intersectionality Archives - The Jose Vilson


No, YOU Shut Up! (What Matters In Education Discussions)

by Jose Vilson on January 3, 2014

in Jose


One of my favorite moments last year was meeting Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis. At the time, her name was floated around as the author of my book’s foreword. I was super-excited to get the chance to meet her, especially in light of the backlash against her and CTU after the epic teachers’ strike of 2012. What’s most appalling about people’s perceptions about her was that, despite her obvious passion and intellect, they confused the role she had to play as the leader of CTU and the loving person she actually is. I understood this long before I met her, but few people do. In order to fight for what’s right, we sometimes have to step out of ourselves to make something happen.

In light of that, my work on elevating teacher voice always brings me back to the question of who gets heard and why. I’ve said multiple times that women’s rights and teachers’ rights are inextricable. Most teachers are women, and most higher-level administrators are men. Thus, we can attribute the disconnect, at least partially, to the fact that, when men make laws, they do so often to exclude. Anytime we don’t make language easy to access for everyone, we can very deliberately find ways to exclude people who don’t have access to said language.

As such, even male teachers who want to speak up are often disregarded because teaching is seen as women’s work, a multilayered, intersectional understanding of the way power works in education.

Now, what does that mean about education discussion? I asked my friends on Facebook what they thought about this question, and we did lots of unpacking. Generally, we agree that teachers ought to have a larger voice in education policy. Analogies to medicine and the military are appropriate here in that, no one would want the highest position in those fields to be someone without experience on the ground level. We tolerate this in education for too many reasons, the major one being that K-12 teachers are predominantly teachers.

We see teachers constantly pushed out the way, if included at all, when it comes to even talking about their own profession. How many education panels will we have that exclude a current teacher? How many initiatives will we have that didn’t take teachers into a primary advisory role? How many? How many? At least until some of us force our way in?

Then we started to see counterexamples and realized that, it’s not as black and white as teaching experience. For instance, I respect Gen. Colin Powell, but he took us into war with the Middle East under false pretenses. Muhammad Ali, with very little education, knew not to go into the Vietnam War at a time when the rest of the country thought we should. There are scientists who, under pressure from funders, advocate against climate change despite the mounting evidence. Then there’s this from Mike Klonsky:

How about opinions of parents, researchers, students, civil rights activists, ordinary citizens…? Here in Chicago, we have a career K-12 educator, Byrd-Bennett closing our schools and privatizing the system.

And Jessica Klonsky (related):

But I don’t think someone should run an educational system without having any classroom experience. Also respecting someone’s opinion and agreeing with them are two different things. I don’t have to agree with someone on educational policy for me to have respect for their opinions. I’m happy to disagree with someone as long as they have shown that they are on the side of working-class and poor families, immigrants, people of color, and struggling learners. There is plenty of room for disagreement with respect among people who are on the same side. When it comes to people who are essentially just puppets or members of the corporate elite interested in sucking profit out a school system and only interested in what’s good for business then I don’t really care if they’ve spent their whole lives in the classroom. I oppose them.

So. At this point, I’ve seen panels and books from all sorts of folk that aren’t K-12 educators, including folks who I genuinely appreciate. People with business degrees, marketing, politics, advertising, billionaires, and a whole slew of other professions not directly related to K-12 education. I even include my higher education folk who, even if they have similar issues, know that K-12 teaching needs to be respected.

As far as I can tell, the main point about who belongs in the education discussion isn’t about how much educational experience we have isn’t necessarily about how much educational experience they have, but on whether we agree with their direction, and that’s an OK argument to make. Kudos if they do have more than five years in the classroom. Kudos if they spend time in schools, listening to teachers, students, and parents. Kudos if they helped create schools that work democratically with key people in schools.

But I often see the “educational experience” debate come up when there’s a disagreement of some sort. Consistency is key. Otherwise, we can be OK with having productive, nuanced dialogue about the future of education, and not obfuscate our ideological purities with understanding that there’s a bigger umbrella of folk who want to have a stake in truly improving schools. Democracy demands this.



Indulge me. Watch this video and tell me what’s your first reaction.

If your first reaction to this video was “Girl, get a job!”, whether you’re a woman or man of any color or stature, you’re enacting on sexist behavior. Yes, I got this from and also saw it on another website. While I thought Rap Radar did an effective job of just putting this in the fore, the other sites I’ve seen it on already turned their heads on Eliza Rios, who doesn’t even sound remotely desperate. Yet, the minute people saw the screen shot of a dark Puerto Rican lady with twists in her hair and a Bronx-tinted accent living in a shelter, they’re already willing to tell her she’s no good.

That, my friends, is sexist.

Maybe it’s because I grew up in my formative years reading a little bell hooks and Audre Lorde (frankly, not enough), but I understand the intersectionality of the -isms we place upon people, and how quickly we’re willing to turn on people who we consider ourselves a part of if they don’t fit the criteria  in another group we’re a part of. For instance, let’s say we have a group of middle-t0-upper class women all in the room sharing in these activities, but one happens to be Black. Regardless of her esteemed attributes and her acceptance into the group because of her stature and sex, her race makes even things like her cooking unacceptable to the other members in that group.

In the same way, I found many of the commenters who probably live in her same neighborhood, drink the same things she drinks, goes to the same clubs, grew up around or in the same situation she did, and loved the same man she did for years on end (for completely different reasons) extremely critical of Ms. Rios, maybe even BECAUSE Big Pun admittedly physically abused her. For many of the people I read, that in and of itself was a non-issue, a sure indication that they don’t think physical abuse of the mother of one’s children is relevant to why she feels in the slightest way entitled to whatever he said he’d provide for her and their children. In other words, sexist.

I can already smell some of you saying, “Why doesn’t she get a job? She looks lazy, slovenly, like she can’t do for self. She could use an education.” People really have a hard time differentiating between seeing people on their screen doing a TV interview and what actually do day-to-day. Secondly, she said, even with the six-figure sum she was paid when he died, the bills accumulated higher because the man couldn’t provide at that point. I don’t believe that the woman always has to be the caretaker in a marriage; that’d be sexist of me. However, I believe that’s the role she chose; Big Pun’s talents were the bread, the butter, and the whole table setting (check his record). She no more could have predicted his sudden death than any of us.

A large part of me feels like it’s because Big Pun was a phenomenal MC and not just a regular dude in the hood that she’s being maligned or disregarded as such. Then again, even on The Maury Povich show, people more often than not pull for the guy to not be the father just to see him dance than the child to have a father and at least have him be financially responsible for what he helped produce. In no way am I saying that women shouldn’t also feel some sort of responsibility. Not-so-big secret: I too was raised mostly in a single-parent home for all intents and purposes, and my mother helped make something out of me. But statistically, I’m an exception. Statistically, I beat the rather ominous odds, and so did all these other bougie fools typing their comments from their Sidekicks trying to hate on Ms. Rios.

In the last part of the video, it’s easy to see that she’s not looking for someone to come in and swoop her from her situation. She fully understands what’s going on, and frankly, was too conservative about the way Fat Joe and everyone else who’d fed off her husband’s gifts (mis)treated her along the way. I guess if we can’t put the women in a g-string on top of a car or showering them with money, then they get relegated to the squalor of home, never to be seen or heard from until something tragic happens.

Yet, something tells me everyone who already wanted to oppress her made their judgments before they played the video. Sexism feels comfortable for those who need to elevate themselves as such.

Jose, who can’t wait for what you might have to say …