Distributive justice encompasses the principles that ‘ought’ to regulate the distribu tion of societal resources (‘goods’ and ‘bads’) to individuals or groups in different social spheres (like, economy, health, education). Such principles derive from socie ties' moral infrastructure, whereby norms about ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are set up and people are instructed to gear their behaviour accordingly. Hence, distributive justice is an embedded aspect of societal ethics. Three major, mutually exclusive, justice principles are delineated (Deutsch, 1985; Leventhal, 1980; Mikula, 1980): (1) equality — requires equal share to all in granting the resource in question, disregarding personal characteristics or performance; (2) need — demands to provide for the basic needs of people, even if this require the sacrifice of other individuals' interests; (3) equity (or meritocratic principle) — differential resource distribution based on personal effort, con tribution or ability — which maintain or reinforce status differences among recipients (Sabbagh, Dar & Resh, 1994).

Education — a socially constructed and highly valued public resource is a distinct ‘sphere of justice’ (Sabbagh, Resh, Mor & Vanhuysse, 2006; Walzer, 1983, 1995) whereby specific, but different, justice principles guide the distribution of instrumen tal, relational and symbolic goods (or punishments). These goods are constantly being distributed by teachers: they test students and grade their performance; they praise or scold them for learning efforts, homework and class behaviour; accordingly, they place them in classes, ability groups and tracks; and they grant them attention, respect, affection etc. Students, on their part, evaluate the ‘fairness’ of these distributions and as a result feel that they were justly — or unjustly — rewarded. Hence, justice (or, in stu dents' lingo, ‘fairness’) is an important component of students' school experience that have far reaching implications for their actual educational opportunities, their motiva tion, attitudes, affection and actual behaviour. Yet, empirical investigations about the distribution of different educational resources and the possible impact of ‘just’ and ‘unjust’ distribution on students' motivation and behaviour are relatively scarce.


Distributive Justice Educational Opportunity Cooperative Learning Ability Group Critical Pedagogy 
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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nura Resh
    • 1
  • Clara Sabbagh
    • 2
  1. 1.School of EducationHebrew University of JerusalemMt. ScopusIsrael
  2. 2.Faculty of EducationUniversity of HaifaMount CarmelIsrael

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