"Individually and collectively we are working to address equity in our schools. Our work is far from complete and sometimes feels as if we are falling further behind. But the work is vital and must continue no matter how difficult the path forward may be."
By Sarah Kaka, Jen Lisy, Michele Nobel & Paula White
June 22, 2020
What’s in a mission statement? Is it just buzz words that sound trendy? Is it different from any other mission statement? Is it powerful enough? Does it encompass what we do at OWU as educators? Do we live our mission or is it a mere slogan, a tagline, a generic phrase uttered when someone asks what we believe? As society begins to publicly acknowledge the inequities in our society and in our schools, we reflect on our mission—not as a collection of trendy words—but as a lived experience that we not only espouse, but one that we act upon and cultivate in our future teachers.
As educators, we deeply understand the inequities in our nation’s public schools. We see the lack of diversity in the teaching workforce. We see students who do not have the basic resources to succeed because funding formulas are problematic. We see the haves of the wealthy districts and the have-nots of the poor rural and urban schools. We see the digital divide growing exponentially as spotlighted by COVID-19 closures. We see disparity, inequity, classism, sexism, ableism, and quite frankly, we see racism in our schools.
Individually and collectively we are working to address equity in our schools. Our work is far from complete and sometimes feels as if we are falling further behind. But the work is vital and must continue no matter how difficult the path forward may be. In our reflections, we look at our mission statement. Does it say enough? Does it reflect our intentional drive to ensure we are preparing educators who are not just competent and committed, but are antiracist?
Our Mission Statement
The mission of the Education Department at Ohio Wesleyan University is to prepare competent, committed, professional teachers for a diverse, democratic society.
Competent. We seek to prepare the highest quality teachers for our profession. We want teacher candidates to be competent in their content and pedagogical knowledge—to know their content well enough that they can frame and scaffold it so all students may understand and acquire the subject matter. This includes the knowledge needed to teach history in a way that isn’t white-washed or racist, but is antiracist. We endeavor to build skills in our teacher candidates that allow them to craft engaging lessons with evidence-based instructional strategies, utilizing materials/books/resources created by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) that share their perspectives, and develop assessments to facilitate the learning of all students. We use critical race theory and theories of social justice to frame our education courses and to support our students’ competence in implementing culturally responsive pedagogy that is antiracist. We strive to ensure that candidates are not going to shy away from teaching and confronting topics that are “uncomfortable” in the classroom.
Committed and professional. Possessing strong content knowledge and instructional skill alone isn’t enough. Our teachers must understand the history of exclusionary practices in our schools—BIPOC, women, those with disabilities, LGBTQIA+—all have been excluded from our schools either physically and/or emotionally. In many cases, their education is still inferior to their peers who are not marginalized. This is unacceptable. We ask OWU teacher candidates to recognize their own biases, to understand the ways in which they are privileged and disadvantaged in school, and to do the hard work of becoming anti-racist by speaking up and disrupting systemic inequities.
For a diverse, democratic society. Educators work with students and families from all walks of life. At OWU, teacher candidates are engaged in coursework that prepares them to work with all students. The liberal arts foundation in which candidates engage allows them to participate in meaningful and challenging dialogue, to explore literature, language, history, and culture beyond anything they may have experienced before arriving at OWU, to ask questions, interpret information with a critical eye, and explore solutions. They can study abroad or domestically to expand their knowledge and understanding around issues of social justice. In their education courses, they discuss issues of equity, power and privilege, inclusion and diversity, and how they as educators can affect change. They will teach in classrooms that likely will be very different from the ones they experienced as children or young adults.
Therefore, we acknowledge that it is essential the OWU Education Department develops future teachers with the knowledge and skills to be anti-racist (anti-ism), to ask difficult questions, identify racist policies, procedures, curricula, opportunities, and actively work to ensure changes that support the growth and development of all students. We continue to educate ourselves on the best practices to incorporate these in all classes.
The foundation of coursework and planned experiences are there, but the work toward ensuring that we are all engaged in equity-building and antiracism is ongoing. We will continue to analyze our courses, readings, strategies, and requirements to ensure intentionality of antiracism. We are listening to voices that have been discounted, marginalized, or underrepresented. We are standing in support of our most vulnerable students and taking action where necessary. We seek to build antiracist teachers at OWU. This work is continuous as there is always more to learn, question, challenge, grow, and do. We will continue to look for more opportunities to further our mission to prepare competent, committed, professional teachers for a diverse, democratic society.
Do you feel outraged about inequities in our schools? Here are some ways you can start your mission.
Learn about the issues schools are facing.
- Attend/view school board meetings.
- Read/view variety of information.
- Follow social media - schools, reform organizations, government, individuals working toward educational improvements.
- Keep track of education-related legislation in your state.
Find a network.
- Join advocacy groups.
- Join local PTO/PTA.
- Write/call/meet representatives at all levels.
- Volunteer at schools.
- Become a teacher!
Immerse yourself in literature.
- “The Racial Achievement Gap, Segregated Schools, and Segregated Neighborhoods – A Constitutional Insult,” article by Richard Rothstein
- Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? Book by Beverly Daniel Tatum
- The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America Book by Richard Rothstein
- Not Light, But Fire: How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations in the Classroom Book by Matthew Kay
For additional resources, please visit OWU’s Antiracism LibGuide (coming soon).
Paula White is a Professor of Education, Chair of the Education Department, and Director of Elementary and Middle Childhood programs.
Sarah Kaka is an Assistant Professor of Education and Director of the Adolescent to Young Adult & Multiage programs.
Michele Nobel is an Assistant Professor of Education and Director of the Special Education program.
Jen Lisy is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Education in Literacy and Elementary Education.