Dear John: Where I Disagree With Legend

Jose VilsonEducation, Jose24 Comments

John Legend

Dear John Legend,

Last night at the Avery Hall in Lincoln Center (NYC), you and Common headlined an awesome town hall between some of the brightest and influential Black / Latino men in education. The line-up read like a starting roster for a hypothetical NYC Black educator panel: David Banks of the Eagle Academy as moderator, followed by Dr. Pedro Noguera, Common, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, Ruben Diaz Jr., and Eric Snow. On paper, the roster was dynamic and possibly influential enough to break some ground on the topic of the moment: why the system has failed men of color in education. While I don’t expect much for Teach for America, I know plenty of educators from that system that have done good things for their children.

Having said that, you, my friend, did not bring your A game.

You brought a set of talking points akin to the wonks that, in changing public education, have silenced the voices of the most underprivileged. Your assertion that students who don’t do well on the standardized state tests are not ready for the real world conflict with real life, where no one asks you in the job force to fill out a bunch of bubbles to do the best job possible. Your case study about that one school that did so well with passing the test doesn’t say much about how they’ll do in the future nor does it coincide with the reality of education as a whole, where charter schools only make up 5% of NYC public schools. Your vision of the perfect school and how that aligns to the educrat movement sound more like a page out of a war stratagem than public school reform, with your talk of “getting rid of teachers.”

Nevermind that the policies of charter schools directly influence public schools in the area. For one, charter schools have more choice as to who gets in, and who leaves. Public schools have more paperwork in that respect. Charter schools thusly don’t house as many ELLs or children with special needs as public schools do. Plus, where do they go when they’re not deemed fit to attend this prestigious school? Public school, of course. Worse still is that the correlation between the amount of charter schools popping up and the amount of Black and Latino children in the neighborhood in which they arrive is pretty high.

A part of me wants to understand, too. Men of color do not exist monolithically. The depth and breadth of opinion within this demographic might make outside observers blush. We have so many routes by which to attack the issue of Black men that the one path we should all choose gets distorted by various interests and beliefs. That much, I believe. Even my attendance to an event sponsored by an organization I don’t fully support shows the complexity of education right now. Plus, not many in the audience (excluding me) expected you to know much about the plight of Black men in education outside of the banalities of men of color failing.

There, your opinion failed. Unfortunately, you were Soulja Boy in the middle of a catalogue battle between Jay-Z and Lupe Fiasco. A recent Golden Gloves championship winner discussing boxing with Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson. That’s why, no matter how talented a musician you are, people could see through the distortions and false-ttos. Upon entering the Empire City, please note that, while the house is owned by people who readily accept what you say as fact, the neighborhood is guarded by watchmen who’ll boo you the minute you get it wrong.

Take that weak stuff outta here.

Jose, who doesn’t do personal attacks. This is purely professional …

p.s. – Part 2 tomorrow (and some takeaways) …

Comments 24

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  2. “no matter how talented a musician you are, people could see through the distortions and false-ttos. ” Classic!

    Interesting! If people knew more about Mr. Legend, they would know he might have been a poor choice for this type of town hall meeting. He was home schooled for much of his life. So his idea of any education system whether it be NYC or any other city is without a doubt limited. Just stick to singing those OOOHHs Johnny…lol

  3. Being a musician does not qualify anyone as an educational expert. Perhaps Mr. Legend was persuaded by others. For example, Bill Gates, Eli Broad and the Walton family feel very strongly that being billionaires qualifies them as educational experts. Since they are rarely contradicted no matter what unfounded bilge they happen to spew, it’s entirely possible their flunkies could’ve led Mr. Legend to expect the same.

    None of the Gates-Klein-Bloomberg ideas holds up to close scrutiny, which is why they avoid debate, checks or balances, real discussion, voter referendums, and anything remotely resembling democratic process.

  4. I agree with you fully.

    I do not believe standardized test is any indicator of how well you will do in life or on a job whatsoever. Me personally I always did horrible on standardized test yet I was always in the top of my class. In many situations, these schools with higher performances in standardized test are schools who focus on teaching the test not all the necessary skills to make them successful through their academic and professional life.

  5. Usually when I see him on the guest panel of “Real Time With Bill Maher”, he sounds like he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to current events. I guess you proved otherwise, Jose. Some musicians (and actors) are clueless when it comes to what’s going on in the world. They really need to do their research and think before they speak.

