letters Archives - The Jose Vilson


Jay-Z Smoking, Possibly a Cuban

Jay-Z Smoking, Possibly a Cuban

Last week, I wrote an open letter to educators in general, but specifically education activists, vested parties, and anyone interested in the workings of this circle. While the letter was met with plenty of praise, it had a few detractors, primarily from those who misunderstood the intent of the letter.

After a close reading and re-reading, I stand by the original letter, but shortly thereafter, I wrote a shorter version of the following as a rejoinder to those who misunderstood, because the letter applies to the last few centuries of race relations in this country, not just one particular incident.

I couldn’t care less what your affiliation is, who you represent, or what you’ve done. If the premise for why my letter has no validity is that “I wasn’t there,” then who exactly are you fighting for? It can’t be just you and your friends because I’m sure even your friends would disagree.

Furthermore, calling out a public school teacher for not being at an event you deem to be the pinnacle of your movement does not make you holier than anyone. In fact, even if I contributed less than a penny to your organization, the fact that I teach on a daily basis and throw everything into what I do for kids is EXACTLY what the movement needs. Seeking some wayward purity by demanding allegiance to your event speaks volumes about the stark difference between the movement you seek to create versus the movement that actually exists.

We can march and speak all we want, but to speak against students and teachers for not joining you at your event reeks of an elitism we can’t tolerate. Hope that helps.

In love and struggle,


P.S. – The letter wasn’t about her.

P.P.S. – “You’re an idiot, baby.” – Jay-Z by way of Bob Dylan


martin-luther-king-arrestedTo my fellow education activists:

I’ve come across a few pieces that concern me and others in the last few months, and we got some shit to talk about.

On normal days, I wake up at 5:30am hellbent on kicking butt at work, metaphorically of course. The stirring in my belly long after my butter toast and coffee is the passion with which I approach my students, whether or not they believe they’re ready to learn, or society thinks so for that matter. Despite the troubling nuances of advocating for a more holistic approach to assessment and schooling after work hours, I still have to work with the reality of keeping my job i.e. working with standards I didn’t write, administering tests I didn’t create, and yes, working in a system that consistently clashes with my ideals.

The key here is, whoever walks through my door, whenever, and however, I accept them. That’s how we build communities of learning.

Thus, I find it disheartening when we advocate for educational equity and, even amongst our ranks, our personalities and biases get in the way of achieving the goal. The question isn’t whether we have good intentions, for intentions there are plenty. We have a multitude of sides, each with their own nuance about how schools should run, each with their motives for what they promote.

At any given moment, some of our colleagues can fit into any one of these categories, but if enough of us can agree with each other on certain principles, then we build coalition. What ends up happening after a serious amount of coalition-building is that people of different races, backgrounds, and cultures fall under this big umbrella, and whether we’re forced to realize it or not, we have a greater charge to be exact in our language, more inclusive, more loving.

Some of you believe we’re right to be angry, and I agree to an extent. The field of K-12 education looks murkier by the day. Yet, anger is a primary means to an end, not the end itself. Getting angry isn’t just cursing those we disagree with, but using that energy to move families to safe harbors in disaster times. Getting angry isn’t yelling into microphones and writing in capital letters on-line; it’s walking into closing schools and wondering where our kids will go. Getting angry isn’t jealousy masked in invalid arguments about teacher voice and organizational rank; it’s about converting the energy into passion, one that allows you to embrace others and push each other in the right direction.

Anger isn’t a title we parade around like doctorates, followers, and co-signers; it’s the feeling before, during, and after we approach things with love and earnest.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t be at Occupy The DOE this past weekend, but if the Education Week article is true, then I’m disappointed in hearing the words “Asian bitch” being uttered. I got a love for Ceresta Smith’s work that goes back to when I first met her at the Save Our Schools March in 2011, and beyond. I understand the source of frustration, though I can’t condone it. In no way does that devalue her wonderful work, but we all have moments of pissed-off-edness fury. Between us, as Sabrina Stevens has said so eloquently, closing schools and laying waste to schools in predominantly poor neighborhoods far outweighs the damage of awful comments from either side.

So I thank all of those who participated on behalf of us. That matters.

However, for anyone to say that racial insults are “no big deal” speaks volumes to the sorts of work people of color and anyone who considers themselves under the umbrella have to do in order to make things right. As colleague Kenzo Shibata once said, “You can’t build a movement by making allies feel unwelcome and telling them to get over it.” I’d take it one step further and say that we can’t build coalition if we continue to think we have to build a movement under one or two people’s terms. I refuse to believe that we can’t coalesce around building a better education system for all children, regardless of background.

How can you say you care about children of color, but ostracize adults of color with the same breath?

