This Black Male Educator Teaches a Social Justice Class to Middle Schoolers in West Philly

In the first video to launch the "Black Male Educators Speak" video series, Philly Educator Gerald Dessus takes us through his 8th grade course on Social Justice. Dessus shared his reflections in an op-ed featured on Education Post.

Someone once asked me, “Why teach social justice to eighth-graders?”

The answer is simple: As educators, we do not control the world our students face when they step outside of our classrooms. However, we are responsible for how prepared our students are to engage with that world.

Back in 2016, Sharif El-Mekki and Katie Ziemba at Philadelphia’s Mastery Charter Shoemaker Campus provided me with the opportunity to do exactly that, developing and facilitating a course focused specifically on social justice.

In the age of high-stakes testing and common standards, designing your own curriculum can be a rarity for teachers, especially for such a contentious subject. So I, of course, jumped at the opportunity.

As a Black male educator, teaching social justice has not only provided me with the opportunity to help students explore their own identities but also to challenge them to think about real world issues.

I am very intentional about engaging my students—specifically young Black men—in ways other content areas are not able to. I build in opportunities for them to lead and facilitate whole-group discussions, participate in mock-grand jury investigations, develop their writing in meaningful ways, and of course take action in our West Philadelphia community.


Growing up in the Philadelphia public school system, I never received the opportunity to engage in a course like this. In fact, African-American history was only offered as an elective in 11th grade, which I didn’t have the privilege of taking.

So here you have this 18-year-old Black male gaining his first exposure to African-American history at Lincoln University as part of their freshman seminar coursework. I knew there was something really wrong with this picture, and unfortunately, I did not stand alone in that experience.