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Invisibility and People Of Color in Education Reform

by Jose Vilson on June 20, 2013

in Jose

Mad, The Invisible Man

Mad, The Invisible Man by Gordon Parks

Whenever people ask me where I stand on education reform, I ask them where I should start. Obviously, issues of equity and access rank at the top of my list of ideas I love to emphasize, but I can also get into curriculum and teacher quality if / when we need to have that debate. I don’t always agree with some of my colleagues on things, but we generally agree that schools and the systems in which they’re working stink.

Having said that, some discussions make me wonder if I have to revisit my allegiances or partners in this thing we call ed-reform.

I clearly don’t belong in the “clean out public schools / build up charters / fire teachers = solve all societal issues crowd.” But, I’m also having a hard time with the ways that we look at the roles of people of color within our circle. In education circles, race discussions don’t get the buzz they deserve. They’re often left to people like me to parse them out and hope it works out. These blogs don’t get the views, the invites to the exclusive conferences and cool kids clubs that have emerged in education, and the followers.

We’re nowhere near post-racial. To paraphrase Liz Dwyer, instead of “We don’t like you because you’re Black,” it’s “We just don’t think he’s a right fit.”

A few other, less conscious things we do to piss people of color off:

  • Nominate as few of them for things as possible
  • Act like you can’t find any for your committee / circle / club
  • Pretend their concerns about your subtle or not-so-subtle racist behavior has no merit
  • Expect us to rap when we can clearly sing

That’s why, if ever I’m asked, I put the “the” in front of my name. I approach the work I do with students rather humbly, and take it seriously, but, like the hundreds of teachers of color getting cut off now, the hundreds more that’ll lose their job in the next few months, and the millions of children of color who get affected by a lackluster and vacuous school system daily, I’d remain invisible, a nameless statistic used to numb the populace over education disaster management.

The cynic in me wonders if some education activists would celebrate if the government decided to scale down the testing as a compromise for the mass injustices done to our poorest children. The optimist believes that once we’ve gotten a clean break from the deluge of testing, we’d continue to work for racial (and sex and religious) harmony.

Perhaps, we’ll all just find a way to do a better job of recognizing our biases, sit down, and say, “I’m willing to learn, too.”

Jose

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