Let me say, for the record, that I haven’t been excited yet. Not with the endorsements, the hundreds of folk who’ve pre-ordered it, the publisher’s ridiculously good execution with the basics (and then some), meeting Arundhati Roy through my publisher, the exclusive book party and eminent book clubs, or getting my first set of review copies for the five people I already had in mind to receive them anyways. Much of it stems from a childhood humility, one that assumes that I honestly don’t deserve the blessings I receive, so when I do, I don’t know how to react. The second stems from an understanding that I’m far from done with whatever it is that’s going on with me right now. I can’t describe it, but it’s all working well for some reason.
That’s the lens I used with Audrey Watters of Hack Education’s review of my book This Is Not A Test, a humbling tribute to a friend and a great writer, at least in her eyes. I’m still working on owning some of the latter.
“What then do we make of coming-of-age stories, particularly those that crack open experiences – or expectations of experiences – with schooling? Perhaps our task as readers and critics can be to see how certain stories might reclaim or decolonize these older genres, how they highlight the power dynamics and the cultural values we don’t often recognize or confront, and how they prompt us to consider not just whose stories get told but how these stories get told.”
True. And yet:
There is no fixed or singular identity here either. There are border crossings and hyphenations. Dominican, but not. Haitian, but not. Black Latino. Father. Poet. One of the fiercest writers I know. One of the most tender. Back-and-forth between Spanish and English. Rakim name-dropped alongside Ravitch. Some references cited and explained – Paolo Freire, for example – but the hip hop lyrics aren’t; it’s up to the reader to decode, not to Vilson to translate.
During this book, I had a hard time finding the balance between explaining too much and letting others figure it out. The thing with books is, I want to leave enough for people to go decode. Someone will have to make a Pinterest or eduClipper board for all the little nuggets and hidden gems I leave in there. Then again, I found myself giving a tight version of the history of the Common Core, most of which I could have asked you to go read from Diane Ravitch’s Reign of Error. I didn’t. Some things, it seems, I WOULD have to explain to you so you don’t have to stop and Wikipedia it on the fly.
The rest of the review reads like someone who’s rediscovering me as a person, which was the hope. Very few people had eyes on this, and the 20 or so people who read it before it got published won’t recognize this version either.Every time I re-read, I dug in my heels just a little deeper, into administrator roles, into our school system, into liberals and conservatives who think education is the civil rights issue of our time but won’t address actual racial issues, into my person. And with each critique, I set forth even more areas to critique myself, and Audrey seemed to catch that so deftly.
Then again, that’s how persons evolve, too. We are but bodies of water, shifting by the moon above us, the winds against us, and the ground below us. Thus, I’ve had a hard time being excited about anything I’ve written, am writing, or will write because things seem to shift so quickly for me. But it’s great to know that, at some point and time, and possibly forever, this review stood as testament that someone actually knew what I wanted them to feel.
That person just happens to be my friend Audrey. Thank you.
p.s. – She also Storify-ied our interview from today. I almost said I’m the Ta-Nehisi Coates of race in K-12 education. Almost.