education reform Archives - The Jose Vilson

education reform

John Legend and the Well-Meaning Corporatists

by Jose Vilson on March 13, 2013

in Jose

Davis Guggenheim, John Legend, Michelle Rhee

Davis Guggenheim, John Legend, Michelle Rhee

Last Wednesday, Huffington Post Education’s Twitter feed tweeted this out:

In the pithiest attempt at a response, I said “From what?”

After a more thorough read on all the school board races around the country, I noticed a disturbing trend of pundits funding their favorite candidates in influential districts. Places like Chicago, West Sacramento, and Los Angeles started getting funding from people like Michael Bloomberg, Michelle Rhee, and, yes, John Legend.

John Legend’s presence in this debate particularly disturbs me because of the allure and seduction of having a musician stand side-by-side with the very people who condemn poor children, colored or not, to an artless, factory-inspired sense of schooling. Bloomberg’s distaste for public servants and their unions is well documented, as is Michelle Rhee’s bobbing and weaving of cheating allegations, both masterfully playing mainstream media to look like vanguards and radicals. I expect as much from them.

John Legend is different, though. Since my last letter to him, he’s gone further past original thought and more into neo-liberal think tank mode. A line like “If we think demography is destiny, we will allow our school system to confirm that belief” sounds like a Washington lobbyist read up on Deepak Chopra and tried to apply his tweets to education reform.

To make matters worse, he probably still ends arguments with a mini-concert, just to keep the less informed seduced, uncritical, and grateful for his presence, even as he openly plots to destroy communities.

More importantly, the culture around his opinions makes me wonder why anyone would equate celebrity with expertise, but education seems to be the only arena where songwriters and billionaires have better leverage in what happens in the classroom than the actual practitioners and partners in our children’s education, namely teachers and parents. His two to three lines of reasoning, often in the form of “But I know a school that…,” hold too much weight in the improvement of our schools. The research rarely backs him up.

I’m not in the camp of folks that say “Only educators should have a voice in education,” but I am in the camp of “If you’re going to have an opinion, read up.”

Anyone who’s known me for a while might question how I can come for John Legend’s neck when Matt Damon was the feature face at the Save Our Schools March that included Diane Ravitch, Linda Darling-Hammond, Jonathan Kozol, and me. If you take a listen to Damon’s speech, however, two things come to the fore: he’s not telling anyone he’s the expert in education and he ends his speech by introducing his mother Nancy Carlsson-Paige, an actual educator.

John Legend, on the other hand, lends his face to countless programs, yet never relinquishes the expertise to someone who knows better than he. Instead, the magic comes from within him and his own ideas, really the corporate reform slate cleverly disguised in a black musician. He might in fact mean well, but he seems to have stayed the course, an often dangerous proposition for anyone who opines so openly on a field with all the wrong voices in charge.

The list of famous folk who prescribe to this reform slate doesn’t start or end with him, but he’s put himself in the spotlight. Sadly, John’s legend in education will show a man who supports kids using pencils to bubble in scan-ready sheets rather than notes for the keys to their own lives.

Jose, who is happy he has his own space to publish this in …


The Jetsons

A few notes:

  • When we believe kids can do something, they do better than when we think they can’t. Just a reminder. [NPR]
  • EduShyster cracks me up with this satirical look at the new “crack for billionaires”: education reform. [EduShyster]
  • Josh Eidelson thinks Chicago is just the beginning. I tend to agree. [Salon]
  • The way Chicago won had lots to do with social media. To Kenzo, Xian, Katie, Fred, Adam, and all my colleagues on the front lines there, thank you. [WBEZ 91.5]
  • In case you’re wondering, it has been 50 years since America met the Jetsons. How close are we to this future? [Smithsonian]
  • Zac Chase says we should embrace the confusion in our classrooms. Hear him out now. [Autodizactic]


Everytime You Use “It,” They Win

by Jose Vilson on November 29, 2010

in Jose

Ace Ventura

You ever have that one friend who has that daft, irritating catch phrase they picked up from some movie or TV show and he just wouldn’t stop saying it? I probably agitated my younger brother and cousin everytime I thought something was corny and I’d reply with an “AAAAAALLLLLLLRRRRIGHTY THEEENNN!!!” (© Ace Ventura). They in turn found ways to harass me with a gill or a bop (or some other form of firm smack of the head or neck) for every time I said something ridiculous. Things like that make next to no sense, but upon repetition, they become a force of habit, nonsensical as it may be.

That’s why I’ve reconsidered the use of the term “education reform.” Yes, this phrase has been around before formalized education existed; surely the discussion about how any nation’s children should be educated has been a hot topic forever since we have yet to figure it out. However, with all this discussion lately, “education reform” has become the domain of the rich and connected to play Battleship with the lives of millions of people young and old across the world. Words like “education reform” are the kin of “anti-terrorism” and “pro-life” in that few people have the gumption to state that they’re directly against those ideas. It’s deceptive in that the policies behind these ideas often endanger tons of lives, but that’s hidden well behind a PR friendly narrative.

People against this type of education reform have used a prefix like “real,” but in the days of 24/7 media, the chances of all of us out-using the words “education reform” to the point where it favors people like us is slim to none. It’s like when someone refers to an athlete as the next Jordan: it only further validates Jordan’s legacy but it diminishes the athlete who was deemed the next (see: Harold Miner). Plus, we’re not looking to validate their version of education reform; we’re looking to deconstruct, and in many ways, destroy.

And some skilled reporter might ask us, “but don’t you believe that education needs to be reformed?” again spouting the same rhetoric we need to dismantle. But I know I’ll reply swiftly and with heavy doses of snark.


Jose, who thinks this Batman and Robin agreement for NYC Schools Chancellor is a shay-ay-ayme.


Education Reform Group Likes The Taste of Old People

May 13, 2010 Jose
Betty White, Snickers Commercial

This afternoon, I received an glossy unsolicited mailing from Education Reform Now, and after careful consideration, maybe I shouldn’t have picked up the mail today. On the front, a man in a pinstriped suit carrying out a cardboard box full of plants, pencils, and a job newsletter with the words “Thanks to the teachers’ union, […]

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