mastery,” Goldin said. “It’s wonderful to take something here and take something there, but we wanted at the end for people to say, ‘In these 15 credits, I have learned how to do this, I have learned about that, and now I’m equipped to do this great work.’”

Goldin also reiterated Tolontan’s earlier sentiments about the applicability of the minor because it emphasizes pervasive issues like teaching and learning.

“If you live inside of this society, then thinking systematically about schools is critical,” Goldin said. “No matter what profession you’re going to be in, there are so many ways – by necessity –you’re going to have to think about teaching and learning.”

Maternowski added he felt the minor presents a way for students to explore the world of education without commitment.

“It brings the School of Education more into the rest of the University because often it’s like Engineering classes – you’re not going to take an engineering class if you’re in LSA – and I think for the longest time you weren’t going to take an education class if you were in LSA,” Maternowski said. “Now this is kind of like there’s a way to dabble in education without going through all sorts of loopholes.”

While many schools have already accepted the minor — the most recent being the School of Public Health — the College of Engineering has yet to follow.

Nevertheless, Tolontan has already started taking classes to fulfill its requirements. He explained the minor is relevant to engineers because, like educators, they work to improve the lives of others.

“For a really long time, engineering has kind of been seen as the thing that puts people in space and accelerates particles — it leads to these amazing things but that doesn’t really help people,” Tolontan said. “Recently there has been a huge push toward creating better lives for people through engineering and this is what the College of Engineering at U of M tries to do most. Through education, and the minor in particular, I feel it’s that much easier to bring people closer to these innovations that they’re trying to achieve.”

Moving forward, Goldin hopes the minor allows students from all backgrounds to work together to creatively tackle the institutional issues of social justice, education and power.

“It’s really incredible when you have somebody who is studying business and when you have somebody who is studying public health, when you get them into a group to talk to each other, the things that they can do are just exponentially more creative given they’re coming with this different set of expertise,” Goldin said. “That’s what you get from this beautiful minor.”

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