joel klein Archives - The Jose Vilson

joel klein

Last year around this time, I criticized the New York Times for not having many K-12 educators on their panel. Excuse me, for having maybe three current teachers and another handful of former teachers out of a possible 70 panelists. I laughed at the prospect of a public education system without any educators, and my own suspicions about the composition of last year’s panel made me laugh harder. It felt like the schools of the future would just have a suite of products thrown at kids with maybe a couple of people overseeing these third-party modules, collecting data on iPads while Joel Klein sits in a hub like the architect.

It feels like someone down at the New York Times heard this and the ensuing chorus of complaints (thanks in no small part to all of you who decided to retweet, big and small), so a couple of my colleagues got into the conference as panelists and audience members and reported back about the events. I nodded in approval.

This year, in an act of good faith, I decided to check the early list of panelists, and I gotta say, I’m happier with the list (notice the modifier). Since I’ve already undertaken the role of unofficial education panel ombudsman, I looked at the list and noticed a couple of improvements. First, they added a teacher and made that a prominent part of the program. They’ve also added Linda Darling-Hammond and Pedro Noguera, two of the Save Our Schools rally speakers from 2011. More importantly, there seem to be a few more school-based people on the list. Not that I agree with all their points of view either, but at least I feel like the organizers concentrated more on people within education and not simply wizards and gadget-wielders.

Frankly, I would hope a panel like a New York Times panel would have all sides of an issue represented, but that’s often not what happens. What we often see is a cavalcade of right-to-center “heroes” and AFT President Randi Weingarten, or 20 corporate deformers and NYU scholar Diane Ravitch. You rarely see a balance of all the voices that matter. Come to think of it, that includes students, parents, guidance counselors, and social workers as well.

Alas, I won’t demean progress.  I also have to admit that, percentage-wise, not many of us who teach K-12 put ourselves out there as viable candidates for panels like these. I leave that for another post.

In the interim, I’ll just say that we as teachers have a long way to go before all these major conferences recognize teachers as a critical part of the conversation, not just as participants in the conferences but as the sages on the stage. We’ve already come a long way in redefining teacher voice; now we have to activate it. I remain critical until this is so.

Jose, who will take questions now from the audience.


First, let me tell you how excited I was that the United Federation of Teachers FOILed Joel Klein’s e-mails from DOE. I’m much happier knowing that I wasn’t misjudging anything about him or his co-conspirators on any level. They really do come off like jerks, they really do spend ALL day on their Blackberries for no apparent reason, and they really do want to push the idea of charter schools to the detriment of actual public schools. I don’t mind a few charters here and there, but the corporatists crossed the line by making it the solution to the education’s ills (when they know it’s not).

Plus, if I can’t get the Pearson-created math statewide tests released, I should at least get a few uncomfortable giggles from Klein’s exchanges.

Having said that, I’m also surprised that some of my colleagues are shocked (SHOCKED) by the content of the e-mails. We knew that even the most professional of us exchange a few “motherfuckers” and “shits” when in the midst of trusted company, especially about Klein, Cathie Black, and Bloomberg. Too many of you (yes, you) want to get angry because they clearly don’t like people who tell them something different from what they want to hear? Madness. I almost want to blurt out “There are starving people in _____ and you STILL think this is worth raging over?”

Also, have you taken a look at Joel Klein? Does it LOOK like he cares whether or not he cares what you think? He probably swears like a pirate; he already looks like one, and works for one. I’m not sure I knew anyone who called him “nice,” “pleasant,” or “gracious.” You might hear the word professional thrown about his aura, but a suit and a tie do a lot for a man. I mean, assassins and consiglieres are professionals, too, right? Right?

My only disappointment is that he didn’t do any drunk texting or get HotOrNot requests at random. Otherwise, any of the name-calling or charter school promotion didn’t bother me at all. If, in the words of Klein, this is all becoming very fluid, then our task is to bring things to a boil. He was supposed to work for all children in NYC, not just the ones he preferred.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words … I got a few choice words for this, too.



I‘m not a regular competitor, first rhyme editor
Melody arranger, poet, etcetera
Extra events, the grand finale like bonus
I am the man they call the microphonist
With wisdom which means wise words bein spoken
Too many at one time watch the mic start smokin’
I came to express the rap I manifest
Stand in my way and I’ll veto, in other words, protest
MC’s that wanna be dissed they’re gonna
Be dissed if they don’t get from in fronta
All they can go get is me a glass of Moet
A hard time, sip your juice and watch a smooth poet
I take 7 MC’s put em in a line
And add 7 more brothas who think they can rhyme
Well, it’ll take 7 more before I go for mine
And that’s 21 MC’s ate up at the same time …”

- Rakim in “My Melody”

A union meeting with UFT President Michael Mulgrew would rile me up. I won’t share too much about the things I experience today, but I’ll give you a hint:

I’d love to emphasize the urgency I have about the myriad of people who swear they have all the answers to education’s problems. Before this post, I had a list of people I wanted to put on a Wanted List for all sorts of edu-terrorist activities, but I can’t blame them anymore than the system that continues to allows these open sores to spread all over its own epidermis. Our education system has the wherewithal of a Lernaean Hydra, and the breath of one, too. For, should I dismantle one talking head’s argument, another two show up with confounding and equally disgusting arguments.

