#occupytheclassroom Archives - The Jose Vilson


Paulo Freire

Good friend Stephen Lazar hit an essay out of the park yesterday (which he published early this morning). It’s worth the read because the rest of what I’m about to say is going to stir a bit of conversation around what’s what. First, a quote:

I think we, the teachers, have to bare some blame for setting the conditions that led to the Occupy movement.  Too many of us (and as radical as I try to be in the classroom, I fall far short of where I need to be) are the gatekeepers of knowledge, the sole determiners of success and failure, and hold monopolies on the administration of justice.  In our classrooms, far too many of us are the 1%. Classrooms do need to be occupied, not just to ensure teachers can do their jobs well, but to create the conditions for real democracy.  That will involve giving up some of the power we as teachers have, just as the 99% want an appropriate share of the power that the 1% holds in this country.  This involves some real risk on our part, but opens up a world of possibilities.

Let me say for the record that I totally agree with Stephen’s critique of teachers right now. Teachers too often see themselves as the guardians of the knowledge cannon instead of the gurus from which our students can seek guidance for their own lives. In our classroom management, sometimes we use tactics that ensure that students learn by means of systematizing rather than an organic process. We prefer to yell at students for quiet, but observers wonder why, upon encountering this classroom, students haven’t learned much of anything. That’s why we take on a 1% mentality where we’re privileged enough to take on 30 students at a time and tell them they have no power over the process of their own recognition of the world.

Having said that, the only rejoinder I have in his entire essay is that I think along the lines of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. We’re all certain about what he would have said about the #OccupyWallStreet movement, but, in extending that to the classroom, he might posit that we ought to look at his proposed paradigm. Teachers take on the role of teacher-students and students become student-teachers. The difference here is the emphasis on cyclical learning and shared empowerment. When we first receive students, they come with their own set of ideologies and understandings that have little to do with us. When we first develop relationships with them, they may have understood school to work one particular way, and thus, when we encounter them, we have to open alternative doors for them.

Especially in K-8, teachers (as teacher-students) ought to set a certain structure where kids get to ask relevant and open questions that set them up for real inquiry in the high school level. Based on what I know about child development, we can ask students to ask somewhat abstract questions in K-8, but they encounter a new sense of self by the time they get to 9th grade, aware of their impending adulthood, but still piecing together the major parts of their worlds. In K-8, however, they’re not quite there. They haven’t acquired those basic skills yet. In any sphere, it’s important to better understand the dynamic of the people and its civilization before engaging in it actively.

That’s why #OccupyTheClassroom is so critical and unlike the other critical masses in present-day. Teachers must occupy the system, along with the idea of “classroom” for so many of us. Students and parents should as well, mainly because they bring with them the social currency needed to elevate classroom experiences. Once occupied, we ought to consider the implications of a more free-minded student body, able to advance the agenda of their local communities instead of the hyperbolic American Dream. To do this doesn’t mean we settle for mediocrity; if anything, it means we have to work harder against centuries of training and images for a more apt preparation for the world around them.

Surely, I’d think Stephen would agree.

Mr. Vilson, who probably won’t respond to other posts about #OccupyTheClassroom unless they’re actually factual.

Subtitle: “Yes, But (A Pseudo-Rebuttal To Stephen Lazar’s #OccupyTheClassroom Piece).”

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Stephen Lazar, Brian Ford, myself, and others at #OccupyWallStreet, NJTAG pre-Columbus Day Teach-In


When we hear inaccurate statements about our profession, we ought to stand up and correct them—our battle is a fight against false ideas as well. As we elevate our profession by accurately discussing it, we should seek self-empowerment in the way we speak about our classrooms. Teachers can either continue to let others dictate the words we use to describe our profession or we can occupy the classroom, staying ahead of those who would rather downgrade our job to a matter of bubbles and letters. This will put us in control of the national education conversation and free us from inaccurate ideas about what the word “teacher” means. We should also reach for the validation of our students. We need to keep them occupied, too. Schooling needs to be less about busy work and more about the kind of learning that will keep kids engaged in the material.

