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Fight With Us Too, Damnit (Educators and Jordan Davis)

by Jose Vilson on February 17, 2014

in Jose


When the Michael Dunn verdict came down, I fully expected him to get off on all counts. The Trayvon Martin case only created two pathways for future cases like these: either America – specifically Florida – would learn and do better for the next trial or it would give carte blanche to any white person to take the life of a young person of color on the basis of “threat.” The latter happened, and, while it hurt, I’ve long been desensitized to the tragedies, a condition created by the environment where I was raised.

For people of color, there was and never has been “the good ol’ days.”

As the constant observer, I just decided to peruse through my timeline, checking to see if, like the Zimmerman Martin trial, popular educators would quicker discuss listicles and Google Glass than the lynching of children of color. Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. Very few educators talked about it, and so I flipped:

The minute this tweet hit 20 retweets, a few educators got defensive, replying back, “Did you see my timelines?” A few others unfollowed. A few others still decided that retweeting was enough.

I laughed. Why people had such a visceral reaction is beyond me. I just wondered, aloud, why educators so active on Twitter when it comes to issues of educational technology, teacher evaluation, the Gates Foundation, anti-testing, lists that they did or didn’t get on, education conferences they attended, or what so-and-so said and how they replied so bravely, couldn’t dedicate a few tweets to discuss this tragedy.

Because Jordan Davis could have been one of our students, but we’re so mum on things, it makes us look willfully ignorant OR tone-deaf. It may be a beautiful day for some of you, but for those of us who have to live with this, we can’t just hug it out. There is this dimension of tragedy that’s rather hard to ignore on its own face, but the added dimension of race makes people feel unfuzzy, and they’d rather revel in anti-establishment talk and feel warm in that pocket forever. Talking about race makes white folks feel sad, they’ll say.

The temporary sadness of understanding white privilege as a white person is nothing compared to the existential melancholy of understanding racial oppression as a person of color.

So, to that end, in moments like these, I’ve learned that I don’t always to do the speaking up. Plenty of folks, allies in this work, can speak to it, a level raise from the last few years of “Vilson, what’s your opinion on this?” Even with my infinite patience, I don’t feel like explaining race all the way because, as it turns out, I don’t want to have to explain my humanity to you. I don’t have to hold court and put myself on trial every time a racial incident happens. I may have some part to play, but I’m not on trial.

But Jordan was. Trayvon was. Renisha is.

In some respects, maybe I shouldn’t care if you don’t speak about Jordan Davis. Just know that another flare-up happens, when Arne Duncan says something to upset teachers, when a local protest against the Broad Foundation occurs, when Apple steals your students’ data for their own profit, or when you ask me to respond when a person of color says something profoundly anti-child, I’ll remember.

Jordan Davis is my son. Jordan Davis is me. And you didn’t fight with me.


p.s. – This was inspired also by Melinda Anderson, Kelly Wickman, and Jennifer Lawson. Yes, that Jennifer Lawson. Thanks, ladies.

image c/o


If You Don’t Give Me Heaven, I Raise Hell

by Jose Vilson on September 6, 2011

in Jose

Heaven or Hell

Did we cross the threshold of teacher complacency yet?

Today, Pernille Ripp asked “How many of us blog about our philosophies and classroom changes but are too afraid to tell our face to face colleagues?” to her followers. I responded, “I used to. This year, I’ve decided against it.” Some, including Mary Beth Hertz, were surprised. She said, “… was just suprised to hear that from someone who spoke his mind on YouTube :). It is sad how scared people are.” Sure is. Also, endemic of a system that crushes dissent far too readily.

I get who this comes from. First, let me say that my blog rantings over the last few years came from the burning desire to say something and make it count. For the first time, I had a vehicle where I could reflect on my personal and professional growth without interruption or courtesy. On a blog, I don’t have to wait for someone to readjust their face after I’ve shocked them or wait for them to get their interjection out before finishing a complete thought. Once I’m done, I hit “Publish” and let the opinions fall where they may. Almost every blogger would agree with me on this point.

Soon, it became this silver soapbox where most of my posts get enough attention to influence a few thousand people a week, at least according to Google. What most public bloggers like me also comes to gripes with is the harsh reality that Google can’t filter their blogs from the very eyes that they’re trying to avoid in some ways. While I blogged here, I kept most of my blogging to myself in school, carefully alluding to it only when it had any relevance to some professional development session I had to attend. Even then, I’d just mention it was “business” and “not about you.”

