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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


Enemies in education? Ain't nobody got time for that!

Enemies in education? Ain’t nobody got time for that!

This is what happens when you start listening to folks who think the answer is square in the middle.

The first time I took issue with a Michael Petrilli post, I was annoyed because, when it comes to education, only the people in his circle (frenemies or not) mattered and the rest of us (read: people of color) generally didn’t. You’ll note in his post that he calls for people to get familiar with others outside their echo chamber when he clearly has a silo of his own.

So forgive me for using him as a clear example of the national discourse in education.

In his world, you got educators, activists, and other lefty types in one end and all the members of the Billionaire Boys Club (not Pharrell), policymakers, central office types, and conservatives on the other. By looking at who they follow on Twitter, we can tell in which echo chamber they belong where they fit neatly with everyone else who belongs in those groups.

Well, it’s not that simple. Nuance never is.

Why would I want to hear that the best policies for education come from hedge fund managers and number crunchers? Why would I want to read that the best way to improve schools is to put them in a perpetual cycle of open-close-open-close? Why would I want to tell someone off for telling me that value-added teacher reports make more sense than, say, my students and parents approving of my performance?

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

We can be honest, too: educators hear way more from policymakers than vice versa. While policymakers can go months without having a single teacher voice their opinions directly to them, teachers can’t go a day without hearing some person from on high telling them about a brand new method for instruction, especially in high-poverty schools. Policymakers write it; we live it. You’ll excuse us if we don’t always want to follow the big policymakers and outwardly reject their notions because of their lack of experience.

We just don’t got time for that, either.

While Petrilli’s over there having a discussion on education discourse, enemies, and all that other nonsense, the rest of us are here teaching children for a living, doing our best to get them from point A to point Z with nothing but a marker and a notebook. He’s over there acting like both sides hold the same weight in moving the education needle right now while teachers barely make it in the classroom these days. Thank goodness I have my own site, an Internet connection, and an hour to spare in my day, or else I’d never get a word in for the discussion.

Frankly, neither would the rest of us. You’ll do well to stop thinking of the next person as an enemy and shift your priorities. Most educators I know prefer to have facts in front of them, no matter how it deludes their own argument for school improvement. Once we’ve read it and responded, though, we have to face kids, and have another type of discourse you never see except in movies and soft-lens primetime specials.

Jose, who just had to let you know …


Kendrick Lamar

A few notes:


“I’m always amazed by how infidelity will end a career in the U.S. while war crimes will advance it.” – Rania Khalek

Jose, who’s a sinner, and is probably gonna sin again …

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