books Archives - The Jose Vilson


Here’s my first big confession of 2012: I’ve been reading a lot. You’d think, Vilson, that’s not a big deal for you. I’d reply, “As a matter of fact, yes it is.” Huge. Not just my monthly GQ / Wired fix, either (with dabbles of Men’s Health). In the last few months, I’ve read about a book every two weeks on average. More importantly, a couple of them hadn’t even come out to the general public yet …

Until this month. I’m proud to recommend two of the books I’ve read in 2012 that got my mind clicking: Gregory Michie’s We Don’t Need Another Hero: Struggle, Hope, and Possibility in the Age of High-Stakes Schooling and Daniel Willingham’s When Can You Trust The Experts: How to Tell Good Science from Bad in Education. Both of these books are two sides of the same coin I’ve been flipping for the last five months. They’re both sincere efforts at creating solutions their audiences haven’t heard yet, and both speak to the need for further dialogue about the teaching profession in the 21st century.

On Michie’s book, I said:

“Gregory Michie’s experiences in the classroom and his purview post-teaching make this a good peek into the thoughts of a man willing to challenge the current notions of education reform. Rather than sit in frustration over the current tenor surrounding these so-called reforms, Michie seeks meaningful progress and solutions.”

To expound, anyone who has ever read his first book Holler If You Hear Me knows he provides perspective on teaching in an urban community without the hokey-pokey uber-privilege of predecessors like Freedom Writers or Dangerous Minds. In this book, he expounds on his initial views on education through his new lenses as community activist and education professor.

On Willingham’s book, I said:

“Willingham’s When Can You Trust the Experts? provides teachers with an in-depth guide on how to parse the helpful from the abhorrent. With the plethora of education research today, teachers finally have a book that asks us to challenge the validity of current education products through a simplified scientific approach. Unlike other education research books, however, Willingham prefers to spark conversation and invite educators in.”

Many of you know how much I admire his work around psychology (specifically, learning styles), but he’s also revealed a fair amount of his views on education policy. WCYTTE is an attempt at giving educators a leg up on third-party vendors who have dominated the market with ridiculous claims that only sound reasonable to the gullible. Unfortunately, the gullible happen to occupy a huge space in the education field. Improving educators’ ability to research in the efficient manner Willingham suggests may be one of the best kept secrets for education reform of 2012 …

That is, until now. Here’s hoping both books appear on all your bookshelves. I rarely recommend books to read in this space. Go ahead and get these. Don’t thank me later, though. Thank them.

Jose, who feels so good about this …


Five People I Wish Would Write A Damn Book Already

by Jose Vilson on August 19, 2011

in Jose

Before I begin, I’d like to dedicate this space to one of my first students ever, Bianca Espinal. She’s part of a program called “Broadway’s Next Star” and I would love it if you visited the site, watch her perform “Rolling In The Deep,” and hit “Like!” Because I’m positive you’ll love that voice of hers.

In the middle of wrapping up my manuscript, I got to thinking about all the friends I’ve made over the last few years while working on this piece and said, “Who would I love to read a book from?” Some were natural choices and others surprised me when I threw their names in my imaginary bin. All in all, I not only came up with five, but I also thought about what type of stories I’d love to hear from them.

Now, without further adieu, here are my five:

Amber Cabral

Those of you know have followed my blogging since the early days know how much I value her writing expertise and point of views on writing. She has a way of emoting that’s akin to soaking a towel into a heart’s worth of blood and wringing the towel into a cup for a vampire’s thirst. She can do the wordplay, sure, but her best writing comes when it feels like she’s in the very moment that inspired her to write. Thus, when you’re reading, it feels like she’s acting out things so you can move your body and emotions with her. I’d love to read a book about love from her. I favor the memoir in her case, but self-help / advice is cool, too. She can do that rather well.

Eva Haldane

I’ve probably been waiting for this for some time, but Eva’s writing has just the right quirks and just the right simplicity that gets her message across to people who can’t always relate. I remember one of her essays for her application to Columbia University made me tear up as she spoke about her family and personal goals. Those types of essays aren’t supposed to do that to me, and they do. I can’t wait to see what these few years in city have meant to her as she writes about them. Hoping she does.

John Norton

Yes, the guy who’s helped edit teachers across the nation should have his own book. I envision an anthology with his own comments attached to them. He’s been instrumental in my own growth as a writer, and so many others can attest to that. Now, it’s his turn. I’ll keep begging him sometime after I’m done with everything else I have to do.