What does it say about a system that lets Joel Klein influence the likes of Michelle Rhee and Arne Duncan?

Underneath those usual polemic figures lies a slew of third party vendors, some of whom base their research on years of experience and literature, and others who (admittedly) aggregate what they like and re-sell it as their own product? It seems as if we’re selling off whole chunks of our education system to the highest bidder, but the bidder never actually bids, and makes way more money than he / she invested to begin with.

At this point in my career, I’ve seen schemata and schemes to make me question everything, no matter how trustworthy the source. I’ve had equal parts experience with America’s Choice and Institute for Learning, but only one of those I respected. While the former sought to dismantle what they perceived as stern egos, the latter sought to interweave their research-based vision with what the teachers already knew content-wise. The latter assumed our intelligence whereas the former literally tried to embarrass me and my colleagues in front of each other in an obvious set-up. (I let them know as much too).

But if I came in last year, and both of those organizations came to me with their proposal for how to transform my teaching in the classroom, I’d diss them both. As a matter of fact, a couple of years ago, when I didn’t feel so hot about my teaching, I heavily critiqued people from Learner-Centered Intiatives and, before them, Marilyn Burns. First, I distrusted them because their representatives weren’t racially diverse. At all. Frankly, most of the people who came to “visit” were White, and they weren’t talking in terms of the race consciousness that threw peanuts at our heads with its big trunk. More importantly, these visitors were forced upon us without any regard for what the staff might actually need. We’d have to sit there for hours and listen to a random stranger tell us what’s wrong with our teaching.

“Shut up already and get to the point,” I’d say.

Then one day, I decided to do some of the research for myself. As it turns out, not all the third party vendors were bad after all. It depended on a few more factors than I originally considered. For one, did the person in front of me teach for a considerable amount of time? If so, did they look like they’d be able to take over my class for a few periods if given a chance? Did they engage me or just work from a deficit model?

As I considered some of these things, I was enveloped in another set of pedagogy wizards who could fix every school’s problems. In NYC, the focus is on Mike Schmoker and Charlotte Danielson. I’ve ragged on Danielson a fair amount less because of the content of her teacher rubrics and more because NYC has already forced her wares upon its schools with no regard for understanding the intent of the creator. Upon reading Danielson a few years ago, I was curious about her beliefs about teaching, and found her respectful of the profession she researched. Professorial, sure, but most of the intelligent people I know actually respect her work. Plus, it’s nice to have a self-evaluative tool. She didn’t rely on Rob Marzano or Heidi Hayes Jacobs to feed everything she knew about teaching. She didn’t aggregate whatever she thought she liked and resold it as her product, nor did she chomp whole bits of Ted Sizer’s philosophy and hustle schools into believing it works right now.

Which is exactly what Schmoker does.

That’s not his fault, though. There are plenty of school systems seeking some validation for the shock doctrine-style invasions they’re going through, and only certain people have the genital fortitude to pet and stroke this infected beast. Whether the ideas generated by these folks is a good idea or not, the way it gets presented to teachers via e-mail / memo / local right-wing newspaper can get mutilated to the point where it loses all effect.

This is not to say that all hope is lost. Some of those third party vendors do the work of the people, and we need solid support wherever we can get it. But the minute one of those vendors gets out of line, the people in the classroom ought to turn the desks around on these people and call them out on their nonsense. We ought to seek endorsement for the things we do, and help in the things we need to improve. We don’t need validation, because that’s what we seek from our children.

Mr. Vilson, who wants you to disagree when necessary …


Huffington Post Blog #4: About Joel Klein, Black Males, and Ridiculous Crises

November 15, 2010 Jose

Check: People’s reactions to this report tell me one thing that’s persisted for ages in this country: We’re selectively oblivious to the plight of those less fortunate than us. Thus, “crisis” is relative. Every time a report comes out about an underprivileged group, we get the same surge of pseudo-interest: people make calls, the media […]

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The Less Experience, The Better

November 9, 2010 Jose

I get it. The less experience and qualifications you have as an educational policy leader, the better. If you can play good defense and set nice picks, you’re qualified for the US Secretary of Education. If you’re part anti-Microsoft lawyer and part CEO of a random arm of a corporation, you can be chancellor of […]

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How Much Superman Knows About Pedagogy

September 21, 2010 Jose
Waiting for Superman

Pardon my snark, but what does Superman really know about pedagogy? Really, I’m not sure why Davis Guggenheim, John Legend, Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, or anyone else think this superhero should be the face of education reform when a) he probably wants nothing to do with this mess b) kids aren’t asking to be “saved” […]

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If You Smelt It, You Probably Dealt It

June 29, 2010 Jose
George W. Bush lays a fart in Colin Powell's face

I don’t like telling people the good, honest truth all the time. I prefer a more diplomatic truth where the recipient has some chance of getting better. No, really. One of my friends says that I can be so candid at times, I have to put a cap on it in the form of “I […]

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