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Jose, who thinks you should have something in common with Rosario Dawson


Five Ways You Can #OccupyTheClassroom [It's About Time]

by Jose Vilson on October 6, 2011

in Jose


For World’ Teachers’ Day, all the big edu-wigs broke out in song about saluting great teachers, trying to stretch their arms out their offices far enough to find a teacher they’d consider effective and Kumbaya them to death.  The billows of hollow praise doesn’t whittle away the troubling issues with education.On that day, teachers all across this nation were given the day off, the week off, and the entire year off without pay, and possibly forever, for lack of investment into the neediest areas. Mayors and governors shook whole public institutions into test-prep mechanisms and called it 21st century learning with 19th century thinking with paper and computer apparatuses expert pedagogues wouldn’t recommend. Schools continue to suffer and close their doors under the premise that they cannot singlehandedly defeat abject poverty with the limited resources given.

On that day, teachers saved up a check’s worth of their disproportionate salaries for supplies their schools can’t provide them. With little or no recompense.

Before teacher-bashers filled the coffers of national education committees, people stood boldly in the classroom and decided upon pedagogy for all. With the introduction of the Common Core State Standards, some reformers have found a way to inject themselves into the pedagogical side of teaching. They’ve made a lasting impact on policy via No Child Left Behind / Race To The Top and these pieces have cemented a corporatist view upon all educators’ jobs. All the while, by recent research, nine out of 10 teachers across the nation have been rated satisfactory. Akin to the #OccupyWallStreet movement, this movement makes us the 90%, doesn’t it?

Now it’s time to take things back.

This year, I’ve focused less on policy and more on pedagogy, as have many of my fellow educators, as a proactive measure, not reactive. Pedagogues to speak up about their classroom and the board room. We can’t leave it up to others to voice our opinions for us. So, here are five ways to #occupytheclassroom:

1. Share your work.

This scares even some of our best teachers. Rather than sharing what’s happening in their classrooms with their colleagues, they rather work behind closed doors. While there are times for that, sharing best practices as experts frequently creates better relationships among colleagues. No matter how you share, please do. Come to think of it …

2. Start a Twitter … or something …

Right now, some of the best professional development is coming out of spaces like Tumblr and Twitter, where people are picking up tips and best practices from teachers all across the world. While some have jumped off the ledge called ed-tech, others genuinely give people timely and expert advice in whichever topic you’re covering. Give it a try.

3. Get a website, preferably a blog.

Despite the plethora of essays I’ve written, and the [hyperbolic] billions of shares and comments I’ve received over the four years I’ve had this blog, some of my most popular work comes from actual artifacts that I’ve left for teachers here. Lesson plans, bridges to practices, and other resources make for rich discussion and critique that’s often not possible in person.

4. Create your own professional learning network.

Believe it or not, a few friends sitting down over dinner discussing how to teach the next unit is, in essence, a professional learning network. Some have taken it to a more intricate level, using the Internet to connect people by subjects and regions to discuss what’s happening in the classroom. Right now, there are collectives of people forming associations based on their subject and creating teacher-led PD sessions. These sorts of meetups based on common interest inevitably creates a community of collegiality that pushed others to do better.

5. Empower yourself.

Lastly, make better critical decisions. There is something to be said for a teacher who constantly seeks to improve themselves, so the natural progression from being an expert is to speak like one. We owe it to ourselves to speak up about our experiences in the context of pedagogy. One of the main reasons absurd words like differentiation and inquiry have made it into the educational zeitgeist is because we as educators allowed non-experts to control the language of what we do … and make millions off our perceived weaknesses.

We ought to rebel. Our best rebellion must come in the form of assuring our students do as well as possible. Outside politics have deteriorated, not elevated, the classroom experience for far too long. Before we can truly have a revolution of any nature, we must first shore up the parts of our job we can immediately control. It starts with the 30 / 60 / 90 / 150 students we have under our care.

With a movement like this, they’ll be occupied with how to stop us.

Mr. Vilson, who encourages you to share ways that we can take back the classroom …