What It Means To Speak Truth To Power (About That Medium Post)

Jose VilsonFeatured, Jose, Writing

The whole point was to speak truth to power. 20,000 views later, I don’t know what to do about the new eyeballs on my writing.

In subsequent tweets, [Perry] comes within inches of calling himself the next Messiah, stopping kids from stuttering and pulling them from gangs, stepping in for their absent fathers, and keeping them up until midnight for no other reason than his own need to set these boys straight. In subsequent tweets, he shouts down tweeters who resent his anti-Black message, chiding him for implying that dreads and braids?—?hair styles with African traditions?—?make black boys look dirty and, worse yet, unsuccessful. He continues to use this weekend experience of setting boys straight (yes, like the jail, but only with a comedian and an army veteran) to make other wild assertions about the American school system and absentee fatherhood. He admittedly spends 29 tweets extolling the virtues of depriving boys their sleep and cutting their natural hair to detractors, then makes an about face to chastise “y’all” for spending time on Twitter instead of getting to work.

How do you lead an education revolution when your ideas are so revolting?

I didn’t intend on focusing on any one person or restarting the same old education debates. As is my annual tradition, I just wanted to put the conversations so many of us put in our private messages out there for non-educators to see. For a classroom teacher who’s been doing this for 11 years, I’m fascinated by the plethora of critique that I either a) write hit pieces or that b) I have no solutions. The bulk of my work has been largely to find solutions in the murkiest, most complicated spaces.

My issues with Dr. Perry notwithstanding, I believe educators should find a balance between confidence and humility. No educator is without flaws, not even some of my friends. Educators I trust admit their flaws unflinchingly, and with more nuance and conviction than Perry could ever muster. Regardless of whether you teach public, private, parochial, independent, or charter school, knowing that we’re working in a profession that doesn’t allow for 100% of our kids to be 100% successful should make us reflective and honest with ourselves and others.

Factor in all the dehumanizing ways we envision our most disenfranchised students and the sea of people willing to dehumanize them in the name of test scores, and we’ve got a lot of work in front of us.

Earlier today, someone mentioned, in my detractors’ defense, CNN had tried to make Steve Perry and Roland Martin shave their heads to “fit the look.” The argument was that, if they have to do it to be successful, then everyone’s gotta do it. To that end, I rebutted “So if CNN made him do it and he got mad, why is he passing that hurt onto kids with fatherless homes?” But it’s not limited to Perry. If anything, many educators of many colors like to believe that turning up on the sacrifice nob will make students work harder. This distortion of education inevitably means someone will speak to and act upon that sensibility.

Before I wrote this piece, Christopher Rogers, a librarian and educator I respect on these matters, said:

Truth is tho, we have so much work to do on the front of respectability and the demands we make, conditions we place on those “deserving” of our love. Also, our dwindling ability to even imagine white society as accountable to our holistic needs. I see Dr. Perry and Steve Harvey as suffering. They have given up that our whole selves can be redeemed by white folks. There’s a huge evidence for this. But me and you agree, we gotta dream bigger, love wider!

My cynicism wouldn’t allow me to digest what he said at the moment, but I’m ready to receive that now. Hopefully, these folks find ways to reflect because, if not, our kids will continue to suffer as well.