reflection Archives - The Jose Vilson


Sunglasses and Advil, Last Edit Was Mad Real

by Jose Vilson on March 30, 2014

in Jose

kanye-west-grammys-performance-1I’m surprised a few of you haven’t put out on APB or Missing Persons Report for me since I haven’t blogged on any site for the last two weeks.

Instead, I’ve focused exclusively on my new book, This Is Not A Test. The endorsements, pre-orders, and events have rolled in steadily, with very few hitches. It’s gone so smoothly in fact, I’m fully anticipating a disaster coming in the next few weeks. I want to make this look easy, because to a certain extent it was.

Then I remember I just spent the better part of this weekend (13 hours to be exact) poring over every word, phrase, fact, and space to make sure the book is perfect. Every two weeks, I’m asked to go deeper, harder, more precise about the experiences I’ve had in the last three decades. So, whenever you do get the book, please know: I put everything into this one.

If you haven’t already, please do order the book. Get it here.

Thank you for blowing into my sails. I’m almost past the lighthouse now.


You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You

by Jose Vilson on March 17, 2014

in Jose


After a difficult day “at the office,” I sat on my couch and did next to nothing. My e-mail count ran up. My food got cold. My son played with his cars, and, while I partook in a little chasing around the apartment, I soon fell into the couch again, contemplating whether any of the stuff I did outside of school was worth it. A day like this was long overdue, and sleeping it off felt like the only cure.

The morning after, I check my phone. The following came through my e-mail:

Knowing the data and related research as I do one might ask why I still believe in education. After reading This Is Not A Test, I am reminded of why I stay in the field. Through his experience as a teacher and a young man of color growing up in the segregated communities of New York City, Jose Vilson reminds us why education matters. He also shows us that teachers can have a critical voice in the national conversation about the future of public education, and that when they are not afraid, they can use that voice to challenge the reproduction process.

It was Pedro Noguera’s afterword, one he wrote in the middle of his already hectic writing schedule. Three days later, another came through with these words:

I became aware of “JLV” one late night after someone else provided a link to his blog. I was taken by the truth, the vulnerability and the clarity. It was clear that this man (and there are so few men in the profession, let alone men of color) had a passion for educating children of color. This passion means the constant search for making education relevant no matter what – a math teacher who can envelop his students in the glow of hip hop whilst explaining the quadratic equation. As a role model for black and Latino males, Jose takes seriously the responsibility placed on his shoulders.

Karen. Lewis. For my book’s foreword. My eyes filled up reading these back-to-back. How it feels to inspire those who laid the groundwork. I stand on their shoulders.

In the middle of writing this book, I may have been on the brink of quitting this book ten times, wondering how far I could be pushed, how honest I needed to be, how much derision I would get back, how much I would give up for some of the things I said. Even the slightest mention of intersectional talk put me in the middle of an identity crisis where education activists have to question and rethink their allegiances.

I’m OK with being the focal point. My team is, too. At too many points last week, I yelled at certain folk in my head: “Really? Fuck you, then, don’t buy my book! Get their shit! Miss out on what we’re doing over here! You’re mad because people of color can speak for themselves and don’t want to be spoken to a certain way? Even after all the people you love said my shit was dope? I don’t need your shit, then!

My personal value system doesn’t depend on how “liked” I am. I’m fortunate to already have a family and friends who look out for me, despite myself.

But I rather not get too deep, not because I owe people who are supposed to be on my side of things a dime, but because there’s already a groundswell of people who think differently, think forward, think we can do a much better job of leading movements, and will be just vulnerable enough to lift each other up while working towards a better humanity.

Teaching on its own is difficult if you’re trying to get better as an educator everyday. Teaching and opening yourself up so people can see that struggle is that much more arduous. It often feels isolated. You. The kids. The occasional visitor. You again. But, for some of us, it’s not just us. It’s the legacy and all the people who, flawed as they may be, keep our spirits going, like crowds before a finish line.

My own finish line? I don’t see it, but I know I’m doing fine. I’m still running.



Vilson Unplugged (Featuring Deepak Chopra)

by Jose Vilson on February 6, 2014

in Jose

Deepak Chopra

Deepak Chopra


Confession: I haven’t had earphones on for the last month and a half.

Perhaps some of that has to do with my iPod’s phone jack loosening up, causing me to twist the plug too much to get maybe 20 minutes of uninterrupted listening. I generally use my iPod for 90 minutes, 45 minutes to and from work, to charge and recharge my mental battery. While I enjoy listening to my Metallica and Elton John on a regular basis, I also knew it was my sonic therapy. It kept my mind off the stress I deal with on a daily basis, even if my eardrums were after a Wu-Tang joint.

I always used the excuse that I was controlling my environment, and maybe half of the 90 or so passengers who ride the same train car every morning share the same sentiment. Many New Yorkers like me grow tired of the random folk who end up on our ride: the drunk man yelling curses at long lost lovers, the pseudo-crooner who thinks Jodeci is appropriate morning music, the b-boys screaming “Showtime” for the umpteenth time, the chatty women complaining about everyone on the train, and the people who bought earphones that everyone can hear. Ugh!

Yet, I also noticed that, without my earphones, I could read books without re-reading lines. In fact, I could think of a whole bunch of stuff now that I postponed my music sessions. With earphones, I can pretend to control what’s going on around me. Without the earphones, it’s as if now, I had to deal with the world around me, and all the variables that came with having to listen.

This comes to mind because I had the privilege of taking an introductory online course with Deepak Chopra recently. (full disclosure: This was provided by Siminars) In this online seminar, we watched videos, read words, and listened to audio introducing us to the philosophy behind meditation. In the beginning, he talks about freeing ourselves from the prisons of our learned behaviors, and learning to calibrate our thoughts and bodies, all of which resonated with me. While I wish I got a chance to hear from him personally via video, I also noted that he responds in the forum for personal questions, as he already has tens of thousands of people going checking out the introduction with me.

Which brings me back to the iPod thing. I found myself learning about the power of meditation through the Internet, a powerful tool for connecting to others rapidly and through a plethora of filters. Unplugging from my iPod forces me to have a different relationship with my music stash and the world I shut off for those 90 minutes a day. It’s also taught me that it’s time I look carefully at the relationship I have with my other electronic devices, too.


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A Day On, Never A Day Off

January 15, 2014 Jose

Some news: my manuscript is officially turned in. Outside of a few edits here and there, I’m confident that this draft is the draft and every draft from here on after will be the grammatical equivalent of shooing away really tiny fleas. After the editing process proved to wring my deepest thoughts out like a […]

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I Will Be The Muhammad Ali Of Education Writing (My Top Ten Posts of 2013)

December 26, 2013 Jose
George Foreman vs. Muhammad Ali

Dear reader, The reason I haven’t spoken about Kanye West all year is because, in some ways, I’ve occupied a similar space that he does in education discussion. I don’t mean marrying Kim Kardashian, either. Here’s the list of my top ten posts according to how many views I got: Chris Christie and Why Teaching […]

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Emphasizing The Merry This Christmas

December 25, 2013 Jose

The mantra for fathers like me is, “As long as they’re happy, we’re happy.” Christmas time always has one dark cloud hanging over it with memories of my aunt who passed away almost twenty years ago, and now this year with my father passing away a couple of weeks ago. As a father, the stakes […]

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