Our New Name: Learning for Justice

We’ve changed our name to better reflect our mission and our work.

BY JALAYA LILES DUNN

Thirty years ago, when Teaching Tolerance was founded by the Southern Poverty Law Center, its goal was clear: eradicating hate by fighting intolerance in schools.

Celebrating diversity and promoting contact theory were key to that early work. And, focusing on the difference one teacher could make, we offered resources for creating classrooms where all children could thrive.

Over the years, even we have admitted that “tolerance” is an imperfect term. We justified our name by applying the term broadly, saying no single word quite captured the range of solutions needed to create a fair, equal society. We’re proud of the work we’ve done. But our approach — and our work — have evolved. And our goals have shifted, as well.

We know that justice is the heart of what we want for our young people and for society at large.

Since our work began, we’ve expanded our focus. Our Social Justice Standards bolstered our celebration of identity and diversity with attention to questions of justice and strategies for student action and collective action.

We’ve broadened our community. Along with classroom teachers, we work with administrators, counselors, librarians, support staff, teacher educators and more. We’re planning to start working with caregivers and communities too.

We also know that the health of our society largely depends on the state of things in the South, and that’s why we’re planning to become more deliberate about our work in the South, along with the rest of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In this moment, with ongoing racial injustice and blatant white supremacy on display, we’re digging in our heels even more to work for justice and support our democracy.

We’re building on the work we do alongside educators to fight for justice in U.S. schools.

Together, we’re teaching the hard history of American slavery. We’re promoting policies that ensure queer students are safe on campus. We’re navigating critical conversations with young people about race, gender, class and more. We’re advocating for sanctuary schools where students and their families won’t be afraid of deportation. We’re offering guidance on procedures and policies to interrupt a school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately removes Black, Latinx and Indigenous students from their classrooms, their families and their communities.

The fact is, tolerance is not justice. It isn’t a sufficient description of the work we do or of the world we want.

But when we were choosing our new name, we weren’t only thinking of the changes we want to see in schools. We were also thinking of how to best make those changes. That’s why we’re shifting from “teaching” to “learning.”

Because we want to recognize that we don’t have all the answers. We want to name that we are learning alongside you as you work for the changes that students, families, educators and districts need to ensure that our schools are places where all students can thrive. Because we understand that this work will outlast us. And we want you to know that we promise to be in this work together with you. Because we want to honor this truth: that learning from — and with — one another is the first step to making justice real.

We’re so grateful to all the members of our community who have supported us, encouraged us and pushed us to find a name that better reflects the work we do.

We hope you’re as excited as we are about the name we’ve chosen and about the incredible work we know we’ll do as we continue learning for justice together.

“Reprinted with permission of Learning for Justice, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center Our New Name: Learning for Justice | Learning for Justice”

Liles Dunn is the director of Learning for Justice.

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