morgan freeman Archives - The Jose Vilson

morgan freeman

Scene from Lean On Me

Scene from Lean On Me

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 first.

Date: 5/10/12

Someone told me recently, “I think these kids respond better to males than females, especially as teachers.”

That hasn’t been my experience, but I let them proceed. “It’s like, some of these kids need guidance or someone to look up to in school, and there’s a lot of women in school already.” Usually, I let them keep talking because it usually leads to a discussion about becoming an administrator (i.e. me). Thanks to a few conversations I’ve had with some important people in my life, I don’t see myself going into administration yet.

Part of my hesitation stems from the plethora of popular examples of administrators of color. People within certain circles always have to consider the question: do administrators of color sell out or buy in?

The caricature of administrators of color comes from the movie Lean on Me, the story of the cantankerous autocrat Joe Louis Clark, then-principal of Eastside High School in Paterson, NJ played by Morgan Freeman. Many use the images of the bat-wielding bullhorn-blaring authoritarian as inspiration for how they would choose to run their school. The teaching profession is plagued with the White savior complex of movies Dangerous Minds and The Ron Clark Story, but it pales in comparison to the movies like Lean on Me. Where you might think an administrator of color would seek to set positive examples for children bereft of such models, we have people who proffer the Joe Clarks of the world as the paragon.

Unnecessary.

Outside of the movies, administrators of color aren’t recruited to just be themselves. Not only do they have to work twice as hard to prove their viability, they have to adopt an image of callousness in some form. Some administrators crack down on students, particularly their children of color. Emphasis on crack, like a whip, if you will. Districts presumably allowed principals to treat students as they pleased so long as they controlled them and put their butts in the seats of class, no matter their situations. These principals would not make it past October of their first year in a school with a predominantly White student population, but in these schools, accountability reigns, and by accountability, I mean hammering down on discipline without regards to their academics and passions.

Other administrators have to act tough on teachers and their “status-quo” unions (read: Dr. Steve Perry). Those unionized teachers always come by the clock and punch out punctually. The only teachers in their eyes worth a contract are those that work beyond the means of their union contract (whatever that means). In order to promote their own agenda, they can simultaneously speak well of their own achievements and how good they are for kids while ostracizing the school community that makes school happen. While they profit off the caricature of a small segment of teachers (many of whom made those principals successful), children suffer.

Those are adult problems.

These models all center around developing a callous demeanor towards any one critical entity of our school community. This also benefits districts willing to hire them because they can assuage parents seeking traditional, Civil Rights ideals while never fixing the system that undoes these children. It often works to further the current education reform agenda, too. They can use the same intonations that Civil Rights leaders did as smoke-and-mirror techniques for messages that actually hurt our communities.

Using President Barack Obama’s image and Race To The Top policies for opening and shutting down schools and reopening them under the same conditions, administrators are often implored to buy in. Too bad some of them sell out.

For instance, when people first found out Brooke Harris was fired for teaching her students about the tragedy of Trayvon Martin, they presumed the administrators were White. They aren’t. To wit, the superintendent said she had no problem with the lesson, but the timing hurt Ms. Harris’ cause. The astute reader can deduce two things from this sentiment: the only curriculum that matters is the one prescribed by the district no matter the current events that affect our children and the teacher had to be fired so the other people of color could keep their jobs. If we want to talk about “adult problems,” let’s talk about the fact that a teacher just tried to prepare her students for a world still not ready for true equality and her superiors thwarted it for the sake of a world still not ready for true equality.

It’s a major failure, and a dilemma unresolved by those who go into higher positions of education.

Credit belongs to those who seek to ingrain themselves in the communities they represent. Some principals actually understand that the only way to change the system that sets up our least empowered to fail is to show them caring and respect, both for their intellect and emotions. They work twice as hard for their reputation, and learn how to bob and weave past the oft-constricting regulations of their district for the benefit of their students. In the new century, we need the type of leader that can inspire children to greatness selflessly.

