Dear Barack Obama: A Letter from an Urban Math Teacher to His President - The Jose Vilson

Dear Barack Obama: A Letter from an Urban Math Teacher to His President

September 14, 2009

President Obama Checking My E-mails

President Obama Checking My E-mails

Dear President Obama,

First, I’d like to thank you for your speech on education last weekend in Arlington, VA to high schoolers. I actually found it rather informative and refreshing to hear a current President talk about topics such as responsibility and effort in school. Your life stories as they pertain to school give a good back drop for people whose only picture you as elitist, conformist, and condescending. The confident but humble man I voted for back in November showed up again in that video clip.

I was so inspired by the clip (and the revolting dissension to the showing of this speech), I simply had to take 20 minutes from the last period on Friday to set a precedent of inspiration and hope in my students. I wrote it into my lesson plan and timed it so well, the final bell actually rang a second after you said, “Thank you.” Most of my students also saw what I saw in the video: a president finally talking to them about the things they needed and wanted to hear, and talking and addressing them and their needs.

I also have to share this because it might also give context to my own preoccupations about speeches from government officials. My students’ main complaint was “Why didn’t he come speak at our school?” Superficially, I would gather that they’re just selfish, immature brats who always need to be coddled and don’t appreciate when the President comes speak to them. Then, I thought, “Outside of this school, who does?” Who comes to speak to my students about the importance of education besides teachers? They appreciate (in general) my position as a male math teacher of color, but your presence at another school didn’t help the image they have of their underprivileged situation(s).

I thought to myself and wondered just how disaffected so many of our young people feel by people who never actually come talk to them. For that matter, they probably also feel some type of way for not having a grand, open auditorium, overcrowded classes, uninspiring teachers, outdated materials, dingy apartments, rotten fruits and vegetables, and the occasional cop harassing them because they have on a Yankee fitted cap and baggy clothes, just to let them know whose boss.

They may or may not understand that Arlington, VA’s school may also have its set of problems. But for one day, my school’s kids were reminded that the gap between the have-the-Presidents and the have-the-President-nots broadens clandestinely. Until that gap wanes, I won’t let up and I can’t let up. I’ll always be critical of your administration, even though as a man, you have this inspiring history. I wish you the best and thanks for the reminder of the battles we all have to make sure our students get the best education possible.

Mr. Vilson, who wants better for every student …

This post was written by...

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

For more about me, read here.

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