education Archives - The Jose Vilson



I called someone a racist this past weekend. And a sexist for good measure.

I don’t have much authoritative experience with the latter as I do the former, and I don’t go throwing around such a title lightly.

I won’t go into the incident, but it was a long string of events that triggered me using the word, and, soon thereafter, people started opening up about some of the latent racist comments said person made. It was revelatory in that I had this hunch for a long time, but, because he’s respected in some of our common circles, I decided to let everything play out, letting karma mete out justice accordingly.

That moment never came, so I handled it myself.

Time and again, I’m faced with having to bring up conversations that made people’s collars tight around their necks. It’s not the happy-go-ISTE convo, the hipster affectations, the “standardized testing” is the devil conversation, or the “new progressives don’t believe in unions” nonsense. It’s the conversation around why we we’re still in the mentality of “saving the children.”

Every time we simultaneously say that we “speak for our children of color” but neither give voice to those children or don’t respect the very adults of color who were in the same seats, we set the foundation for angst, anger, and rage. The thing about discussions about race, sex, and class is that, if you’re the only person of the group most marginalized by the -ism, you almost feel like it’s your job to speak up UNTIL someone else gets the gumption to do so.

Especially in a field like education, where people want to believe everything is either hunky dory or everyone is working against them, people rarely speak up in a way that matters. When someone says something racist, they wait for me or one of my friends to handle it. When someone sexist comes up, they always wait for an out-and-out feminist to address it (and then the rest of us loud ones).

With the plethora of resources available to us (see here and here for some of mine), it’s wild that many folks still rather sit on the sidelines while the same folks have to bring up these harsh topics. Some will be brave, and, even just a nod or a “thank you” goes a long way in making the marginalized supported.

Sitting there, hoping for the vocal person of color to handle it just won’t do any more. Don’t wait to speak up with the marginalized, the ism’ed. Because, if you do, then you can’t complain how, after tireless battles and wearisome incidents, the tone isn’t to your liking.

Our voices got raspy, our souls depleted from the beating back of zombie stereotypes and slurs. If your voice has no intention of alleviating the voice, tone isn’t your angle for entry. You never spoke. Please. Have this whole row of seats.


photo c/o


The Temptations

The Temptations

I‘ve seen this article in my e-mails and feeds no less than ten times this morning. Much of this is old news for me since, if you’ve put all the pieces together for the last four years, it’s fairly obvious just how invested Bill Gates has been in getting Common Core State Standards moved across different desks. It’s also obvious how many folks, from union leaders to business leaders, have put their hat in at least some part of the CCSS ring. The publishers, as I expected, are having a field decade with the CCSS because, they don’t necessarily need to care whether people get it. Districts will unconsciously still pay up for outside expertise.

Yet, the push-and-pullback against the CCSS has been palpable. Opponents on the left and right have joined forces on a small set of issues related to CCSS, specifically the overemphasis on testing and student data privacy, things that pre-date CCSS, but that have been conjoined with CCSS implementation agreements. State after state keep dropping from CCSS allegiance. Regardless of “who” you root for in the CCSS debate, it seems that there needs to be a conversation about what happens if CCSS collapses.

What will you fill the CCSS “gap” with if it goes away?

This question has the feel of “Well, what’s your religion?” There’s a whole set of educators who’ve been following the Dewey-Meier model for some time already have an idea of where things might go. Others who lean on the E.D. Hirsch / Core Knowledge works may still fall back on a CCSS-like structure because that framework depends on a knowledge base from which learning arises. There are so many frameworks to choose from that it begs the question as to why these two are the only camps that have actually proffered theirs.

In other words, we can’t just say no to everything.

From a math lens, as much as I dislike the way CCSS came about, I also don’t want children of color (!) to only learn multiplication tables in the 10th grade. In literacy, we need a balance of fiction and non-fiction texts, but they can’t all be from the “normal” canon, meaning we need more diverse books, not just from one dominant perspective.

As my readers know, I have legitimate concerns about the Common Core. But, in the midst of protests and pullbacks, I’m already seeing a scenario where states that pull back are simply replicating CCSS and giving it another name. This leads me to believe that the discussion isn’t in the “what,” but the “how.” Again.

I imagine that more folks will find their edu-beliefs rooted somewhere because, otherwise, the people squarely in the CCSS camp win. If folks can’t work towards a better set of standards and curricula than the CCSS, then they’ve lost. I imagine that we can do better than no, but it might be just my imagination, running away with me.



US First Lady Michelle Obama

US First Lady Michelle Obama

Every time someone says something, anything, about teachers, without fail, a naysayer always nags how it’s a conspiracy against teachers as a whole. For instance, a recent commercial about the National Baseball Hall of Fame Museum started with a father asking his boy, “You like your teachers this year?” to which the boy replied, “Sure.” Some took that as a coordinated effort by Major League Baseball, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and all their plutocrat friends to diminish the teaching profession.

Really? Isn’t this rather typical banter between parents and their middle school children?