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    Tyrone, I wish I’d seen you there. We got there really early, so I’m happy.

    Elaine, you’re welcome.

    BBW (hahaha), homeschooling is truly revolutionary in my honest opinion. When the schools don’t do the job right, it takes some serious cojones to say, “I’m gonna teach it my-damn-self,” so that’s cool. With that said, I wonder if that experience is related to his obtuse view on education.

    NYCEd, you’re right about that, too. I wonder who supports what and where.

    Shercole, I can’t tell you how many horror stories I’ve heard about students who, because they didn’t pass the test. We can do more. We can do better.

    MzVirgo, I’m sure that he’s intelligent when it comes to deep issues and he shed some light on why he believes in what he does as far as education. However, he made lots of unfounded comments and that’s what hurt his arguments ultimately.

  7. I adore John Legend. Then he started talking instead of singing. Now he’s not as cute to me. He is absolutely wrong about charters and has offended public school teachers all over America. I think I will unfollow him on twitter.

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  10. Great post man. It’s funny that you write this post. While living here standardized tests are relied so heavily that private tutors make a killing for a living. Meanwhile the average Korean feels lied to because the outcome of all the work is minimal. Just like us, they are debt burdened and working side jobs like selling food at a market . The only difference is they place their lives in the hands of the standardized tests and their whole education has been destroyed because it revolved around tests.

  11. I’ve also seen Legend on Bill Maher, and he was articulate and impressive. So is Maher, but he also says the most awful things about teacher unions. We really need some better PR.

  12. There’s also this issue of using celebrities as authoritarians on subjects that they have no background on or history of working with and the assumption their opinions are valid.

    Not to say that they or anyone else cannot be conversant on a subject but they have to do the work. This just sounds like orgs trying to gain a lot of attention quickly but who are lacking credibility with no long term sustainable plan of action.

  13. Jose, I have to disagree with something that you wrote in your comments section. I just don’t see homeschooling as any more revolutionary than charter schools. In theory, these methods sound like great ideas. In practice, it often leaves kids weak in the subjects that their parents simply aren’t educated enough to teach. How can you teach what you never learned?

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  16. “educated” and “learned” are fancy talk for “i got a degree so therefore i am an authority”. whole lot of ignorant “authorities” in this country with degrees not worth the fancy paper they’re printed on. for as much as i respect the profession, not every teacher is schooled traditionally. feel me?

    i’m not a teacher but i know a lil bit… enough to where, as a parent, had i decided to homeschool, my children would not (and are not, cause i supplemented school learning with real world learning in an “academic” capacity) be “weak” in subjects i wasn’t “educated in”. education is, at best, a case by case sort of thing. you can have the best and brightest educators (traditionally) on your team and still have students who fail to make the grade. you can also have “non-educated” homeschool parents who turn out mensa quality students. depends on the student, the way they are reached and the capacity to be a village. all learning isn’t done in a classroom, and every teacher with a degree isn’t “the elite” or hasn’t corned the market on proper teaching. at 36 i’ve come face to face with many an “educator” who saw teaching as an “easy” check and nothing more than an elevated baby sitter’s certification, so let’s not blanket, please.

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  18. Those were iPhone thumbs ups that linked in converted to question marks. You are spot on – been through 5 of your posts and I feel like you are reading my brain!

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  20. I’m just now reading this, but the timing fascinates me.
    I was teaching at a well-known charter operator here in the LA area about the time of this discussion, and almost around the time of this post Legend visited our school. I’ll remember the comment made by one of my students at the time, someone who as of now has been through some things but has made me proud of his perseverance to do what’s right for himself and his young family, as Legend walks past he says, “Hey, that looks like John Legend!” For whatever reason I’m sure Legend was on a fact-finding tour, which I now sense was used to fuel his talking points. The school were I was teaching was your archetype urban school in the iconic and historic neighborhood of South LA.
    Yet, no matter who the celebrity is I rarely take their comments seriously about my profession. Even when their beliefs coincide with mine they’re still celebrities, proficient at their craft but not as knowledgeable about mine. Instead of walking around with our administrators what he should have done was talk to teachers and students; his words may have been less polished but more sincere, more passionate.
    And his “America” during the Super Bowl put every other so-called performer-singer (with the exception of Missy Elliot) to shame.

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