#Educon, Edu-Nerds, Chris Lehmann, and A Slice of Race in the 21st Century

Jose Vilson Jose, Race

Cocoa Puffs On The Ground

I had the pleasure of attending EduCon 2.3 last weekend, surrounded by people I mostly met digitally and students I only envisioned through the stories of the Science Leadership Academy’s Chris Lehmann and social studies super-pedagogue Diana Laufenburg. I was impressed by the warmth and camaraderie in a place full of edulebrities and edunerds (I’m either / or depending on the day) from across the nation convening not in a large convention hall but in a school. Appropriate, but rarely happens for conferences of this newly found magnitude.

As I arrived, my lady and I went to a conversation (the un-conference word for meeting) with elementary school principal George Couros. The topic at hand was this idea of inquiry, a word I despise because of the aberration it’s become in my district, but one I reluctantly welcomed. I want my kids to learn how to question effectively, and inquiry-based education for students promotes that if done correctly. Before the conversation started, though, I wanted a little snack to munch on to quiet my grumbling stomach; the library had potato chips. Mmm. Potato chips.

Something interesting happened when I went to the library in search of these chips. A group of young ladies, with lab coats and bright smiles, looked at me and whispered, “Well, there’s one.” And here we go. Intrigued, I asked the young ladies with a mischievous grin, “So what exactly were you ladies counting?” They tried to change the topic, but I knew already. After a few other questions about their prospective futures, I bid my adieu and went to the conversation.

George, Chris, teachers, other principals, and other ed-specialists went back and forth about the models of inquiry-based schooling we’d seen and how we might approach moving our schools in that direction. One gentleman pointed out, “Well, that might be great for some kids. But some others might need direct instruction.”

I blinked a bit; I’m not afraid of speaking my mind in these environments, but I had to feel out the room. Before I could even let out a word, Chris said (and I’ll do my best to quote him here), “Well, I’d be careful with that, because when people hear that, then we start getting into whose kids should get inquiry-based school, and it means that we inevitably run into issues of race, class, and gender. I know that if enough of the Black boys started asking the hard questions, they’d probably feel like getting a gun.”

Collective gasp.

“And not so that they’d shoot another Black kid, but so they could run up to City Hall and ask ‘What’s going on?'”

Amazed at his acute response to a seemingly benign question, I sat there and looked around the room, walked the hall and counted with one hand the adult participants versus the plethora of children of color circling the hallways of SLA. Things like this usually don’t phase me, but it brought to my conscience the reasons why my work in the education sphere has been important. We’re rarely represented in these events, and those with the leverage and popularity to highlight that problem rarely do in their own spheres, instead waiting for another person of color to acknowledge the problem in their private quarters, or when it behooves them to do so.

Ballsy as I am, I openly speculated about this problem. The people with whom I speculated agreed, but in their heart of hearts didn’t have solutions. Chris pointed back to my integration vs. segregation essay a week or two back, which only made me more conflicted. As someone who’s forged his brand into the education discussions, am I obligated to bring up the color issue when others in this community refuse to? Sure looks like it.

I surely wouldn’t want to create my own sphere that isolated our people per se, but, similar to the Rooney Rule in the NFL, I’d have to promote fellow educators of color in ways they’re probably not used to.

I also don’t want to run around reminding my fellow edu-nerds of their commensurate whiteness, nor do I feel the need to constantly discuss our most racially underrepresented and socially disadvantaged children when, in pockets, that’s often hard to discern. Plus, I’m sure to hear replies of “Well, I know how you feel because my grandparents went through these struggles” rather than “There’s a problem. Let’s fix it.” The first condescends, the second empathizes.

The problem isn’t just at EduCon, TEDx_____, or any other edunerd conference du jour; it’s endemic of the education trend and the technology trend. Few of us in this world of the edublogosphere can simultaneously get called upon to opine on education without some fear or ostracizing once we belie our opinions on every and anything else. People considered in the mainstream do have that luxury.

All the more reason why I appreciated Chris Lehmann’s approach to the question. Unabated and honest, but real because he’s obviously dealing with it in the very school I had that moment of racial disparity. Rather than complain about the lack of colored people discussing education, I need to play my part in encouraging fellow thinkers and writers to bring their minds and bodies to a school much like ones they’ve been exposed to as students and educators.

I had a great experience at EduCon, and the only lesson you get out of this is that I’m the angry Black Latino educator / token, well, there’s one. It’s just the wrong one.

Jose, who waited until my thoughts fully marinated on this …