Written by Lindsay Robinson //
Micah 6:8 says, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” As a person of faith, this Bible verse says my calling (or obligation) as a Christian is pretty straightforward: take care of those who are in need, show them the Lord’s kindness, and listen humbly to God’s voice. But it isn’t that easy, is it? As an educator, what does that mean for me on a daily basis? And what does that mean if you are not a person of faith?
I think we often misunderstand that first calling: justice. The word justice engenders images of courtrooms, judges, lawyers, juries, and criminals getting what they deserve. The “eye for an eye” kind of justice. We also might think of justice as fairness—that everyone should receive the same treatment. But I don’t think either of those is what Micah is going for in Micah 6:8.
During my last year in college, a professor gave me the book Generous Justice by Tim Keller. Tim Keller’s definition of doing justice changed the way I think about my profession and my calling as a Christian. Keller says that justice is not giving everyone the same thing or treatment: instead, justice is giving each person what he needs.
Being in education gives me an opportunity to see a wide range of social justice issues: poverty (both social and economic), broken families, racial inequality, learning disabilities, and so on. I often get overwhelmed with how broken our society is. It overlooks people that are not white and upper-middle class. It ignores people that don’t speak English. It is condescending towards those that work in unskilled jobs. But I see it as my privilege to provide justice in even small ways.
As a 5th grade teacher, I see the need for this type of “generous justice” on a daily basis. When I first began teaching, I taught seventh and eighth grades in an inner-city charter school in Chicago. Most students received free or reduced meals, and sometimes the meals that they ate at school were the only meals they would eat that day. There was often the threat of gang violence in their neighborhoods. Parents often worked opposite shifts, so families were not together very often. These stressors at home made it very difficult for many students to concentrate on schoolwork, and many were several years behind.
There was one eighth grade student that year, Maria*, who was reading at a third grade level. She would often get frustrated with the academic material and would have angry outbursts during class, dropping f-bombs most of the time. Students would look at me to see how I would react, and at first, I tried to be authoritative. “That language isn’t appropriate,” I would say. I’m sure you can imagine how she reacted to that. One day, Maria was so frustrated that she stood up, cursed, and flipped her desk over. Needless to say, I was not quite sure what to do.
My gut reaction was to respond with that first definition of justice. I could have sent Maria to the office, and she probably would have been suspended. But I think God gave me the opportunity to do a different sort of justice for this student. I asked her to step into the hallway, and we just talked. She shared with me that things were really hard at home, and she felt like no one cared about her. What Maria needed was someone to truly listen to her. She didn’t need the book thrown at her, and she didn’t need to be given another suspension. While my choice to talk with her might not have been fair, I think it was just.
A few weeks after that, my principal came to my classroom while I was teaching, and told me she would cover for me for a few minutes. Maria was having a meltdown in the cafeteria, and while teachers were able to get her out of the cafeteria and into an office, she refused to talk to anyone. Anyone except me, that is. I don’t think I said anything mind blowing or life changing in this conversation, but I think I did justice. I gave Mary what she needed—a listening, non-judgmental ear. Justice.
I am blessed to be able to follow God’s command to do justice in such a tangible way in education. My stories aren’t always big or flashy, but I get to teach kids who are underprivileged and undervalued in society. I get to inspire kids to be something different than their parents. I get to do justice by giving them what they need, whether that is providing stability and routine, telling them that they are valuable, giving them academic help, or listening to all their stories just to make them feel heard.
How can you practice social justice? Look around you, not for chances to provide fairness, but for chances to provide someone with what they need.
The Holy Bible. English Standard Version, Crossway Bibles, 2001.
Keller, Tim. Generous Justice. Penguin Books, 2012.
Lindsay Robinson lives in Wheaton, IL with her husband Carey, and their goldendoodle, Bodie. She currently teaches 5th grade, and in her free time she loves to read, think of ways to redecorate their house, and is hoping to become an amazing gardener this summer.