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AP: Jay-Z Signs Math Educator Jovan Miles to Roc Nation

by Jose Vilson on October 8, 2012

in Jose

Math Educator Jovan Miles

Somewhere in the future …

For the casual music fans, it’s easy to see why one might get confused looking at the initial Roc Nation artists. Jay-Z. J-Cole. Jay Electronica. The trifecta of J’s (and Willow Smith) have had their share of success either from the underground circuit to the international stage (in varying degrees). Yet, none of them have what the latest “J” has: the attention of classrooms for a whole city.

Enter Jovan Miles.

After another successful Roc Nation concert, the head honcho held a press conference at Phillips Arena to announce the formal signing of hometown hero Jovan Miles: a math academic coach and educator working out of Atlanta, GA. The signing marks the first time a record label has signed an educator to a major rap label of Roc Nation’s stature, and this event certainly didn’t go unnoticed. The press room had an audience equal parts media, politicians, business heads, parents, superintendents, and Jovan’s favorite constituency: his former and present students from the various classrooms he affected as teacher and academic coach for schools throughout Atlanta.

Jay-Z extolled the virtues of getting an education, stating that his primary purpose for the signing was to “ensure that more Black kids didn’t get the experience I did back in high school. Lots goes into the job, but we’re happy we can help.” His educational endeavors through his Shawn Carter Foundation only seemed focused on college, but with this statement, he may have rethought his strategy for philanthropy. Asked about the language of the contract, Jay-Z said, “Oh, it’s nothing like an artist contract. Think about it like a grant. Yeah, I called myself the Kennedy of the game, but now call me the MacArthur of the game, too. Genius.”

That drew laughs from the crowd.

Asked about the signing, Miles calls it a blessing. “It’s about time teachers get recognized for the things they do as professionals and not just the people entrusted in children’s future. Especially with what’s going on in Atlanta, I gotta thank Jay and the Roc for putting me on.” A journalist yelled out whether he would use the monies to get a Roc-A-Fella chain, he paused, then said, “Nah, I got kids to feed!” The crowd erupted, specifically his students who have had their slice of the Miles Experience.

“This is a big freakin’ deal!” said Elliott Wilson, editor of Rap Radar and former editor of XXL Magazine. “I’m usually not astounded by something Jay does, but this puts him over here,” waving his hand just above eye level. “See here? He’s past most rap philanthropists. And wannabes. Ha!”

“What you notice immediately about Jovan is his passion for teaching math,” added Danyel Smith, editor and author of She Is Every Woman. “If only most of my math teachers had that sort of passion, I probably would have liked math a bit more. Especially a Black male teacher? Hard to come by. We’ve always had guys like KRS-One and Poor Righteous Teachers who use the ‘teaching’ as an analogy, but an actual teacher signing? Awesome!”

Jovan Miles has a reputation for engaging as both students and educators alike, and his potential for national recognition might have been the key to his signing. Jose Vilson, fellow math educator in New York City, commented, “This might change the conversation some. No longer can we try to separate the art and science of teaching from lives as professionals. Now we got one person who got their money right; the others have to follow.” Asked if he may get signed to a label with a similar contract, “That might be nice, but do you think it’d be kinda weird having five J’s under the same roof? Who knows?”

While education reformers like Michelle Rhee couldn’t be reached for comment, it’s safe to say that critics have found such a contract somewhat inappropriate. “I think you can’t just throw money at the problem,” said Jonah Edelman of Stand for Children. “I get that he’s getting money, but why doesn’t the money go to the kids? Wu-Tang is for the children; why isn’t he?” He then retreated before we could ask about his more than five million dollar non-profit and his recent failure in Chicago.

The lights shone so bright at the press conference, Jovan in his patented argyle sweater vest, glistened through the Q&A session. The most charming moment may have come at the end when a student shouted to Jay-Z, “Give us a freestyle!” to which Jay replied, “Jovan, go in.”

