EduCon, Addressing Privilege, and Developing Learners Through Race

Jose Vilson Jose

When friend Audrey Watters invited me to create an EduCon session, one that would eventually run concurrently with my Sunday panel on openness and transparency in education, my first reaction was “Ugh. Do we really have to?” Then she basically says, “Well, if we don’t, then we’re chickenshit.”


Before I could finish shaking my fist at her, I had a list of things that, up to that point, pissed me the hell off. The lists of educators that were bereft of K-12 educators of color, the times when some educational progressives tried to tell Asian educators to fall in line with a racial epitaph just because it happened at an anti-testing rally, the temptation of Kanye West, the nonsense with the Badass Teachers Association calling for educators at the Teacher Town Hall / Education Nation 2014 when Jesse Hagopian (a Black teacher who helped lead the Seattle MAP Boycott) was speaking to his experiences in and out of the classroom, the ensuing discussions comparing everything to Hitler, and any number of flare-ups that almost had me feeling like I needed to address it.

Then I also thought how we would implicitly critique EduCon and its most-followed attendees. I wasn’t scared. I just didn’t wanna have to be that guy. Ever.

Obviously, some things have changed since, including the reincarnation of #educolor, an attempt at trying to unite K-12 educators of color and their allies under one roof to create a safe space to talk about these issues, but I also recognize that people follow me for the express purpose of discussing race in education. We didn’t even include Seattle wide receiver Richard Sherman, rapper Macklemore, Justin Beiber’s recent arrests, the critiques of me being on a list that’s mostly reserved for the province of white guys, though we made thinly veiled comments about Grant Wiggins’ apartheid comments … and all the ensuing comments supporting said comparison.

Nor did we get to the Godwin’s Law corollary: Vilson’s Law, which states that you can’t inappropriately compare something to a racial set of policies like apartheid, slavery, or education. Alas.

Even with this space created, I expected the best, but I prepared for the worst. I was hoping to achieve a level of provocation where people felt like we were being honest, but care and professionalism that it didn’t drive people away, at least not by the end. I prepared for only a handful of people to go. I prepared for people to leave shortly thereafter. I prepared for the #unfollowvilson to trend on Twitter.

None of those things happened. Instead, a nuanced, careful conversation happened, even when we had a few tense moments where things could have gone either way. Audrey and I looked like we would take no nonsense, but everything went smoothly. It felt like an affirmation of all the work we did to bring questions of race, class, and gender into the fore, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

It’s not enough for Melinda Anderson, Sabrina Stevens, Liz Dwyer, Xian Barrett, Jason Buell, and Rafranz Davis to speak up about these issues, either. We needed Audrey Watters, Mike Thayer, Bill Fitzgerald, Diana Lauferberg, and yes, Chris Lehmann to speak to this, too. To help foster a safe space, we need to create models for those discussions to happen. All the behind-the-scenes work to invite so many of the people I call friends into a space where we might see the very people we disagreed with online still feels absolutely worth it. After it was all done, my hug to Audrey wasn’t a celebration, but a sigh of relief.

After all, it was at EduCon that I first found myself wondering why I was one of the only Black and / or Latino (!) guys there. This year may have felt more diverse in population, but I thought it was more diverse in thought. EduCon graduated, and so did everyone else in that room.


P.S. – Read this post by Tom Whitby. Thanks to Tom and all the other folks who dropped by. That mattered.