tfa Archives - The Jose Vilson


Dear John: Where I Disagree With Legend

by Jose Vilson on March 3, 2010

in Jose

John Legend

Dear John Legend,

Last night at the Avery Hall in Lincoln Center (NYC), you and Common headlined an awesome town hall between some of the brightest and influential Black / Latino men in education. The line-up read like a starting roster for a hypothetical NYC Black educator panel: David Banks of the Eagle Academy as moderator, followed by Dr. Pedro Noguera, Common, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, Ruben Diaz Jr., and Eric Snow. On paper, the roster was dynamic and possibly influential enough to break some ground on the topic of the moment: why the system has failed men of color in education. While I don’t expect much for Teach for America, I know plenty of educators from that system that have done good things for their children.

Having said that, you, my friend, did not bring your A game.

You brought a set of talking points akin to the wonks that, in changing public education, have silenced the voices of the most underprivileged. Your assertion that students who don’t do well on the standardized state tests are not ready for the real world conflict with real life, where no one asks you in the job force to fill out a bunch of bubbles to do the best job possible. Your case study about that one school that did so well with passing the test doesn’t say much about how they’ll do in the future nor does it coincide with the reality of education as a whole, where charter schools only make up 5% of NYC public schools. Your vision of the perfect school and how that aligns to the educrat movement sound more like a page out of a war stratagem than public school reform, with your talk of “getting rid of teachers.”

Nevermind that the policies of charter schools directly influence public schools in the area. For one, charter schools have more choice as to who gets in, and who leaves. Public schools have more paperwork in that respect. Charter schools thusly don’t house as many ELLs or children with special needs as public schools do. Plus, where do they go when they’re not deemed fit to attend this prestigious school? Public school, of course. Worse still is that the correlation between the amount of charter schools popping up and the amount of Black and Latino children in the neighborhood in which they arrive is pretty high.

A part of me wants to understand, too. Men of color do not exist monolithically. The depth and breadth of opinion within this demographic might make outside observers blush. We have so many routes by which to attack the issue of Black men that the one path we should all choose gets distorted by various interests and beliefs. That much, I believe. Even my attendance to an event sponsored by an organization I don’t fully support shows the complexity of education right now. Plus, not many in the audience (excluding me) expected you to know much about the plight of Black men in education outside of the banalities of men of color failing.

There, your opinion failed. Unfortunately, you were Soulja Boy in the middle of a catalogue battle between Jay-Z and Lupe Fiasco. A recent Golden Gloves championship winner discussing boxing with Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson. That’s why, no matter how talented a musician you are, people could see through the distortions and false-ttos. Upon entering the Empire City, please note that, while the house is owned by people who readily accept what you say as fact, the neighborhood is guarded by watchmen who’ll boo you the minute you get it wrong.

Take that weak stuff outta here.

Jose, who doesn’t do personal attacks. This is purely professional …

p.s. – Part 2 tomorrow (and some takeaways) …


At The End of the Day [The Letters Series]

by Jose Vilson on November 18, 2009

in Jose

This week, I’m writing a few more letters to different people, whose names shall be removed from the post, but who nonetheless are amalgamations of real characters. I won’t be mincing words this week, and in these letters, I hope to address some issues I find in education as a whole through these letters. If need be, I’ll apologize later. Actually, I probably won’t.

Barack Obama at School

Barack Obama at School

Dear Barack Obama,

It’s me again, hoping you’ll soon respond to my letters. As always, I have respect for you and what you’ve done thus far in office (most of the stuff anyways). At the very least, you’ve brought many issues into the national zeitgeist in ways only few have the power to do, particularly education. My letter comes on the heels of a Meet the Press interview with your Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in tow with Al Sharpton and Newt Gingrich. As the video plays, I found myself shaking my head at almost every assertion these men made. While I expect a shallowness over educational issues from afternoon specials and morning wake-up shows, I still don’t expect that from men who have positioned themselves as “educational gurus.”

Very little about their collective histories build confidence in me or many others in their ability to understand the intricacies of the classroom, from the pedagogy and praxis of the everyday K-12 classroom and the management of an actual school because and despite restrictions from underfunded districts to the egregious practices of college loaners and their universities and the ultra-selectivity of the economically and / or racially underprivileged into post-graduate programs. Even if these individuals have tried to make a conscious effort to discuss the numbers behind their message, they sound more like they’ve dined at the corporate line table rather than actually having thorough conversations with people on the ground.

Let’s say we actually took the socialized system of public schools and turned them all over to private corporations and “non-profits.” When the next recession hits, as capitalism is prone to do, will we finally see a bailout then? Will the government have to step in and tell these “CEOs” to take paycuts but turn their backs when they take private trips to islands for professional development? Will our children have to shred all their papers and use the remaining documents for ticker tape, too? Will some of us teachers walk out with only socks and remaining curriculum in our suitcases? Or will we have a situation akin to Major League Baseball where we’ll hire “scabs” like proferred by Teach for America in lieu of qualified teachers with masters and / or years of experience in their profession?

A big part of me gets it, too. The one thing that most people seem to agree upon is that student achievement trumps everything else when it comes to education. However, the ends doesn’t always justify the ends, especially if the ends depend on unsustainable means. When I heard “Teachers have to come into a classroom and believe that they’re going to be ready and disciplined,” it says to me that we have yet to understand the conditions in which our children grow up and how so few actually make it out of the same system we come out of. When I heard “If the schools are failing, we just won’t give them money,” it sounds like it’s a problem that’s already been happening and it’ll continue promulgating the difference between the haves and the have-nots (for that matter, the halved or the halved-not).

To wit, in New York, we had plenty of schools who received the highest rating possible from the NYC Department of Education’s grading system, an A. By plenty, I mean 77.6%. Conversely, we only had 2 schools who received an F. Now, looking at the metrics, one might think NYC has done rather well, and deserves the monies from the Race to the Top fund. At a second glance, we see just how these numbers have manipulated so many of us. Our overcrowded, underfunded, parted, and soulless edifices can’t compare to the gloss Bloomberg’s coated over his office.

But maybe asking those three to visit a very low-performing school, even with Secret Service in tow, would mess up their shine. At the end of the day, as in the beginning, sunshine doesn’t gleam on brick and mortar. Yet the new glass ones aren’t so transparent either

Mr. Vilson, who wants nothing more than Obama to read …

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