open letter Archives - The Jose Vilson

open letter

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,

Jose

P.S. – The letter wasn’t about her.

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

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Chancellor Dennis Walcott Visits School of the Future

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 need to set the standard for the nation, from Bloomberg’s mayoral control dictates to the plethora of interim, field-testing, and high-stakes standardized assessments from third grade onwards. On the surface, one might think I’m at the forefront of the work done around the Common Core.

Yet, my earlier concern about the chaotic approach to transforming education via the Common Core concerns me still.

We can obviously start with Dr. Diane Ravitch’s contention that we haven’t actually field-tested whether the standards would actually get our students “college and career ready.” From a teacher’s perspective, I’d like to get more focused, coherent, and yes, rigorous about my argument.

We can talk all day about these standards and the three tenets of focus, coherence, and rigor, but without the means to make pedagogy more viable and focused on the whole child, we miss out on yet another opportunity to do something important: growing better people.

For instance, yesterday and today, New York City elementary and middle school children had to take an English-Language Arts and Math test (respectively) as part of the NYC Benchmark Assessments, with the assumption that these tests will give stakeholders a chance to see how much students learned in the past few months.

After a careful glance of the material along with conversations with students and teachers, these assessments seem to do more to assess what students don’t know than anything else.

If the intent is to help teachers, principals, and others get a feel for the tests in April / May, then why not let these parties into the assessment process rather than excluding them? If the intent is to show growth from today to the tests, then why give a test where you know the majority of students haven’t even covered all of this material? If the intent is to signal to everyone that they must raise their expectations, then why must we let them down so frequently with our lack of clarity?

From people I’ve spoken to throughout the city, we’ve had almost three re-arrangement in priorities in the last five months. At first, people thought we would have to address both New York State and Common Core Standards, specifically because the Common Core in New York State’s eyes was a draft. Then, people thought we would teach according to the first testing schedule given sometime in late August / early September.

For eight grade teachers, that meant we would teach exponents first. Sometime last week, however, the state sends out a document shifting priorities on topics again, giving some topics greater emphasis over others after almost three months of teaching.

We’re almost begging for schools to fail.

Even when schools had a clear roadmap like in the state of Kentucky, schools still dipped by as much as 35% in scores, and for good reason. Anyone familiar with the standards already sees the forestand the trees.

But we continue to perpetuate the myth that higher accountability will improve schools, no matter what the cost. After today’s interim assessment, I am convinced that, if we cannot make our school system more focused on children and their communities’ needs, we will continue to fail them, with or without a state test.

We can do better.

I’m not angry; I’m simply seeking answers. While I don’t speak for all teachers, I do speak because of them, and a plethora of other concerned citizens. Hope to hear from you soon.

Best,

Jose Vilson

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