Postcards from the Dean

Welcome to the repository of short essays related to issues important in education today. Feel free to visit this area periodically to view updates.

Dr. Philip Wishon,
Dean of the College of Education
James Madison University.

Nightmare or Dream

As the shadow of the second decade of the new millennium continues to lengthen, the disparity between the advantaged in our society and those residing at the margins of American society is thrown into sharp relief. Burdened by poverty, poor health, neglect, bigotry, and emotional isolation, children at the margins may seldom count on the protection of healthy, knowledgeable, caring parents. For many of them—young refugees of the ruin of the American dream—violence has become their first language. One of the tragedies of contemporary American experience is that millions of young people are un-buoyed by societal advantage, facing a future that holds diminishing hope, unlikely to fulfill their promise. Because of inequities of wealth, opportunity and acceptance, and the deforming effects of our social history on the poor, on racial, ethnic, and other minorities, and on many young women, life is more tragedy than ecstasy. These greatly taxed and wounded youth will learn only with great difficulty what we would prefer that they learn, and they will learn much too easily what we would prefer they wouldn’t.

Eudora Welty, one of the most prominent American literary figures of the past century, devoted her life’s work to lifting the veil of indifference to each other’s human plight. To such a cause as hers—a call for conscience—American education may do well to re-dedicate itself. Matters of conscience prevail when human wellness, creative self-expression, wonder of the natural world, and intimacy among communities of learners and across cultures are elevated in the curriculum to positions of importance, not merely added on when time permits. The Commonwealth of Virginia—America herself— is best served by an education system that cares about who we are and what we value most deeply, at least as much as about what weknow.

Education should bind us—its beneficent effects should cut across class and cultural lines, racial lines, and gender lines. We must make concerns of the poor and those in whose lives respect and social justice have been rare commodities our concerns. Among the enduring expectations we should have of our program completers is that they imagine societies that are less oppressive and take whatever action they can to help make them more humane.

We must help candidates understand that the “three Rs” don’t make a life. As we help our candidates become increasingly literate in the fields of communication arts, mathematics, science, technology, and the social sciences, we must also help them learn to think critically, ethically, and creatively about events and circumstances that imperil our relationships with others, with other of the planet’s inhabitants, and with the planet itself.

Our place at center stage of human events is a transitory moment in the sweep of history, subject to untold influences that will change humanity for good or ill. A fundamental question before us is which of humankind’s impulses will we allow to hold dominion over others—those that civilize or those that savage? Nightmare or dream… we get to help decide. We must help decide. If there is to be harmony between our ambitions and the imperishable regard we must have for each other and the world, the decisions we make now regarding leadership, education, and the preparation of future community leaders and education practitioners will help make it so.

Destiny looks to us, our P-12 partners, and our critical business and agency friends—to help instill in our candidates the ability and will to think through what they care about most, to deepen their understanding of themselves as human beings, and to develop their capacity for moral deliberation and action. This cause is not provincial, not local, not moored to a particular time and place. This cause is timeless and placeless, and therefore free and enduring.
PW

February 2011
From His VACTE Presidential Statement We are located on the first floor of Memorial Hall, Room number 3175.