gregory michie Archives - The Jose Vilson

gregory michie


A few notes:


It all comes down to how you teach people to fight with the tools they have. We have been fighting with the bosses’ tools. We can spend a lot of time doing legislation. I think that’s fine—have a legislative approach. But understand that you don’t control that process. We can talk about electing the right people, but ultimately, unless we have a state house full of teachers and paraprofessionals and clinicians, I don’t think we’ll get what we want coming out of state legislatures. You need to have good relationships with legislators; you need to have members get in touch and let them know what’s important to you. That’s one tool. But it’s not the only tool.

Our best tool is our ability to put 20,000 people in the street. I don’t care if one rich guy buys up all the ad space. The tool that we have is a mass movement. We have the pressure of mass mobilization and organizing.

- Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union

As we consider Martin Luther King’s legacy today and the re-inauguration of Barack Obama, Lewis’ words ought to ring true to anyone fighting for equity in this country.


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 …


Kendall, Teaching

In an effort to actually read the books people give me, I finally finished the book Holler If You Hear Me by Gregory Michie. When I first looked at it, I rolled my eyes hard beause a White teacher was using the obvious Tupac reference. When some White people want to get Black people involved, they use a reference from a rap lyric. But, knowing who it came from, I shut my inner hater up and gave the book a chance.

After reading the book, I felt like someone actually wrote my book for me (which only means I need to re-think the book I was supposed to write). For every victory he had or mistake he committed, I’d wince with flashbacks from my years as an educator. Everything he speaks to said so much about the character he eventually developed through his experience. In other words, he lives and learns right in front of us via the text.

More importantly, he lets the kids in the story speak as much as he does, and goes into his writing (and teaching) with a different mentality than many White teachers I’ve seen. When he taught a culture that wasn’t his own or literacy of a generation after his, he did it without much prejudice. You can still teach things outside of a student’s comfort zone without making them look inferior for having theirs.

I find two mentalities equally destructive to kids of all backgrounds, though this seems to afflict those of lower socioeconomic status (poor Whites included!):

  1. “These children can’t learn anything, so why bother?”
  2. “These children need to be saved from their desperate conditions.”

To paraphrase Three Six Mafia, don’t save them: they don’t wanna be saved. They tend to prefer that their teachers equip with them with the tools to succeed and let them decide for themselves. Often, “saving” entails any or all of the following: speaking / writing the King’s English, walking straight, listening to whatever the teacher says is good music, moving out of one’s neighborhood, abandoning one’s culture in favor of the dominant White culture, etc. It’s another reason why so many real teachers hate teacher movies: they make it seem the teacher is more a lion tamer, de-beasting the uncouth minds of those students in front of them.

We don’t need our best and brightest to leave our hoods. We need them to create an influence that rebuilds the self-images of their peers and brethren, to keep their distinct cultures vibrant, and to keep themselves alive and healthy, armed with the ability to seek the pseudo-American dream. And yet, if you’re one of those teachers who persists in trying to “save” the children, you’re worse than those who have no faith in any kids in front of you.

Whereas teachers who have no faith in the future of those students are usually upfront about their distrust of the students, the “save the children” crowds are so covert about it, you might mistake them as teachers who care.

It’s probably why I laugh when people say they care about educating students and head directly to the district offices or the non-profit org that never visits classrooms, communities, teachers, or students in any of their work. And when they do, it’s always at some function where only the select and talented few students of a teacher who graduated from a prestigious program. In other words, it’s a filter of the reality we face daily.

But that’s how I knew Michie was different. He entered the job with some naivete, which most of us do, ingrained in the culture or not. The difference is that he went in with an open mind and heart. When either of these is too closed, the hate lives insidiously.

Jose, who just hollered …