There came a point sometime last summer where I decided that the person in this blog had to coalesce with the representative I had built at work. We know what that’s about, too. There’s the person that swears to Biggie and Metallica in the bar while taking shots of tequila, and there’s the person in the three-piece suit who’s about to meet with representatives from the NYC Department of Education. There’s the person who makes a mental list of all the things their administrator or fellow teachers did to piss them off one day, and there’s the person who has to collaborate with them to improve student achievement the next day. There’s the person who blogs about their ideal school system, and the person who wouldn’t dare tell their school system that they’re far from it.

Lest they be shunned, ostracized, thrown into a dizzying schedule with little support, or, tenured or not, fired.

From my perspective, it was one thing for an entire school system to block my website from their servers years before “social media” entered the national zeitgeist. It was quite another to have education consultants, third party partners, and people from within the NYC Department of Ed actually reading my blog. That’s become my reality over the last year, and, rather than make me recalcitrant about the cursing and allusions to sex, I decided to hone my message a little more. It made me get more passionate, more inclusive, and more thorough. I had to do more research, and I had to get more passionate. I’ll trade in my swearing for honesty any day of the week.

Further, I had to be more like the person they see everyday. Also, that person has to be more like the man who writes this blog, too.

Now that I’m taking on this demeanor of anti-hero, I might as well tell it like it is. If people find out, then good for them. I’m about ready to tell them to their faces anyways.

Mr. Vilson, who just started the year off right …


Domino, Domino, Only Spot A Few Blacks The Higher I Go

by Jose Vilson on August 29, 2011

in Jose


My good friend Brent reminded me that Diane Ravitch tweeted the notorious article by Michael Petrilli comparing Klout scores of some of the biggest names in the online education world. It has the effect where people can take a macro-view of the education world and have some discussion of what it means to have influence in this sphere. Klout’s a rather crude measure for influence, but it’s as good as it gets. Because of the limitations on Klout presently (like ranking a la WeFollow), it’s hard to do a fair list that includes everyone who’s in the sphere.

Having said that, there’s a shortage of people of color representing educators, and Michael did exactly what I expected and let it be.

With all due respect to the racial sensitivities of my readers, the article felt like looking into a conversation full of White people deciding amongst themselves who will speak up on behalf of all online educators, and who can be isolated from the conversation. People of color become akin to spooks, darkies, and shadows, in an almost literal sense when educators of color don’t see any real representation of themselves. I’d also love to say that the list excluded people whose views diverged from Petrilli’s, but he puts Ravitch #1, and includes friends like Mike Klonsky in there.

So it’s not just me. It’s that there’s a lack of color.

You’re well within your bounds to say that the list missed a ton of people, including friend Chris Lehmann, the movement SOSMarch, luminary Angela Maiers, and math extraordinaire David Wees. You’re also safe to say that the list against signifies the ridiculousness of making such lists. These are all sound arguments, and I let it go after I made my comment. It’s like the further I get in the education sphere, the fewer people of color I see representing us.

Naturally, it also irked me because of the context in which it was tweeted to me. It’s no disrespect to those who tweeted it out in the last few days, but if the list represents the comeuppance, or the recognition of the voice of the voiceless, then I’d like to officially appoint myself the color of the colorless. As evidenced by some of the conversations I’ve had lately, people of color don’t have to agree with me on all my views, but the experience of ostracization in this country seems to count.

What up to Milton Ramirez? And semi-nod to Michelle Rhee. These two were the only people of color in this edu-sphere to make it on this list. If Michael Petrilli and others believe this is a legitimate list, then we’re gonna need a million more …

Jose, who went from murder to excellence …


How To Get Smart People To Follow You in 3 Easy Steps

April 28, 2011 Mr. Vilson
The Most Interesting Man In The World

The general populace has finally turned to the idea that we nerds have said for decades now: get onto social media before it impersonates you. One of the best venues for people afraid to share too much about themselves is Twitter, the 140-characters-per-thought engine, where a simple photograph and a bio separates you from millions […]

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The Tumblr vs. WordPress Argument (and Why I Have Both Now)

August 23, 2010 Jose

At this point, there’s so many arguments over which blogging platform’s best, I decided I wouldn’t rehash those arguments as a whole. I still haven’t tried Drupal, and I don’t think Blogspot’s robust enough for me. I had four main sites in which I share my madness: Here (where I share my lengthier posts) Facebook […]

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Short Notes: Build Your Own Independence v.2010

February 21, 2010 Short Notes
Malcolm X, "Our Freedom Can't Wait!"

A suggestion on building your own independence in the new decade, but first, a few notes: If you didn’t catch my interview in American Latino TV, check it out. Discussions about Latinos and education ensue. [American Latino] Jeff Pearlman threw me this interview with Roger Ebert, who’s found new life as a voice of his […]

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