Originally, principals were considered the teacher of teachers. That’s a tradition we can all buy.

Jose, who wonders where Brooke Harris went …

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Glory, by Rory Amor

Normally, I don’t start posts like this, but imagine my annoyance at another misinformed message regarding Black History Month, this time from an unlikely source. Not sure who first posted it, but in the video, Morgan Freeman asserts two points:

  1. Black history is American history, so we shouldn’t relegate the history to a month. To an extent, it’s true, but then …
  2. The best way to get rid of racism is to stop talking about it. Just refer to others as their names and that’s all there is to it.

I love Morgan Freeman, but I hope that doesn’t soften my critique of his position about the influence of race in our country, and from my point of view, the way we school (and educate) children of color. First, Carter G. Woodson first created Negro History Week to ensure that people didn’t forget that Black history was a part of the American story. As with most stories, we also know that the victor of the wars gets to tell his story. Thus, what we’re seeing now is a watered-down version of the history I’m sure he envisioned. He is the author of one of the quintessential Black books in American history, The Mis-Education of the Negro, must-read material. It’s a book that’s relevant because he speaks about how African-Americans (and others in the African diaspora) needn’t be told to walk through the metaphorical back door after seeing generations of ancestors do it; after a while, they just do it as a force of habit, never realizing that their masters walk through the front door just fine. This is their education; there must be one.

Prophetic.

In the periphery around Black History Month lies how we address social studies and becoming a well-informed citizen. I speak on this often, but I truly believe present and future curricula should root its foundations in social studies and science, not math and English. Because they’re harder to assess and more complex, I see ways for children to ask the right questions about how society functions and the balance between the human politic and human nature. Yes, Black history is American history, same with the other “races.” Yet, in the context of our current education system, we’re dumb lucky (and blessed with  centuries of struggle) that enough teachers believe studying Blacks in this country makes sense. Even if it’s just MLK and Rosa Parks.

So, what do we do about Black history? Let’s discuss it in the present. I find cogent examples of the way race plays into our culture daily, but because we’re not using names as per Freeman’s suggestions, we don’t see racism, do we? How about Dan Brown and Stephen Lazar both shedding light of the racial make-up of the typical Teach for America recruit at the recent Education Writers Association panels, and jointly, Diane Ravitch reminding people how it’s always the most underprivileged kids that get the most inexperienced and unproven teachers? How about Dick Vitale saying that the LeBron-Wade-Bosh-Melo-free-agent-dujour mess is like “the inmates running the asylum,” ignoring the racial undertones of young Black and Latino men as inmates, and him making millions off of mostly unpaid Black athletes?

Also note the systematic nature of all these pieces.

How about NYC testing out pre-kindergarten classes where mostly Black and Latino kids “learning” by running around and making as much noise as they want to, 60 per class with teachers on the walls looking onwards? Or how about stuffing as many “small schools” as possible into a building not meant to organizationally sustain such a model? How about closing 1/2 the schools in the 22nd most populated school district by 2014, the same year the Common Core Standards are supposed to go into effect? Can you imagine the perturbed feeling some of us had seeing Beyonce in blackface for a magazine in France, when every time she’s put in an ad or TV show here in the US, she’s Photoshopped to lighter gradients?

A few years back, The NewBlackMan (Mark Anthony Neal) discussed Denzel Washington’s comfort with the role of “race man,” a disposition of the role model who just happens to be part of any race other than the dominant one. Denzel particularly excels at this with critical and popular acclaim, receiving positive ratings from all audiences. He can tow the balance between the racially charged themes and the mainstream topics. It’s almost as if he’s implicitly doing his part to spread the idea of “Black history” across the entire year. Maybe that’s the approach people like me need to take.

Because this country is not at a point where someone like me doesn’t have to mention race wherever I go, but occasionally, it’s nice to know that, if I haven’t gotten to it explicitly yet, someone else can. Even when they don’t have to.

Jose, who’s enjoying his vacation from working all day by … working all day.

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