anti-racism, teacher education, social studies, class environment, dissonance

Document Type

Article in Response to Controversy


Teaching for Social Justice in a Highly Politicized Historical Moment


Teachers in multicultural societies that are beset by severe rifts and political polarization encounter students who express racist and extreme attitudes. According to the students’ dichotomous views, anyone who is different from them poses a threat, and teachers find it difficult to overcome this challenge solely with moralistic utterances. Anger, shock, and punishment do not help change the students’ opinions; they often have the opposite effect. This article proposes, instead, that teachers use dissonance as a tool for helping students rid themselves of their dichotomous views and become accustomed to complex thinking about society. On the basis of an educational ethnographic study, the article presents various pedagogical approaches and examples of how to accomplish this by drawing on the curriculum content, facilitating a class discussion, and using the teacher’s identity. The article emphasizes that reducing the students’ resistance to dissonance depends greatly on teachers’ using empathy, creating a feeling of identification, and building a relationship of trust with the class.


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