intelligence Archives - The Jose Vilson


Supreme Sonia Sotomayor on Sesame Street

Supreme Sonia Sotomayor on Sesame Street

This week, I’m releasing some of the pieces I’ve written that never saw the light of day for different reasons. Here’s the second.

Release Date: 12/03/2012

Dear New Teacher,

A few questions to ask now that you’ve gotten your feet wet at your job:

  1. How many friends of color do you have in your circle?
  2. How often have you interacted with one, and not in a I-follow-Diddy-on-Twitter sorta way?
  3. Are you frustrated because you feel like the one or two teachers of color in your cohort are having more success than you are in a classroom with certain types of kids?
  4. If so, do you then assume the other ones also don’t have any issues with teaching certain kids?

    OK, OK, one more.

  5. Do you work under the same assumptions the rest of society does about race and intellect?

Recently, I posted an article on race in the classroom that’s handy for people who don’t know how to handle this discussion on race, but before you read it, please know: the way you enter into the conversation depends heavily on how you perceive others’ intelligence, not just with children but also adults.

For instance, if a doo-rag and baggy pants indicates to you that a student has no idea what they’re talking about, then that’s an issue. If your goal for a student’s grade has to do with what she wears and how she speaks, then that’s an issue. If you find yourself trying to speak their language without any conceptual development and without context, then that’s an issue.

In other words, Erin Grunwell ain’t walking through that door.

Based on what some of my colleagues have said about the school in question, the kids themselves didn’t feel they were that bad, but, because of these movies and the societal images we’ve thrown into the zeitgeist, White teachers walking into a classroom with kids of color already feel they’re going to war rather than trying to build a team. We have entire networks of schools that demand certain rituals and routines be in place for the sake of codifying and assuaging the fears of Whites hoping the kids of color won’t act out.

But it doesn’t stop at students. New teachers are often told to look at teachers of color as less capable or intellectually inferior because of their approach or their unwillingness to use the mumbled jargon of the current-day administration. Some administrators (regardless of color) put forth and favor teachers who only want to talk about their middle-class White existences and ingrain children of color to act like them, leaving teachers of color, veteran or otherwise, to the side. This becomes rather obvious in teacher meetings where, in front of the administrators, only one voice gets highlighted as “correct,” “thoughtful,” or, more directly, “perfect for what the school needs going forward.”

In the education world as a whole, this plays itself out very frequently, from the people who participate in education conferences to the educators who somehow find their way towards the top of some edu-Twitter-blogger-examplar-endorsed-by-so-and-so-well-resourced-out-the-wazoo list.

That’s a little much for you right now, though. All I’m asking you to do is consider the way you approach your students and colleagues as you walk in. Consider that, just because the student can’t quite articulate what they’re saying doesn’t mean that they don’t have the concept. Also consider the numerous opportunities thrown your way even when, upon some reflection, you may not have earned it. Take note when your colleagues don’t feel like saying anything after you’ve said it, or feel like when they do voice something, they get a reproach that you don’t necessarily get.

Start grappling with your privilege. It’s the smartest thing you can do right now.


Jose, who wishes he did release this at the time …



Boy As King

Boy As King

For the next 4 days, I’ll be writing about my students through their eyes, through mine, and then through your eyes, hoping that maybe we can grow from our limited thinking about our own students (myself included) and start to have real discussion, uncensored. Let’s get into it, shall we?

He wakes up in the morning, glasses thick, sullied, and intact. He’s bit heavy set, and has a naiveté uncommon to his rather humble surroundings. His apartment’s full of roaches and other creatures he never sees when he turns the knobs on his TV. Fox: Family Ties. Ahh, nice brown house. Family’s there with the mom, dad, and their siblings. Cosby Show: Dad and mom. Nice house. Bunch of siblings. Everything’s nice and works out in the end. Family Feud: 4-5 members of the family, all smiles. Superficial and fun competition in which they embrace openly. He wonders where his mom and him fall in that spectrum of what TV promotes as a healthy family. He stops scratching his head and gets to playing video games, for he feels more akin to plumbers in fantasy lands and turtles mutated from a sewer than this wholesome image portrayed on TV.

After all, these are all escapist mind frames.

He goes to school, and excels as you can expect. He behaves well … for the most part. And teachers cater to him because, well, he’s the smart kid. With time, he’s told he’s special because of his academic abilities, and so the quarantining begins. It’s in the adults’ mind frame that now this child has to come home extremely early, stay away from anyone who doesn’t even appear smart or doesn’t share the same interest, check in with an older cousin even when they may not really trust that person either, and worst of all, don’t touch any person of the opposite sex because, indirectly, that would lead to that deadly disease of pregnancy.

But eventually he grows up, makes it through public school, through private school, through “university,” and gets a really good job somewhere out in a city people in his neighborhood hasn’t heard of but the money’s somewhere in the 60K-80K range.

Success story right?

After 20+ years of “raising him right,” what’s the first thing people do when they see him? Point to a “failure” and say, “See? Why can’t you be like that?!”

We often stand there hypocritically and use these academic luminaries to set some really high and inequitable standard for many students when we use words like “uniqueness” and “differentiation.” (Is it because most of us are him or her?) We can’t complain about how badly our students do on statewide exams and, in the same line of thinking, hold our students to the same standard for their personal achievement as the next, right? Just because they’re both culturally similar doesn’t mean they have the exact same rate of success.

There are indeed likelihoods that certain populations won’t do well versus the other, but let’s be real: if I’m looking at my kids and the statistics against their success, we’re looking at a barrage of obstacles for them to overcome to become that “success” story we so often like to laud. What are the chances that a student growing up in poverty makes it through K-12, middle school, high school, and college without incident, accident, prejudice, or mishap? How many people do they have for them modeling the behaviors that they need to succeed? Do our students have the wherewithal to weather the psychological damage abject poverty, going from foster home to foster home, or watching your first person shot up on the block? Hmmm?

How many people, places, enforcers, and institutions through that path serve as oppressors to that child’s ability rather than enhancers and supporters of their abilities? Or how about those that inflate that child’s ability to the point where they forget to take care of the small things that matter, like developing good work habits and treating others respectfully? Many students, who may have tons of potential, encounter more people and types than they ever might have imagined when they started out in a rug fitting blocks into spaces with that one teacher at the center. Thus, the combination to that lock of success gets more complex, and far too many of our students barely make it through year 10 of this crazy process we call schooling.

Chances are, that aforementioned student, who everyone called the exception to the rule, actually proves the rule with his / her existence. For without him / her, we may think that one’s surroundings have little to do with how well a person does, right? Right.

And when he or she makes it through the possible culture shock of 120+ students in a Greco-Roman inspired room, more than 1/2 of whom can easily afford to be there, with loans up to their eyeballs, will they believe in this idea of uniqueness and isolate themselves from people whom they once called friends and thus indirectly extracting them from people who they shared so much in common with before this college-ification?

Where does someone step in and give the student a little token called humility and say, “Keep it with you. This never runs out, and use it whenever it feels right.”?

Jose, who wants less “curriculum enhancers” and more uprooting of the current educational system …

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