“The education we provide reflects the society in which it arises” – is an interesting quote (1). Almost a truism. Taking it seriously would mean to look at the mission statements of schools to see how they define and justify themselves both to themselves as relative to their customers. What contribution is said to be made, what value is added and whose needs are served, how are actions warranted and visions actualized? These questions are no small feat although seldom posited. We take schools and what they do almost for granted. Could explicating a mission reveal underlying conflicting rationales? Or, may be, disclose particular characteristics of school life that shape education for those who need it? Addressing these questions was popular in the eighties of the last century when curriculum theory studies were conducted (1) but since then it has been relatively quiet. Recognizing that different students are offered different ways of learning, and that curriculum coverage for one may be more extended than for others depending on the stated mission of a school is a pressing matter. Imagine: similar trajectories are mobilized in very dissimilar ways, is that permissible?
A study in Canada and the US tried to make sense of mission statements and looked in particular at the domain of arts education. For one thing it made clear that mission statements create a clearer picture of what drives a school and that it may inform a necessary debate between stakeholders about what value is created by a school. For the other part it made clear that justifications in mission statements do not touch the ground, i.e, do not seriously address real concerns on how to ensure that the right questions are discussed on access to education.
Bringing mission statements down to earth and have them enacted as guides to resolve contradictions and concerns about what constitutes school life would be the ultimate goal. It sounds great but as long as a mission remains a document constructed aside (2), not rooted in the school life itself, and not being negotiated between the stakeholders they certainly will not shape the work of teachers and structure the course of student learning. A mission statement is not so much a statement as more a beacon of school renewal.
Rubén Gaztambide-Fernández, Rachael Nicholls & Alexandra Arráiz-Matute (2016) For what purpose the arts? An analysis of the mission statements of urban arts highschools in Canada and the United States, Arts Education Policy Review, 117:1, 29-42
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10632913.2014.966287