by Jim Schul, PhD, WSU assoc. professor of ed studies
Winona State University’s Education Village is officially up and running. I’d like to send a special “thank you” to Representative Gene Pelowski, Senator Jeremy Miller, former Governor Mark Dayton, WSU President Scott Olson, and former WSU Dean of the College Education Tarrell Portman. Their tireless efforts and commitment to public education made the Education Village concept into a tangible reality. As a professor in the College of Education at Winona State, I think it is pertinent that I provide some context as to how this now tangible Education Village fits into the larger scheme of things for our community, region, and nation.
Public schools became a staple of American life by the mid-19th century. They were called “common schools” because they were designed to tie us together as a republic. Public schools were our first social networks!
As public schools popped up all over our country’s cities, towns, and prairies, there came a need for more teachers. Enter the normal school — or teacher preparatory institutions. Soon normal schools emerged across the American landscape.
Winona State University started out as the first normal school west of the Mississippi River. Our institution has continued to play a crucial role in the important endeavor of supporting public education across this region and our nation.
The renowned philosopher John Dewey crowned the school as “the fundamental method of progress and reform.” This means that he thought the school played a crucial role in resolving problems of the day. As with every generation, our country faces a plethora of problems:
• The rise of concentrated poverty perpetuates opportunity gaps amongst children
• We’ve confused fellow Americans for enemies merely because of our differences
• Challenges in the realm of the social-emotional lives of children are growing
• Critical thinking and problem solving amongst our citizenry is threatened with each click we make on the Internet or our remote controls
The list goes on …
Dewey believed the school was the most likely place where we can and should proactively address these challenges — after all, it is the one place where we all gather!
This tangible project — the Education Village — is an organic representation of Minnesota’s unique commitment to public education as the key to progress and reform across our region and nation!
The legislature and governor did their job with supporting this project. And boy it is nice. As a professor now housed in this palatial space, I must confess that I love our new duds! What fancy windows, beautiful architecture, creative spaces, and sexy technological infrastructure! We’ve all been empowered with a first-class facility!
But — to borrow a quote from the Spiderman comics — “With great power comes great responsibility.”
It is now on all of us here in the WSU College of Education to make this Education Village illuminate across our region and nation as a great builder and supporter of progressive education. We are positioned well to fulfill our mission thanks in large part to the addition of our new Dean, Daniel Kirk, who we are confident will provide steady and forward-thinking leadership.