Journal of Educational Controversy


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Interview with the New Dean of the Woodring College of Education at Western Washington University

Editor: The Journal of Educational Controversy welcomes the new dean of the Woodring College of Education, the home of the journal.   Dean Horacio Walker shares some of his thoughts and background in the interview below.

1.      What was it about the Woodring College of Education that attracted you?

I am attracted to Woodring’s vision of honoring diversities and promoting social justice. I believe that inequality is the most important problem facing today’s world. Most violence and discrimination affecting people in different countries and cultures is rooted in unequal rights and opportunities.  Without a vision on inclusion of all people in education and development opportunities, these problems cannot be properly addressed. I believe that colleges of education are in a privileged position to influence a social justice agenda around the globe. 

I was also interested in the faculty and the programs they have developed for the College. A few years ago, I was impressed with a presentation done by a small delegation from Woodring at a conference on field experiences in teacher education held at the Universidad Diego Portales in Santiago, Chile, where I was dean.  It was clear from the presentation, that the College valued strong partnerships with the community and wanted the prospective teachers to have genuine experiences in diverse contexts. I thought that the vision and the mission of the College was reflected in the way they structured and organized the process through which the preservice teachers  learn how to teach and in the type of partnerships they foster with school districts and individual schools.

2.      What do you believe are the most important challenges facing education and Schools of Education in the political and social context of our time?

Education’s most important challenge today is removing barriers that prevent learning and the development of the full child in schools. There are financial barriers, such as having food on the table and appropriate housing. There are also socio-emotional barriers, such as unsupportive family and school environments for children and young people. There are cultural barriers, such as beliefs about gender, race and sexual orientation. There are educational barriers, such as unequal access to relevant and quality learning and non-inclusive school environments that induce negativity among the students and reproduce inequality in everyday practices.   There are also political barriers, such as top-down policies that inhibit partnerships between schools, the family and the community.
Colleges of Education generally address some of these barriers. However, I believe that a systemic approach to education is needed to understand how all of these barriers are connected.  In Woodring we are privileged to have academic programs preparing students in teacher education and also in health and community studies which provide different perspectives on how systems work.

3.      Could you share your basic philosophy of education with us?

My basic philosophy of education is reflected in four main principles. First, education is lifelong learning which must focus on the whole person, fostering conditions for social, emotional and cultural development.  Second, learning must be supported by a system of interrelated factors, i.e. the family, the local community, the state and the federal government. Third, educators must work to remove barriers that prevent all children and youth from accessing and succeeding in educational opportunities. Teachers and schools should have the highest expectations for all. Fourth, education needs to be a public reference of inclusion and diverse communities. Public schools are best suited to prepare new citizens to contribute for an equitable and democratic society. It is a moral imperative that governments must protect and support public education. 

4.      What would you want our students, colleagues and readers to know about you as a person?

I grew up in the capital city of Santiago, Chile. Two childhood experiences influenced my vision on education and inspired me to work in the field my entire career.

Growing up I experienced the effects of socioeconomic segregation. Families were grouped in neighborhoods according to their common background, and children were grouped in schools where everyone looked similar.    

In 10th grade, I was able to participate in a service-learning program organized by my high school. I travelled to the south of Chile to help shantytown dwellers build their own homes with government financial support. For the first time I met several  people who grew up in a different part of the country, who had barely made it through elementary school and who could not access secondary education.  I was not ready to understand why.  I remember vividly hearing them say to me over and over, “I want you to work hard, go to college - don’t go through what we have experienced.” Those words have stayed with me forever. As I went through college, I understood that they were victims of social and economic oppression that had condemned their families to poverty.

In 1973, during my first year in University, President Salvador Allende, who was democratically elected in 1970, was overthrown by a military coup that ruled the country through the early 90s. I lived my entire university years under a curfew - hearing shootings at night and listening to horror stories about people disappearing and being tortured. Yet I was prepared to teach in that environment. However, I was not able to get a job in a public school, as all were under control of the military regime. Instead, I began my career in non-formal education, supporting community-based organizations struggling to help themselves address basic needs.  Those experiences, framed by Paulo Freire’s work, shaped my basic philosophy of education all during my career, in different contexts and institutional settings. 


James Loucky said...

Western is indeed fortunate to have an incoming Dean of the College of Education who professes a strong ethical compass and humanitarian commitment, commensurate with those of the College and especially encouraged by the outgoing Dean, Francisco Rios. Valuing lifelong learning, attention to structural issues, and a grounding in justice concerns such as those so hard-fought in Latin America are crucial for the education of diverse youth in countries like the United States, and for the times in which we live. said...

Western is surely blessed to have an approaching Dean of the College of Education who declares a solid moral compass and philanthropic responsibility, equivalent with those of the College and particularly empowered by the active Dean, Francisco Rios.