Rich Villar

For those in the poetry scene, Rich Villar’s intellect with regards to poetry is only matched by his levity and acute critique of the poetry scene as a whole. I’d love for him to take that persona and put that in a 150-page piece. Some of my favorite pieces from him have either made me fall on the floor laughing or made me deeply reflective about the hardships with death in his family. I know I’m not the only one who wants to see that, either.

Jessica Filion (no blog)

Everyone wants a poetry book out of her. I’ve watched the writing go from having a couple of layers in depth to having six layers in depth, and that says volumes in a scene that usually has the depth of a kiddie pool. Her voice in the poems she writes stands out in ways few can. Yes, people might want her to write more, but more important, people want it in a way that they can take it home with them instead of just hearing the reading.

Those are my five. Bonus, you say?

Renee Moore, but I’ve already waxed poetic about her. Her teaching is nationally recognized, and so is her voice. Promising educators, of color or otherwise, you must follow her.

Who would you put on your personal list?


Pomp in Circumstance

by Jose Vilson on August 28, 2008

in Jose

A few notes:

- A few days ago, I mentioned how one of my favorite teachers / mentors / friends left my present school of employ. Today, I found out that another teacher, who was an icon in the building, passed away. It hurt my soul to see him go, because he was a staple for the school and like the first teacher I mentioned, contributed positively to the school environment. The one thing I can say about this man is that he always had a style about him that, no matter how outlandish or rough it may seem at first, you knew he had the soul of a gentleman. He had an energy unparalleled by most men I knew.

- Shout-outs to Slant Truth for giving me a “Brilliant Award.” As always, humbled.

- Blogs are not books. In Twitter, someone recently mentioned a statistic about how much the average book sells a certain amount of copies, and the person in question have quadruple that number in page views. OK, so let’s get this straight: if the number of books sold, hypothetically is 5000 (NY Times Best Seller number), and you get 4 times that, we’re looking at 20,000 page views. But that’s fuzzy math. After all, a book is on average, a good 2-300 pages, so we’re looking at anywhere from 1 million to 1.5 million page views. Is that really equal? Plus, if we subtract all the accidental views, all the views based on mistaken searches, aggregators, repeat visits, and people who are really just there because they didn’t know what the tinyurl was about, in reality, we’re looking at anywhere from 5-10,000 really. In other words, it’s a bad argument.

Plus, any author can tell you that, even if they had a high selling book that’s been recommended by tons of people, it doesn’t make you a celebrity. It makes you well known, and if you have a niche of people who really care about what you write, then that’s great for you. But celebrity is a whole different echelon where people actually post gossip about you, people want to follow anything with your name attached to it, people go out of their social norms just to have a little interaction with you, and you actually hang out with people who others would also call celebrities, not just celebrities in their own minds.

What blogs can do well is that they can give a really good writer a chance to express themselves in a public forum without the red tape of editor, publisher, funding, etc. The problem becomes, though, when the writer becomes so excited about his or her work that he or she lets his or her avarice speak for him or herself and thinks he or she can make ludicrous equations. What’s more, because of that perceived popularity, people support the ideas rather than truly analyzing what’s being said. People can have really popular blogs but never write anything of substance (here, I separate the bloggers from the writers).

As I am with school business, I don’t have any personal problem with other bloggers / writers. Yet, when I see absurdities like the aforementioned analogy between blogs and books, I need to speak up. With all the people reading blogs these days, though, it’s no wonder they’re not reading books anymore: we can’t count page views on any book until we read it from cover to cover …

jose, who loves getting letters from prospective teachers wanting to know more about NYC teaching …


Crazy Eights

August 3, 2007 Jose

Borrowed from J. Dakar: The Rules: 1. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts. 2. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves. 3. People who are tagged write their own blog post about their eight things and include these rules. 4. At the end of your blog, you need […]

Read more →

New Words

July 8, 2007

My first day in my middle school literacy course has already made me reflect a little bit. We were discussing what it means to read. At first, it was hard for these grad students to get around the idea that, even though all their life, they’ve been looking at texts and had the ability to […]

Read more →

100 More Years of Solitude

April 22, 2007

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been reading 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez (great book, just takes some getting used to), and the central theme of the book is the idea that life simply works in cycles: it doesn’t just move forward, but plays hopscotch with its past. While that may […]

Read more →