It gets worse when issues of race and class get involved. Take, for instance, this bit by First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama, in a commencement address at Dillard University:

So my mother volunteered at my school — helping out every day in the front office, making sure our teachers were doing their jobs, holding their feet to the fire if she thought they were falling short. I’d walk by the office and there she’d be. (Laughter.) I’d leave class to go to the bathroom, there she’d be again, roaming the halls, looking in the classrooms. And of course, as a kid, I have to say, that was a bit mortifying, having your mother at school all the time.

But looking back, I have no doubt that my classmates and I got a better education because she was looking over those teachers’ shoulders. (Applause.) You see, my mom was not a teacher or a principal or a school board member. But when it came to education, she had that hunger. So she believed that our education was very much her business.

Some folks were outraged by the comments, as if she meant that she would want hundreds of parents swarming the schools, checking to see if their kids were learning something instead of trusting the experts, experts now being the teachers. Actually, the speech reveals something deeper than that, an issue that I not only highlight in my book (see: “Negotiating My Own Skin” and “What Happened”), but that Mia McKenzie deftly does in today’s piece “The White Teachers I Wish I Never Had.” She writes:

The thing is, Ms. McMahon should have known better. She didn’t because white teachers then, and most now, aren’t required to have any analysis of systems of white supremacy or anti-Blackness, and their own complicity in both, before they enter classrooms to teach Black children, some of whom will be introduced to those realities by the behavior of these white teachers. Having done little or none of the necessary work required to examine their complicity, what gives these teachers the right to teach our children? How have they earned the privilege of being such an influential figure in a Black child’s life? Why do we grant them access to the minds of our vulnerable youth, who will already have to face so much racism in the world? I’m 38 and I’m still regularly traumatized by my interactions with blatantly racist, and ‘well-meaning’ but still racist white people. The same is true for all of the Black adults I know. So, how can our children possibly be ok? They can’t be. They’re not.

Truth be told, plenty of people of color are frustrated with our education system, regardless of whether we call it charter, public, or private. Often, the very “well-meaning” teachers who stand in front of our children are also agents for the system, and sometimes work as a cog in said system.

In other words, do teachers come into teaching as a passion, a love, a paying forward or as a job, a step in a ladder towards something “greater?”

This also applies to administrators, superintendents, and others up the chain of command. Do they see themselves as perpetuating a system of inequity and covert oppression or as change agents? Does the system swallow their optimism and hope whole or are there leftovers for the next fight?

It’s OK to double down on how great a teacher you are, how you care about the kids, and how you tear up whenever you watch a teacher movie because that teacher is so like you. It’s quite another to take a hard look in the mirror, or better yet, ask the kids whether you’ve served them well. In most cases, kids are your most important mirror because they’re free enough from our niceties to tell us whether they’re learning.

We need to learn how to embrace critique, especially when it concerns our most marginalized students. We do ourselves no favors by insisting on disregarding racism within our schools, in our conferences, and in our institutions.

We can simultaneously acknowledge that, even though the tenor is a bit better, teachers generally get a bad rap, with their unions, summers off, and irregular schedules. Which should make anyone wonder why a male-dominated government would concern itself with coming after a woman-dominated profession. (Actually, don’t.)

As often as I hear teacher-bashing stories, I hear stories of disgruntled (and rightly so!) parents who wish their child’s teacher wouldn’t stand behind a Paul Tough book or a Sir Ken Robinson lecture whenever the parent questions whether the child is learning. I hear of teachers who always complain about parent involvement, but don’t make themselves available when it comes to conversations about pedagogy. I hear of teachers who, especially in predominantly white institutions, throw kids to the back of the classroom and continually ostracize them in both grades and person. I hear of teachers calling kids trash and less than nothing.

But if you’re not willing to even have the race conversation, then maybe your feet ought to feel a little hotter …


photo c/o


Hope Makes Teaching More Than A Job

May 25, 2014 Mr. Vilson

Goodness, that last EduShyster’s interview was epic. There’s a whole piece that we didn’t even get to share with you because, well, it would hurt some people’s favorite bloggers / heroes / activists’ feelings. Really, the biggest difference between Audrey Watters’ awesome Twitter interview pre-This Is Not A Test and EduShyster’s recent, also awesome interview […]

Read more →

Racism Without Racists: The School Re-segregation Edition

April 17, 2014 Jose
Thurgood Marshall

Today, ProPublica released a special report on their website dedicated to the re-segregation of America’s public schools. With the 60th anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision on May 17th approaching, ProPublica has focused this special section on Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where three separate and equally devastating stories will be told as case studies […]

Read more →

Your Kids Don’t Actually Feel Like They Belong In School

April 9, 2014 Jose
Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King Jr., Civil Rights Voting Act Signing

Today, a friend forwarded me a report from the Pew Research Center that focused on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. An excerpt: But as historic as it was, a half century later many Americans — particularly blacks — still believe that the country has a ways to go in overcoming racial disparities. […]

Read more →