New Social Justice class initiates student-led teaching

Pastor Paul Pizzuto from Rivers Crossing speaks to the class

A new Social Justice class introduces a new approach with student-led teaching, summoning very positive student response. Mr. Jonathan Bitzer, the teacher and co-creator of this class, wanted to present students with the opportunity to learn about justice in our country in various areas. Students are happy to have a room where they can learn and express their opinions freely over recent major topics and issues that are clouding our society.

“It was a class I planned with Lisa King. We talked about it for 6 years,” Bitzer said.

After planning the class for so long, Bitzer and King finally brought it to principal Doug Leist at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, after recent events, such as the creation of the “Dear KLSD” Instagram account, made them feel the need for it.

“We felt like, given current events, [starting the class this year] was appropriate,” Bitzer said.

Students choose the units they learn about each semester. In order for them to pick topics based on their interests, Bitzer provides them with background information before a vote is taken.

“[For example], talking about environmental justice, we start with a definition, and then we look at a little clip of Flint, Michigan, and how that was an issue that took on the question of environmental justice and the way people live their lives,” Bitzer said.

After topics are chosen, Bitzer relies on various materials to holistically educate students over the units.

“[We’re] looking at news articles, video clips… and then a lot of the material I’m putting together myself,” Bitzer said.

Bringing this new class to the school also began a new approach to how classes can be taught.

“More than any other class that I’ve ever taught before, this is a class that is very much directed by student interest… This was never about an agenda we wanted or an agenda we had,” Bitzer said.

The plans for the class always emphasized student voice.

 “We get to choose the units… It’s like a poll; he gave us a rundown of each of the things and we got to choose from them,” Social Justice student Kirienne Hodges said.

Students were given nine options to choose from and they picked four that they would learn about for the rest of the semester.

“This makes class a lot more interesting and fun because we all collectively decided what we felt was important and exciting to discuss,” student Alissa Anderson said.

As adults in the community face disagreements at board meetings over the course, students are simply interested in learning about justice and the various topics taught.

“People our age, more than anything, want to learn,” Hodges said.

A main way that these students learn about the topics they approach is through class discussions.

“We have lots of time to just sit and talk about things that are important to us, which I think is very important to do,” Anderson said.

In order to keep the class fair and to leave all controversy at the door, Mr. Bitzer plays devil’s advocate.

“One of his main goals is to make the class not unbiased, but equally biased,” Hodges said.

All in all, this new social justice class helps students learn all sides and question what they believe in order to become better informed.

“It’s giving you an opportunity to expand what you know, but what you do with that is up to you,” Hodges said.