Invisibility and People Of Color in Education Reform

Jose VilsonJose, Race12 Comments

Mad, The Invisible Man

Mad, The Invisible Man by Gordon Parks

Whenever people ask me where I stand on education reform, I ask them where I should start. Obviously, issues of equity and access rank at the top of my list of ideas I love to emphasize, but I can also get into curriculum and teacher quality if / when we need to have that debate. I don’t always agree with some of my colleagues on things, but we generally agree that schools and the systems in which they’re working stink.

Having said that, some discussions make me wonder if I have to revisit my allegiances or partners in this thing we call ed-reform.

I clearly don’t belong in the “clean out public schools / build up charters / fire teachers = solve all societal issues crowd.” But, I’m also having a hard time with the ways that we look at the roles of people of color within our circle. In education circles, race discussions don’t get the buzz they deserve. They’re often left to people like me to parse them out and hope it works out. These blogs don’t get the views, the invites to the exclusive conferences and cool kids clubs that have emerged in education, and the followers.

We’re nowhere near post-racial. To paraphrase Liz Dwyer, instead of “We don’t like you because you’re Black,” it’s “We just don’t think he’s a right fit.”

A few other, less conscious things we do to piss people of color off:

  • Nominate as few of them for things as possible
  • Act like you can’t find any for your committee / circle / club
  • Pretend their concerns about your subtle or not-so-subtle racist behavior has no merit
  • Expect us to rap when we can clearly sing

That’s why, if ever I’m asked, I put the “the” in front of my name. I approach the work I do with students rather humbly, and take it seriously, but, like the hundreds of teachers of color getting cut off now, the hundreds more that’ll lose their job in the next few months, and the millions of children of color who get affected by a lackluster and vacuous school system daily, I’d remain invisible, a nameless statistic used to numb the populace over education disaster management.

The cynic in me wonders if some education activists would celebrate if the government decided to scale down the testing as a compromise for the mass injustices done to our poorest children. The optimist believes that once we’ve gotten a clean break from the deluge of testing, we’d continue to work for racial (and sex and religious) harmony.

Perhaps, we’ll all just find a way to do a better job of recognizing our biases, sit down, and say, “I’m willing to learn, too.”


Comments 12

  1. I was recently told I’m pestering the cool conference folks too much “…please stop sending (us) these mails” — until last week I was sending regular updates in an attempt to get exposure for Partnership For Student Advocacy’s new charity, the Christopher Columbus Fund, a charity devoted to raising funds for lost programs in schools that are phasing out.
    Naively, I thought poor black and brown youth speaking eloquently about the crumbs they’re served every day as their school closes would start an engine…any engine…instead I’m/PFSA is stalled.

    As I travel the boroughs advocating for “failing”/closing schools I treasure the trust I have to earn to become an ambassador for the “worst” schools in New York because I get to spend time IN THE BUILDING/in community — and you are right.

    When you get invited to the exclusive clubs please get an extra ticket for me:

  2. Pingback: The Jose Vilson on the invisbility of people of color. | Fred Klonsky

  3. In many of the elite circles, they simply don’t want their dreams crushed. I used to think that they avoided the topics out of guilt. I don’t believe that anymore. They don’t want to talk about injustice, about racism, about policy, about immigration (the issue that I get blasted for talking about). They want to believe in an ideology that leaving kids alone and giving them loads of technology will fix the world. They want to believe that you can live in a social vacuum.

  4. I saw a quote from someone the other day (can’t find it, not for lack of trying)… “It’s 2013. We don’t need to have discussions about race anymore.” That comment is very telling about why we DO need those discussions.

    Do you think that people are just lazy? Like it’s easier to just ignore the problem of education’s inequities, as long as their kids are getting “quality?” I’m guessing that’s a more optimistic look at it, because my gut tells me there’s something more sinister lying below the surface.

    I don’t know how to fix any of this, but I’m sincerely grateful for voices like yours. Keep shouting.

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    Thank you all for your comments.

    Michelle, I don’t think people are lazy. I just think it’s uncomfortable and it probably hurts to think about. The idea that one’s country, the one they love so revere so much, would actually persist in their racism and oppression is an uncomfortable thought. Having said that, I’d like to hear your more sinister thought, which is probably right in line with more than a few people …

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  8. Pingback: Excuse Me, Your Privilege Is Showing (White Privilege in Ed Reform) - The Jose Vilson | The Jose Vilson

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