“It’s Jovan Miles, forget all the imposters.
I’m so sick, I think I might need a doctor.
Look at the things I’ve done without a doctorate
Without the Doctor, without the beat, I’m still a monster.
Still drop the theorems worse than Pythagorean
First it was classrooms, now it’s coliseums
Museums where I took my students now is where you see em
First, they diss the kid and now they wanna be him …

OK, that’s all I got.”

“I can’t remember the last time I got an applause in the classroom. Whenever that was,” said Dr. Steve Perry, principal of Capital Preparatory School in Hartford, CT. But Jovan’s obviously not about that, at least that’s what we surmise from the kids who hugged him afterwards.

Jose, who doesn’t think anyone knew I would do this …

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To my readers:

Thanks to your support, I am happy to announce that Edutopia has invited me to write a guest blog for their website. (Full disclosure: they’re sponsored by the George Lucas Education Foundation. Yes, that George Lucas.) Here’s an excerpt from my back-to-school posted entitled “Cheat Sheet for the First Days of School”:

As the bulletin boards go up and the chalkboards, whiteboards and Smartboards get dusted and polished for another intense school year, some of the newer teachers (at one point, this was me, too) scramble to remind themselves of the tone they need to set in the classroom, and how their own routines will often mirror students’ routines. Any good teacher knows that we all have shortcuts, a handy set of things we need to remember before we develop the other, more elaborate parts of our routine.

1) Develop an easy slogan for expectations in your classroom.

Having a slogan that everyone can remember will remind kids of the rules you clearly set in the beginning of the school year. Few of us (teachers included) look up at the rules and cite them in our punishment. Most teachers have a general guideline of behaviors that we expect and pull up quickly when a student has crossed a certain line. For instance, my slogan is usually founded on respect: i.e., “Respect yourself, respect me and respect each other.” Most of the rules we live by in the classroom follow in more detail. I rarely have to look up at the rules, because the kids remember the word “respect” and, for that matter, “disrespectful.”

As usual, I count on all of you to share, comment, and like the article in whatever capacity you can. Thanks a lot.

Jose, who has had a good Monday …

Uncensored: A Lost Article about the Save Our Schools March

by Jose Vilson on December 27, 2011

in Jose

Jose Vilson and Pedro Noguera at SOS March

I don’t usually do this, but you’re my people. On August 2nd, GOOD Magazine published an article ostensibly written by yours truly … with almost half the article chopped off. I won’t get into reasons why things went missing because a) I still don’t agree with Michelle Rhee, b) the person who cut the piece in half isn’t the person I usually work with on these GOOD pieces, and c) I’m about to publish this joint for you all anyways. Enjoy the uncensored version of “A Bee You Cannot Eat: Education Reform After the SOS March.”

When five thousand educators, parents, students, and other denizens concerned with the state of education come to Washington, DC ready to respond to the call for change, you respond. When these people come together in a coalition for educational social justice and activist, you listen. When you’re prompted as a teacher to speak on behalf of these thousands and the many more who couldn’t show up, you stand up and represent them. More importantly, when students of all backgrounds deserve better, you fight for it.

Such was my charge this weekend at the Save Our Schools March and Conference in Washington, DC. I decided that the best way to respond was not to have a response at all, but to have a clear message about the lay of the land. It needed to be rooted in the realities of the everyday classroom teacher with a prescient knowledge of what’s happening in our country today. I needed to give pieces of this movement to take home with them, messages of fury and messages of hope. While I had the privilege of attending and speaking at this march, there were hundreds more who wanted to be there to unite with us, fully understanding the political stake we have in ensuring that our schools improve.

It’s less about international competition and college readiness and more about developing better people that will help grow our system.

While up there, I looked at this sea of concerned citizens and transmitted their energies to mine. Thus, my voice went from soft and nasal to gritty and airborne. Editor and writer John Norton referred to it as “… short about 2500 words but I can hear the howl – the best teachers of your generation.” I crafted the remarks after a few listens of Gil Scot-Heron’s “Comment #1” sample in Kanye West’s “Who Will Survive in America,” hoping I could evoke a similar sort of urgency. At some point on the stage, it became less about how I performed the piece and more about how many people would such a piece to even an increment more of action.

