Growing up, I had the opportunity to play baseball in my town’s recreation league system—then, for my age group, it was called the Pee Wee league—I had no idea who our team sponsors were, but I loved the free red hat and T-shirt we were given as uniforms. I was 8 years old after all.
I solidly played right field, because in Pee Wee no one hit the ball to right field. But I had the confidence of a big-leaguer, badgering my coach every practice to give me a chance at pitching.
Finally, after weeks of persistent advocacy, my coach relented. I was terrible, never getting the ball over the plate even once. I think one pitch even went over the backstop.
I quickly moved back to right field. But I was satisfied. The point, for me, was not prowess on the field, but access—the ability to try. I learned something about myself that day: Pitching wasn’t my gig.
The educational philosopher John Dewey argued that education “is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.”
When we think about education, we are not only worried about learning experiences, though those are so important. The fact is that schools, and those experiences, shape identities. The access I was afforded on the baseball field informed who I was; it changed me. Even though through that access I learned that I would not be a major league pitcher, the ability to try, and what I experienced in that tryout, helped shape who I am today.
Our Washington State Constitution reminds us that “the paramount duty of the state is to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.”
In other words, it shouldn’t matter where a student lives, or how wealthy her family is, or his language proficiency, or their gender, or his ethnicity, or her aptitude. Every single student in our state should have access to a quality, rich education; they should have the opportunity to try. That equitable access is at the heart of our democracy and is key to both our economic success as a state and the personal flourishing of our citizens and families.
The pandemic revealed cracks in our educational system. When schools moved to online learning during the spring of 2020, students dropped off the radar. That drop-off was not even across communities.
A colleague who serves as a principal at a local elementary school shared that when her school moved to online instruction in spring 2020, she lost 80% of her students. Being from an impoverished neighborhood, most of her students didn’t have internet access or a computer in their home. When funds were provided to give each student a Chromebook, the school couldn’t email families to tell them to pick up the computer for their child. They also couldn’t call them since the poverty level of their families meant they didn’t have landlines or a consistent cellphone.
Instead, the principal and her assistant principal hauled out their bicycles and rode the neighborhood, visiting their students and families and personally delivering their students’ Chromebooks. Other Spokane neighborhoods experienced that shift differently, already having Wi-Fi and a computer at home. Access—the ability to try—is not level, even within the Spokane city limits.
In the Whitworth University School of Education, we are driven by the mission to provide access, to allow every child in Spokane and across our state the ability to engage in learning in an equitable manner. That doesn’t mean that instruction in Cusick needs to look the same as it does in Mead. But it does mean every student gets to try, living into the life that they are meant to live.
How are we doing this? In all of Whitworth’s teacher education programs, we require our students to participate in multiple preschool through 12th grade field experiences, allowing them to see children across a variety of classroom settings. In addition, our programs require all of our students to participate in an “intercultural” experience, often outside of the U.S., for three weeks to three months. Again, the aim is for our students to engage in the lives of P-12 students, across differences, so they are better prepared and have a deeper vision for equity.
In addition, the Whitworth School of Education is launching a new distance learning teacher certification program in fall 2023 to provide access to our high-quality programs to every community across Washington.
Through our program, candidates can be prepared in their own communities, teaching in those communities that they know so well upon graduation. That doesn’t mean that everyone should eventually become a teacher, but like me on that baseball field, they should have the chance to try—to discover where their gifts and passions lead, no matter where they live.
This program will allow those local community residents access, a seat at the table, a chance to bring their talents to the fore, and it will help all of us to be better prepared to face the real problems we grapple with as a state and as a country.
As I threw that first pitch and wildly missed the plate, I learned something. Of course, I learned that I would not be a big-league pitcher, but I also learned that it’s worth taking a chance—that I should try out my dreams and look for where I fit. I learned I’m not good at everything, and I learned a bit more about life.
School, as Dewey so succinctly puts it, isn’t preparing for life. It offers, or should offer, the opportunity for every child in our state the chance to live, right now, today. That’s our aim, and we’ll continue to search out every innovation that can allow every child in our state to swing for the fences.
Ron Jacobson is dean of the Whitworth University School of Education.
Subscribe today to our free E-Newsletters!SUBSCRIBE