Kenneth Cole and Our Intelligent Designs

Jose Vilson Education, Jose

As if we didn’t already have presidents, mayors, congress members, lobbyists, media members, ex- and current schools chancellors, district leaders, and celebrities come for the heads of teachers under the guise of “student rights,” Kenneth Cole, clothing designer by day, has decided to throw his expensive threads into the discussion with a salacious billboard (removed thanks to the likes of Sabrina Stevens Shupe and others) and a multimedia dedication to this issue on (taken down and seemingly scrubbed off the website). Via Kenneth Cole’s Twitter account, his people wrote that they had “misrepresented the issue” and would take it down as soon as possible.

Too bad I’m still going to remember it happened.

I don’t have a problem with people who want to provoke a conversation with scandalous questions. Where my problem lies is in the way that Cole’s public relations folk framed the question. In stating the question as teachers’ rights vs. students’ rights, it already assumes that this is a battleground happening in public schools. A few hypothetical scenarios could have happened when Cole’s people put this question into the fore, but I’ll only focus on two:

1) They confuse teachers wanting to be treated as professionals as putting children second to their interests.

2) They proffer this scenario in the hopes of putting those going against teachers as on the side of students.

In the first scenario, I would never tell teachers to tone down any desire towards professionalism. If anything, we need to turn up the volume on that. People often forget that teachers were part of the movement to change child labor laws in this country, and much of that happened through collective action (read: unions). Plus, I still haven’t heard any deformer ever say that they would send their school-aged children to a school with unprofessional, unskilled, and uneducated babysitters. As a matter of fact, they know that if the school doesn’t treat the teacher well, their child’s education suffers.

In the second scenario (and more likely), you can get a list of people wanting to “change” education for their personal interests and declare them activists and radicals for no other reason than you’ve shaken hands with them. You’ll include a voice from what this country now considers the left, but you might throw just one actual teacher / educator in your sphere. It’s less than educator voice; it’s educator peep. What happens in scenario two happens often in politics (education is political, certainly), but students don’t get a voice when the deformers win. If anything, they get put back on the chopping block along with the teachers, parents, and community activists who worked with them before the so-called battle.

Ask Detroit.

Students’ rights ought to come to the fore. They have the right to a solid, equitable education with all the beautiful, wonderful things they envisioned when they first walked into class, their eyes still glistening with the hopes they carried. I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t own a few Kenneth Cole pieces; teachers of my generation should invest in our professional looks to go with our sharp demeanor. Yet, we prepare more intently on teaching students.

These are our rather intelligent designs.

Mr. Vilson, who’s happy to be well red …