The only privilege that ought to exist is the type of privilege I currently exhibit daily, working with students, many of whom don’t get exposed to adults that care about their futures. Some of my students honestly can’t get over themselves. They might come in with Doritos and soda for breakfast. They might roll their eyes and curse at me under their breath. Some of them might rarely pull out a pen or pencil even after they’ve been prodded and begged continuously for an hour. But they’re middle schoolers, an unrepentant bunch with little reason to reflect on their actions.

Adults, on the other hand, don’t get excuses. The privilege is in the hopes and dreams we have for our students, not in the ways we act towards our fellow man or woman. The privilege, to convert the anger over how our kids are treated in the system into a passion for student learning, remains at the forefront.

Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

In love and struggle,


(p.s. – Thank you, MLK.)


Cesar Chavez Day Google Doodle

I’m Feeling Lucky

Dear critics of Google’s choice for their Google Doodle of the Day:

What part of “serving the poor” is not aligned with today, a celebration of Jesus’ renewal and purpose in life?

In no way am I saying Cesar Chavez is Jesus, but are Chavez’s (and Dolores Huerta, by the way) works not aligned with the auspices of serving the poor and helping the needy? While Jesus worked with the Peters and Josephs in his congregation, Cesar worked with the Jesuses, Joses, and Pedros in the fields of California’s wine gardens in his day, but that’s besides the point.

Because I’m a Catholic of Jesuit upbringing, let me pull out my handy-dandy Bible and give you a few quotes from the New Testament to jog your memory:

Luke 4:16-21. And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read… “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He appointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD… Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Luke 6:20-21. Blessed are you who are poor, for yours in the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.

James 2:5. Did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?

Shall I continue?

Luke 14:12-14. “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and repayment come to you. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Luke 12:44. “Sell your possessions and give alms; make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

I love Luke. Not the rapper, but the writer of the Gospel. OK, OK, one more.

In those days, when there was a very great multitude, and they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to himself, and said to them, “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have stayed with me now three days, and have nothing to eat. If I send them away fasting to their home, they will faint on the way, for some of them have come a long way.”

His disciples answered him, “From where could one satisfy these people with bread here in a deserted place?” He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.”

He commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground, and he took the seven loaves. Having given thanks, he broke them, and gave them to his disciples to serve, and they served the multitude. They had a few small fish. Having blessed them, he said to serve these also. They ate, and were filled. They took up seven baskets of broken pieces that were left over. Those who had eaten were about four thousand. Then he sent them away.

Immediately he entered into the boat with his disciples, and came into the region of Dalmanutha. The Pharisees came out and began to question him, seeking from him a sign from heaven, and testing him. He sighed deeply in his spirit, and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Most certainly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.” He left them, and again entering into the boat, departed to the other side.

Mark 8:1-13

You’re here trying to make the case that Easter isn’t Cesar Chavez’s day when Chavez’s general body of work suggests that he had a similar understanding Jesus did almost two thousand years ago.

Pope Francis washed the feet of twelve detainees, including two women, at the collective gasp of laymen and the nods of millions of us who get it. But it comforts you to know that Jesus lives 2000 years ago, and that no one can replicate his work or ever will unless He comes back. Thus, Pope Francis didn’t get the direct approval from Jesus, so we can’t tell whether Jesus actually approves of what Pope Francis did.

Except that, on a day like Easter, it behooved him to dedicate himself to the people he’s been charged with helping from their squalor. Similar to what Chavez did.

May God find renewal for you today. In Jesus’ name. This I believe.

Jose, for today …

*** thank you to these sites for their help ***




A Suspension of Time and School

March 5, 2013 Mr. Vilson
Empty Chair

You weren’t supposed to come back. Even though you were on our school’s roster, rumor had it that your guardian put you in a different school, and you’d no longer half-bounce into my class, calling one of your friends a “nigga-what-the-fuck” for something they allegedly did to you. Before you came back, you only knew […]

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Open Letter To Chancellor Dennis Walcott and Others on The Idea of Assessment

November 28, 2012 Jose

To Chancellor Dennis Walcott, David Coleman, Merryl Tisch, and McGraw-Hill Publishers: First, I’ll mention that, since the discussions of the Common Core Learning Standards came to the fore, I’ve had a plethora of chances to immerse myself in the new vision for a quasi-nationalized education paradigm. In NYC, as usual, education policy makers feel the […]

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An Open Letter To The Present and Future President Obama [2012 and Beyond]

November 8, 2012 Jose

Dear President Obama, You’ve won. Congratulations. Honestly. As an independent, I had no initial horse in this race, but as a Afro-Latino, I’m proud that you’ve once again managed to claim the White House as yours, in a country where the bones, blood, and sweat of African slaves and Native Americans sit under the House […]

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