After finishing my poem “This Is Not a Test”  (video) in the Ellipse near the White House, I felt this charge shake my foundation. In 100-degree weather, anyone might have felt similarly. After the screams and handshakes backstage, and thousands of onlookers, I remember thinking that the movement can’t end here. I sat down, envisioning the lack of equity still profoundly shaking our schools. I didn’t just think of my 8th graders from my classroom that just graduated. I see barren classrooms in East St. Louis, overcrowded spaces in Detroit, windows boarded up in Atlanta, streams of Scantron sheets floating over Miami / Dade County, and students in line in front of metal detectors in New York City. When I got a chance to sit down for a second and gather my thoughts, I had a hard time believing that this many people showed up for the event. The meme is that teachers consider themselves neutral, and all they ever do is complain.
Apparently, we also have a say in the national zeitgeist, and we’re no longer settling for a passive role in our jobs.
University of South Florida professor Sherman Dorn shut down critics of the SOS March succinctly by pointing out that the march and conference weren’t intended to be policy meetings, much the way we can’t assume anything actually gets done with politicians have their local and national conventions. Unlike those conventions, where the pageantry only makes statements to re-affirm which candidate will represent their party, this march and conference let the world know, in no uncertain terms, that there’s a huge contingent of us who object to the policies these elected officials have set for our youth. Whereas before, shaking hands and meeting with a special representative might have quelled these voices, the new generation of activists seeks actionable items via protest and the vote.

Some critics of the march proclaim that education is the new civil rights issue and then wonder why the people this affects the most would take to the streets.

This battle for the state of public education won’t and doesn’t end with a congregation of some of the biggest luminaries, educators, parents, and activists we could find in the middle of summer. Names like Ceresta Smith, Pedro Noguera, Diane Ravitch, John Kuhn, Linda Darling-Hammond, Sabrina Stevens Shupe, and Deborah Meier don’t convene for such an event without knowing that there are very necessary next steps to the things we say and do. While Matt Damon and John Stewart made important contributions to the march, they’re amongst the people who regularly honor and revere the work that educators did to make their lives better. While we see concrete examples of creative assessment and equity for all students regardless of background, we continue to avoid them at the behest of those who prefer the status quo of hyper-capitalism.

There isn’t just hope. There is demand. It’s not just teachers saying this anymore. People all across the country have seen that the direction of this country lies in how well our education system works, and it’s become apparent that the messages they’re hearing from their local media don’t make sense for this country now. They see how corporate interest not only taints the political process, but the educational process for their students. At some point, through very concrete actions, we must see that change. Now that the first march is over, it’ll be less about marching for those that harm our students; it’ll be about marching toward the students we need to help.

Richard Whitmore wrote a book recently about former Washington, D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, whose dishonesty about her transformational qualities powers over districts is only trumped by the power of the media to pull their wind beneath her sharp wings, entitled The Bee Eater. As I saw the crowd that descended upon the nation’s capital this past weekend, I couldn’t help but laugh at this juxtaposition.

For a weekend, there was a swarm of thousands rallying together against ideas like hers. And I was a bee she simply couldn’t digest.

Jose, who, in any and all things, will let you know when he knows …

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As An Educator, Are You Occupying or Being Preoccupied? [GOOD Magazine]

October 12, 2011 Guest Posts
Stephen Lazar, Brian Ford, myself, and others at #OccupyWallStreet, NJTAG pre-Columbus Day Teach-In

Excerpt: When we hear inaccurate statements about our profession, we ought to stand up and correct them—our battle is a fight against false ideas as well. As we elevate our profession by accurately discussing it, we should seek self-empowerment in the way we speak about our classrooms. Teachers can either continue to let others dictate […]

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Jose Vilson in Teacher Magazine: What Education Can Learn From Baseball

June 9, 2010 Jose

Ladies and gents, check the following article I wrote for Teacher Magazine, an in-depth article about what K-12 education can learn from Major League’s baseball’s woes in the mid-90s. It even made the front page! Check it for yourself here. And comment there, too, if you can. Thanks, all. Jose, whose brother just saw the […]

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