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Learning Journey: Montgomery, Ala.

A recent visit to the Equal Justice Initiative Legacy Museum and the National Memorial to Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala., made a lasting impact on the faculty and staff of the Woodrow Wilson Graduate School of Teaching & Learning.

“We experienced the teaching and learning that our organization can aspire to–deeply affecting, human, and contextualized,” says Andrew Wild, former WW Graduate School faculty mentor in science and current program chair of the school’s post-graduate mentorship program.

This learning journey, made possible by an anonymous donor, allowed the Graduate School’s faculty and staff to learn and reflect on the history of racism in America and its implications for students and schools today across all disciplines of learning. Faculty and staff reflected on what it means to “teach for justice” and how to prepare teacher candidates in the program for their roles as STEM teachers in our nation’s diverse schools.

Meredith Moore, an MIT research scientist working with the WW Graduate School, believes that education can be a tool for justice, after some “unlearning” of the status quo. “We must do everything that we can to help teacher candidates unlearn” she says, “so they will become teachers who question how institutionalized racism is manifested in school discipline policies, academic tasks, and culture, and work to create more just practices and policies.”

The WW Graduate School has identified a core set of competencies that drive the other skills, knowledge, and dispositions their master’s candidates must learn to be good teachers.

Teaching for justice, one of these core competencies, is part of every level of learning at the Graduate School. Deborah Hirsch, president of the Woodrow Wilson Graduate School of Teaching and Learning, reflected on the experience and what it means for the work that will follow: “We came away with greater clarity and sense of purpose that, in the words of one of. my colleagues, ‘justice is the destination, education is the vehicle.’”

The Legacy Museum was “powerful, emotional, and deeply moving” for Anjali Deshpande, the Graduate School’s faculty mentor in mathematics. The exploration of the four-part framing of oppression of Black people in America at the Museum “has pushed my thinking deeper when it comes to analyzing forms of structural racism we are dealing with today.”

“The Legacy Museum and National Memorial to Peace and Justice made the greatest impression on me,” Dr. Wild reflected. “We are continuing our learning about injustices and applying our learning to work with teaching candidates. We have and will continue to reckon with the legacy of slavery and its underlying ideology of racial hierarchy, and we intend to prepare teaching candidates to do the same as they create just learning environments.”

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