The topic of justice in education is addressed primarily, though not exclusively, in terms of social justice, which we understand to mean an equality of opportunity and rights for all people and people groups – regardless of their ethnicity, cultural or socioeconomic background – to resources and to the respect of those around them. This is a kind of distributive justice. Dixon et. al. (2010) listed examples of such social justice as, “equity of service, access to service, harmony in educational setting, and equitable participation" (p. 103). Justice in education results in “environments in which all students receive equitable access to resources and services resulting in educational settings with school professionals who advocate for the needs of individual students and the needs of the student population as a whole” (Dixon et al., 2010, p. 103). This may also look like restorative justice, that is, “a distinctive philosophical approach that seeks to replace punitive, managerial structures of schooling with those that emphasize the building and repairing of relationships” (Vaandering, 2010, p. 145), and asks the question: ‘‘How can we contribute to the creation of a more equitable, respectful, and just society for everyone?’’ (Zaijda et al. 2006, p. 13).
From a Christian worldview, justice is defined in terms of righteousness. Jorgenson (2010) stated that “righteousness and justice are about right relationship (p. 22)." Jesus taught about righteousness, demonstrating that a right relationship with God requires a right relationship with one's neighbors. This right relationship then dictates the proper distribution of resources both in terms of the tangible, such as food and clothing, and the intangible such as respect and education (Jorgenson, 2010, p. 22).
In the call to social justice, the Scriptures recognize poverty in terms of material poverty, social poverty, and spiritual poverty. In terms of material poverty, there are frequent references to and items of legislation regarding the poor in the Old Testament. For example, there were gleaning laws (Lev. 19:9-10), a tithe for the poor (Dt. 14:28-29), a sabbatical year where the poor could eat off the land (Lev. 25:1-7), poor were not to be charged interest (Ex. 22:25), and “the Year of Jubilee made provisions for redemption of property and the poor and the enslaved” (Lev. 25:8-55) (Hill and Walton, 2009, p. 737). These laws reveal God’s heart for those in need. God’s heart is echoed again in the New Testament, linked in the teaching of Jesus in how we love others – “so whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Mt. 7:12).
Scripture also calls for a response to poverty related to those in a social stratum where they are marginalized or disadvantaged. This social stratum includes the widow, the orphan, the foreigner in the land, slaves, or those who are physically disabled. Our call, in both the Old and New Testaments, is to cross social barriers as Jesus did and to reach out to those in need.
Last, but equally important, there is a call to reach to those within a spiritual poverty, calling out to those who need to know God, inviting them to live in daily response to Jesus, the Lord of Lords, but also the Bread of Life (Jn. 6:35). To be spiritually poor is to be lacking in the knowledge of God or lacking in personal application of known Truth (Rev. 3:15-18). To be spiritually rich is to know God and know the Savior, that is, to be in right relationship with Him. Jesus' mission to bring Good News of possible reconciliation with God was carried out by the words of His disciples who were rich in the knowledge of God and right in relationship to Him. A right relationship with God must result in a right relationship with others (which is justice) for it defies logic to say that we love God and not our brothers (I Jn. 4:18-21).
Dixon, A.L., C. Tucker & M.A. Clark (2010). Integrating social justice and advocacy with national standards of practice: Implication for school councilor education. Councilor Education & Supervision, 50, 103-115.
Hill, Andrew, and John Walton. A Survey of the Old Testament, 3rd ed. Zondervan, 2009.
Jorgenson, A. G. (2010). Awe and expectation. Eugene, OR: WIPF & Stock.
Zaijda, J., Majhanovich, S., & Rust, V. (2006). Introduction: Education and social justice. International Review of Education, 52/1, 9-12.