comments Archives - The Jose Vilson


One of my newer commenters, Jim Doherty, left this comment in reply to my Edutopia piece:

The key piece to me is the questioning piece. I think that I always hope that my actions will serve as a model for my students, but I realize more and more that I need to explicitly point out the behavior that I want the students to see. I need to be clear when I am questioning in a way that they can use themselves. I am good at this in one-on-one conferences, I need to be better when I am talking to a group of students.

That’s a big part of my classroom routine. Having kids think for themselves is something many of us wish we could achieve, and it’s still a work in progress for me. More often than not, it’s about making sure kids know we’re not going to give them an easy way out of their thinking. Thanks, Jim.

Mr. Vilson


Math As A Merit Badge (And Other Comments)

by Jose Vilson on August 20, 2013

in Mr. Vilson

Don't Drink and Derive

Don’t Drink and Derive

The responses to my last post about math (who said I’m not a math blogger again?) ranged from the plauditory to the super-critical. Here’s a selection of some of my favorite comments to my last piece. First, Michael Doyle sets the record straight:

Algebra II has become a badge, one of many, that pretends to separate middle class white boys from, well, everybody else. You can pass A2 without understanding a whole lot about mathematics, or even numbers, but the vast majority of careers that “require” A2 do not actually require that you actually use it–they just require that you have some kind of certificate saying you passed a course labeled Algebra II.

So if we’re going to talk about math, or schooling as a whole, we need to look at what “merit” means. Perfect. Another from Jeff Branzberg:

The problem with math [instruction] is most math teachers do not make the subject interesting. I do not believe this is their fault, though. Math is perceived (and taught) as a series of techniques and algorithms, with little to no real life connection. Typical problems are developed simply to assess whether or not the student has mastered those techniques and algorithms. The pressures of high stakes testing and false accountability (e.g., if a student has mastered a technique, frequently without understanding, and can apply it in a rote fashion he/she is deemed to have learned it) prevent math teachers from spending the time needed for understanding.
Geonz hit this comment out the park, and I wish I said it first. More explicitly. Like he did.
Another problem is that math (and academic success) is taught with a particular kind of code, and if you’re in the ‘right’ demographics, you learn that code. Once they know some secret passwords that you don’t, you end up not understanding much of what’s going on, so you do the best you can to learn the ones they’re teaching where you are — but you’re missing … the basics.
Finally, I found Mike Klonsky’s view on things interesting:
I didn’t read Baker’s piece this way. I found it pretty compelling. I don’t think he was trying to limit how much math students receive. But rather, making Algebra 2 and advanced math electives, rather than compulsory gate keepers to college. How many more gates to kids need? Why not Philosophy? Chinese? Both very interesting and important if the student is interested. Baker seems to favor compulsory first year Algebra. Then make it interest-driven.
While I do believe we need to make math more interest-driven, I also get tired of using math as the straw-man for reforming subjects, as Ilana Horn has mentioned on Twitter. If we’re going to make it “interest-driven,” then I hope we do so for all kids, not just the ones we want to encourage to go to vocational school. That’s my only real concern.
That was fun. Til next time, folks.


*** photo c/o ***


In my last post, I put down some thoughts on Black History Month, something I’ve written about at least once for the last four years. Every so often, I get a question that I ought to put in an FAQ section. For instance:

“What if you’re a white teacher teaching about Black history?”

I often reply, “Go right ahead, as long as you do it right.”

Of course, you want to know what I mean by “right.” Besides the aforementioned article, I’d like to point you in the direction of some of the comments made in that article, too. For instance, here’s my respected colleague Mike Kaechele:

As a social studies teacher I really don’t like all of the special months and days. I try to teach the various viewpoints of history holistically. I will not be singling out blacks in February, just like we didn’t talk about terrorism on 9/11. We did spend three weeks on 9/11 and terrorism when it fit where we were as a class. We have talked about African Americans in the context of all of the wars and foreign policy that we have discussed. I feel comfortable not focusing on Black history in February because we do integrate it all year in context and we will spends weeks on the Civil Rights Movement starting in March.

I do appreciate the need to still have these months because too many people and teachers still neglect them. But for me in my classroom, I choose to ignore the “calendar schedule” knowing that I will give the topics due diligence when it fits our scope and sequence.

We have something here. Here’s another one from my colleague Laura Sexton:

Having our school on a college campus means that I get to walk my Spanish 2 class over for the college’s Celebrando America Latina series featuring afrolatinos in Peru, Mexico, and Cuba this month, but we’re not going to even start the unit about afrolatino experiences in different countries (which you helped me out with a few years ago wiki style, and for which I owe you part of my National Board certification) until the end of the month, so it’ll go well into March too. So over 1/3 of the course is approaching Woodson’s goal, right?

Right. For now, I don’t want anyone thinking Black / Latino / LGBT / Asian / Women’s / Native American / Any Non-Dominant Group History Month should go away, but eventually, whether we have mainstream views on America or not, we do have to do more than acknowledge these groups’ roles in American history, and until we do that, we’ll continue to need them.

It starts with those of us in the classroom, but we can’t do it alone.

Jose, who needs non-educators to jump into the fray too …


Short Notes: Comments On Suicide From Bill, Heather, And … Anonymous

October 14, 2012 Short Notes

Unbeknownst to me, October 10th was World Mental Heath Day, a day after I wrote my post on students and suicide. Rather than reflecting in meta, I’ll share some of my colleagues’ comments to the post, all of which moved me in a profound way. First, Bill Ivey: One of my former students, then a […]

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Comments To That Snoop Dogg Article You Didn’t See

February 22, 2012 Jose

As I’m sure you’re aware, there will always be comments worth posting after reading an article like the Snoop Dogg post I wrote recently. Comments not only give us a glimpse of what the specific person believes, but the general mood of your readers. Thus, in the spirit of Jon Becker, here are the comments […]

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This Means War For These Educators, Too

June 1, 2010 Jose

The commenters to my blog simply rock. Bivey’s whole response to my posit about education’s ulterior motives is a must read, but here’s a snippet just for you: I mean finding the right balance between acknowledging the power you and others have (e.g. at the end of the road, you still get to write the […]

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