Harlem in B&W (by Jose Vilson)

Real Solidarity In The Time of Education Reform

Jose Vilson Jose 5 Comments

We don’t have to choose between the testing / Common Core State Standards / Teach For America / charter school debate and intersectional / race talk. In fact, they’re part and parcel.

I want to talk about all of it from the position that we need to look at education reform from the most disenfranchised, those who’ve rarely if ever had a voice in their own schooling for the last century. Generally, that means people of color and poor white people, more so the former than the latter. Instead of creating unity around the most ignored, some edu-activist movements decided to wait until after education reformers ravaged centers of color, specifically urban school systems. On a national level, we leave these wide gaps for the wrong ideas to creep in, pre-packaged with social justice language, but without the principles that allows for people on the ground to have real agency.

People can mistake teargas, handcuffs, and hyperbole for uplift, but the totality of the work and the people it helps is ultimately the effect we should look towards.

We can have the conversation about political hopefuls on the city, state, and federal level all across the country, but if there isn’t a plan that’s one big “no,” then there’s no reason to trust the next people who come in. Too many edu-activists have their favorite education era: pre-Race to the Top, pre-No Child Left Behind, pre-A Nation at Risk, but I have a larger belief that America liked things pre-Brown vs. Board of Education. The report that we’re more segregated than ever was as relevant in 2003 as it was in 2013, but some people only cared about it when it tied into their overall talking points about evildoers and not about systemic and pervasive discrimination in America. I still believe in the power of integration as an anti-racist strategy that assures that America should be responsible for all children, but the resistance to this idea is a symptom of systemic racism, not the cause.

Let’s get better.

I propose immediately that, instead of pushing away people of color who critique racial issues in our midst, we embrace them. Err, us. I propose that we never work on anything, no matter how well-meaning, without the perspective from the given community. I propose that adults who want to be in front of children be prepared to teach the children in front of them and stay long enough that no one doubts that adult’s capacity to teach. I propose that we don’t center ourselves in our activism all the time. I propose that we stop using the words “saving the kids” or act as if because the full liberation doesn’t mean linking people to a new set of chains. I propose that we don’t create plans for public schools that give away our institutions to people who aren’t into our kids as people to begin with. I propose that, after we fight for initiatives that will benefit “the people,” we work with the people to make it sustainable and step off the stage as soon as possible. I propose that people speak directly with and to people and not simply around them.

I propose that, whatever we do, we lead with love for humanity and not hate and pettiness.

We in the United States have a nasty habit of thinking of our world is the world, but until we understand the power of education as a global tool for either liberation or oppression, we’ll keep perpetuating the same structures that have kept our kids from reaching their fullest potential. But if we’re not willing to address the systems that keep us divided internally and systemically, how do we propose to undo reform or fix education? I’m not about that.

I’m about getting people free, and if they’re not going to give it to us, we gotta take it.

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Comments 5

  1. edifiedlistener

    Thank you, Jose, for getting us straight to the point. As someone who takes all this conversation in from an incredible distance, I see so much need for the presence you are talking about. So often we deal in “they” “it” and “them” without even missing our complicity in creating structures and systems which exclude and segregate, although we espouse the opposite. We cannot be of any help to any community if we are not present to our own blinders and biases. Yes, let us “lead with love for humanity”. We can learn this. In fact, we must.

  2. pdexiii

    “I propose that adults who want to be in front of children be prepared to teach the children in front of them and stay long enough that no one doubts that adult’s capacity to teach.”

    That part. ?

  3. Renae

    Thank you for your obvious passion for educational equality and standing up for your own education when others were sending discouraging messages. I was especially taken by the following comment from this post. “I propose that adults who want to be in front of children be prepared to teach the children in front of them and stay long enough that no one doubts that adult’s capacity to teach.” This is not taught at the college level within teacher courses. It takes a special passion for the job, the life that a teacher leads. Let not only classroom teachers be prepared for that life but administration, supervisors, and communities be prepared to also educate and communicate about OUR children. It is essential for every child to have an advocate in their education, and it is our duty to be that person for the students we teach.

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