NYCoRE 2016 and A Note on Educational Compliance

Jose Vilson Education, Jose

For years, I’ve traversed the country, pushing education spaces to become more intersectional, more inclusive of the people most affected by education reform. A short list includes any ed-tech conferences, colleges and universities, union spaces, pro-public education spaces, and even the US Department of Education. In any and all of those spaces, inclusion means creating spaces for any and all members of a given community to feel like they’re a part of that space, especially those who re usually marginalized across racial, class, and gender lines. As people within some of these spaces have done the work (here’s looking at you, EduCon and Teaching and Learning Conference 2016), I still felt like something was missing.

That “missing” was my own hometown.

New York City, for all the melting pot talk, is more like a bowl of ice cubes where the edges touch one another, but where everyone pretty much stays in their own block. We’re at once truly diverse and truly segregated. Gentrification and urban redlining has made this so. Our schools reflect that in both student demographic and policy. The era of No Child Left Behind / Race To The Top didn’t just usher in over-testing, over-privatization, and over-standardization. It pushed the compliance narrative with a vice grip. The sweeping red hands that mass-fired experienced teachers (especially of color) in reform hot zones like New York City, Washington, D.C., and Chicago scared educators into creating checklists to keep their schools open.

Akin to the enslaved who masqueraded their worship with Christian symbols centuries ago, schools learned the education reform playbook and internalized it as the ways and means for true education.

What’s more, it’s made activism that much harder. When rags like The New York Post pretend to expose scandals of their own making while our state and Governor Andrew Cuomo continues to abide by property tax codes that continues the disparate inequities in schools, students, teachers, and principals have had a harder time mobilizing school buildings into action, ultimately leading to this inaction. Too many of our institutions willingly or unwillingly participate in the foolery. From a teacher’s lens, this is even more complicated as we continue to struggle against just doing what we’re told when we’re “woke” enough to know it’s wrong.

This is why NYCoRE matters.

The New York Collective of Radical Educators’ conference at James Baldwin High School is a respite for educators across the country, but especially for those of us in NYC who want a time out from swatting away overlords in grey suits, Danielson frameworks, and wayward IEP procedures. It’s great seeing Dr. Bettina Love bless us with melodies from Kendrick Lamar and Nas, Dr. Christopher Emdin pack rooms to talk about his latest offering to the education canon (more on this soon), and the Young Teachers Collective remind us why we are activists at all via professional development.

But what struck me the most about NYCoRE Conference was that I could sense a higher purpose for the things we as a collective wanted to do.

Yes, it helped that I just got to be a participant this year instead of working. We need the spiritual courage when we’re the only person doing that work in our schools. We need a space that won’t betray our sensibilities, that allows us to deconstruct the nonsense that chips away at our ethical code, that puts our hearts and souls above our professional responsibilities. We like-minded educators shouldn’t just advocate for restorative justice; we need to restore each other and ourselves.

We are people in need of a fervent love to detox us from an institutional loathing.

Of course, I recognize how many educators either can’t go or didn’t know that they should. It was the largest NYCoRE confab ever. The vibe in that room was about scaling and sharing this work, not insulating it. Ultimately, we want a set of institutions where the operations of a school aren’t about compliance, but a proactive justice served for and with our students. Let’s go to work.