California State University, Long Beach
Inside CSULB Logo

Teacher Ed’s Symcox Earns Peace Studies Book of the Year

Published: December 1, 2009

Teacher Education’s Linda Symcox recently saw her new co-edited book titled Social Justice, Peace and Environmental Education: Transformative Standards named the Peace Studies Book of the Year.

Social Justice was recognized by the Central New York Peace Studies Consortium for its examination of what educational standards would look like if they were generated from a social justice perspective.

“I was very surprised and gratified,” said Symcox, who joined the university in 2000. “I was especially surprised to receive this recognition for a book that evolved out of a grassroots activist effort involving more than two dozen social justice educators from around the world.”

The Central New York Peace Studies Consortium fosters peace and social justice through higher education. The consortium’s annual awards were presented in November at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y.

“The Peace Studies Book of the Year is an international award for an outstanding book in the field of peace studies,” Symcox explained. “This book was written with a sense of urgency for change. We tried to offer an alternative view to the prevailing corporate orthodoxy that dominates educational policy. This book represents an attempt to present a positive vision of social justice, peace and environmental education rather than dwelling on the negative. Often, those who write from a critical pedagogy perspective, as we have, tend to critique the way the world is. We decided to talk about what we need to do to make it better.”

This book seeks to demonstrate that social justice, peace and environmental preservation are integrally connected and that educators should play a major role in teaching students how to understand global problems and take corresponding social action, Symcox believes. Inspired by the Alaska Standards for Culturally Responsive Schools, the authors present standards and guidelines to assist educators who want to integrate social justice, peace and environmental education into classrooms and schools.

The book’s genesis began in 2002 when Symcox was invited by co-author Julie Andrzejewski of St. Cloud State University to present her knowledge of the history standards movement at a convention of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). They soon joined forces with co-author Maria Baltodano of Loyola Marymount University to complete the book. Social Justice is the culmination of a six-year collaborative project led by Andrzejewski, Symcox and Baltodano to respond from a social justice perspective to top-down educational standards promulgated by state and national bodies. The guiding vision for this project was to bring together special interest groups within the AERA that shared a concern for social justice, broadly defined, to consider the question, “What would standards look like if generated from a social justice perspective and through a collaborative broad-based and inclusive process?”
The authors stress the interconnectivity of social justice, peace and environmental preservation.

“Challenging the current educational climate that promotes consumerism, careerism and corporate profiteering, we wanted to offer a new paradigm for practicing a transformative critical pedagogy,” Symcox explained. She hopes Social Justice will become required reading for educators and students who want to envision living, acting and teaching for a better world.

The thrust of the new book is building bridges between and among disciplines. “The old tendency would be for various interest groups to care only about their own group,” she said. “We encouraged a conversation across disciplinary boundaries. The book compels us to move beyond a self-centered, single-issue or national focus to consider what is good for all and what is necessary for survival and recovery of the planet. Thus we also expanded the definition of social justice to include peace and environmental education.”

To write their chapters, the authors asked contributors to consult the principles collaboratively distilled into international agreements such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations Conventions on Racial Discrimination, Discrimination Against Women, the Rights of the Child, Biological Diversity and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Linda Symcox
Photo by David J. Nelson
Linda Symcox

Symcox is also excited about the publication of her other new book titled National History Standards: The Problem of the Canon and the Future of Teaching History that she edited along with Arie Wilschut from the Amsterdam University of Professional Education, as part of the series International Review of History Education.

As educators in the U.S. and Europe develop national history standards for K-12 students, the question of what to do with national history canons is a subject of growing concern. Symcox’s new book asks if national canons ought to be the foundation for the teaching of history. “Do national canons develop citizenship or should they be modified to accommodate the new realities of globalization?” she asked. “Or should they even be discarded outright? These questions become blurred by the debates over preserving national heritages, by so-called ‘history wars’ or ‘culture wars,’ and by debates over which pedagogical techniques to use.”

Symcox’s new book seeks to discover how we are to reconcile the social, political and intellectual realities of a globalizing world with the continuing need for individuals to function locally as citizens of a nation-state who share a common past, a common culture and a common political destiny. “Is it a duty of history educators to create a frame of reference, and if so, what kind of frame of reference should this be?” she asked. “Should the frame of reference include global citizenship along with national and local citizenship? After all, water, pollution, pandemics such as H1N1 and HIV, natural resources, manufactured commodities and money all flow across national borders.”

Symcox received her B.A. in history from UCLA, her master’s in history from UC Santa Barbara and her doctorate in education from UCLA in 1999.

Symcox encourages other faculty to share her commitment to scholarship.

“I think it’s enormously rewarding,” she said. “My continuing research makes me feel so legitimate working with my master’s and doctoral students as they develop their own research topics. It’s scholarship like this that refreshes my teaching and makes it feel exciting to me. My teaching informs my scholarship and vice versa.”