Minnesota Catholic school offers ‘social justice algebra’

The class has done away with tests, replacing them with projects that use algebra to "solve real world problems and help marginalized communities."

Benilde-St. Margaret’s/Twitter

Some students at Benilde-St. Margaret’s (BSM), a Catholic preparatory school for grades 7-12 in St. Louis Park, are actively working to weave “social justice” themes into the curriculum.

The school’s student newspaper, Knight Errant, published an article last Thursday which stated that social justice is “a key part of Catholic education,” though it did not make a necessary distinction between the historic meaning of the term and its contemporary 21st century meaning.

“BSM has committed to upholding the seven Catholic Social teachings in its strategic plan, and incorporating social justice into the BSM community is an important part of meeting that goal,” the article claims.

For the 2021-22 academic year, the prep school added a “social justice Algebra II class” to the curriculum. According to Knight Errant, the class has done away with tests, replacing them with projects that use algebra to “solve real world problems and help marginalized communities.”

“So far this year we’ve talked about climate change, and ice thawing data from Alaska, and they’re currently doing a project on the median housing cost and the minimum wage in Minneapolis and St. Paul,” said John Groess, who teaches the class.

Mathematics is hardly the only discipline at BSM that has incorporated “social justice” into its courses. Knight Errant reports that English teacher Anna Overbo offered a class titled “Social Justice and the Written Word” for juniors and seniors.

The emphasis is not on appreciating and learning from literature for its own sake, but on changing the world.

“[We are] starting with the inspiration of people who have been using the written word, and did use the written word to make changes into who we are today and then continuing that legacy,” Overbo told the student newspaper.

All BSM juniors are also required to take a social justice theology course titled “Discipleship in Society.”

“Social justice is incorporated in Discipleship In Society class within the practicum hours that the students will fulfill. They are taught to carry out corporal and spiritual works of mercy to help the marginalized. This in itself is a small but meaningful and essential step towards the stages of social justice,” teacher Andretta Hanson told Knight Errant.

The school’s director of “Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging,” Dennis Draughn, made it clear that it is students who are leading the way in the implementation of a social justice curriculum.

“Whatever that looks like from a community standpoint, and from our standpoint, that’s yet to be seen, but it’s more through the eyes into the vision of students who always lead the way historically,” he said.

Alpha News reported last November that BSM developed two plans — one for the 2020-21 school year and another for a five-year vision — to “assess and improve [its] organizational approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

To that end, BSM faculty and staff took part in seminars and meetings on “unconscious bias” and “inclusive dialogue” leading up to the beginning of the last school year. Other staff members pledged their participation in a “year-long program focused on anti-racist teaching strategies.”