voce Archives - The Jose Vilson



Over the last week, I’ve released general control over the content of my blog to 5 awesome people within my circle of friends, some of whom I talk on a regular basis. I gained inspiration for said release from the TEDxNYED event, a series of idea-exchanges that keep inspiring me to change my way about having conversations. The idea to have this series of bloggers came from Chris Abani and Michael Wesch, who both discussed the idea of conversation extensively. The former talked at length about how the narrative is just as important as the statistics, and the latter discussed how new media can have serious and fundamental consequences for societies large or small.

When I read through the pieces of Jovan, Marcy, Monise, C. Marquez, and Maegan, I just kept thinking: “These are stories that rarely get heard.” There was a sense that the yells and screams need to be validated as much as the speeches and epitaphs. The passion matters just as much as the numbers. Let’s not deviate from understanding the technical and professional; we miss those elements often enough to the point where I started to despise case studies in favor of the stats.

Then I started to look deeper into these peer-reviewed articles and charts, and realized that some of it certainly felt valid, but I never got a reason why. I never got an understanding about the times in which those statistics were taken. I never saw statistics of the people who were being enumerated in their opinions and why some polls never made sense.

Jay-Z’s quoted as saying “Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t.” Yet, numbers aren’t the ones that use numbers: men and women do. Thus, every so often, we need to find a few stories that typify and exemplify what’s happening behind the numbers. These were the stories, and I was honored to host them.

Voices of Concerned Educators: Call Me Ms. Mala, Radical Mujer Tutor of Color [Maegan Ortiz]

Voices of Concerned Educators: Who Will Take A Stand? [Monise Seward]

Voices of Concerned Citizens: The Twilight Zone and How Affluence Perpetuates the Achievement Gap [C. Marquez]

Voices of Concerned Educators: Steal [Marcy Webb]

Voices Of Concerned Educators: Bridging The Gap [Jovan Miles]

and a precursor to this:

Validating Blogs #4080: Indirect People Are Shadyyyy

Jose, who saw the view from the Capitol Building and am enamored …


Jaime Escalante

A few weeks ago @billcelis, one of my Twitter friends (still trying to adjust to ‘follower’) posted an article about notable educator Jaime Escalante, the main character in ‘Stand and Deliver.’ I am sure that every educator has seen the movie at least once; I think my count is closer to ten. Anyway, here is a link to the article. Mr. Escalante is very ill; he has been battling cancer for some time now. I was saddened by his story for a number of reasons. First, it appears that he is really suffering and may be near the end of his life. His family is also having a difficult time covering his medical expenses. But I was truly saddened for selfish reasons.

When he is gone, who will take his place?

I don’t mean who will be the next Jaime Escalante, per se, but really, who will be the next educator, parent, politician, etc. to take that type of stand for our kids? After all, he fought to teach his students the higher-level math (Remember when Lou Diamond Phillips’ character asked: “Who is Cal-culus?”) Everyone in the school thought he was crazy, but he was determined to prove that kids from the barrio (that’s neighborhood for the rest of you) could learn too.

Well, I kinda giggled too because I remember when my Yankee-ass decided to follow the district’s plan to teach Algebra to all 8th grade students. Keep in mind, I was a Special Education teacher. Most of my students had been “diagnosed” with a Learning Disability, Emotional Behavior Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder, or a combination of the preceding. Basically, I taught kids who had been written-off by the system. On top of that, I was working at an alternative school at the time. Our students were sent to us after being expelled from their assigned schools. So here I was, sitting at a department meeting, eager as a beaver about teaching Algebra (an actual math class, with actual objectives and standards) during the upcoming year.

I remember that day as if it were yesterday. One of my colleagues said: “If they can learn Algebra, then they don’t need to be in a Special Education classroom. They should be in Regular Ed. You will be wasting your time, don’t even worry about it.”

Well damn. Talk about raining on someone’s parade.

It’s a good thing I don’t put much stock in other people’s negativity. I maintained my excitement and proceeded to comb local video stores for ‘Stand and Deliver.’ I thought, what better way to start the class then to show my students that they could (and would) learn Algebra, regardless of what others expected?

Fast forward to the start of the next school year. I found the video online, watched it at home to jog my memory, and prepared discussion questions to go along with our viewing. I opened the class with an explanation of the district’s new policy requiring all 8th grade students to take algebra. Of course, they moaned and groaned because they believed they were not smart enough to learn algebra (only after hearing it and being fed a watered-down curriculum for so long.) I explained that we were going to watch a movie, one that I thought would provide them with some motivation; they needed to be able to relate to someone in a similar situation, e.g., being labeled and assigned to a lifetime of remedial education.

In goes the movie.

Day One viewing, discussion, and writing went well. The kids were excited and said they were looking forward to watching the next day. (Little did they know that part of the motivation for watching the movie was keeping peace in the classroom!) Calling Day Two a ‘teachable moment’ would be an understatement. For some reason or other, the principal decided to pop into my room. I know it was not due to a disciplinary issue because the kids were really into the movie; one or two of them even had the nerve to shush the principal when he interrupted (more internal giggles from me).

The students were intently watching the movie when the principal asked, holding the (VHS) video case: “What’s this movie about?”

One of my students replied: “Man, if you read the box, you would know what the movie is about.” Not in a comical, joking sorta way. He was dead serious.

Outwardly, I wore my teacher-face and told the student that his response was inappropriate and that I would handle the situation. Internally, I was high-fiving him because, well, he was right. The movie synopsis was on the back of the video box, plain as day. But I knew that I needed to correct the student before the principal did because many of those young men neither liked nor respected him. Furthermore, had the principal said anything to him, it would have turned into a pissing match (you know how you males do) and all of the students would have inserted themselves into the situation. That is what I wanted to avoid because my students were already outcasts, both within that school and at their traditional schools. Despite my efforts, the students were still upset. Besides, that would have definitely ruined the lesson for that day and we all would have been in unpleasant moods.

Myself included.

For some reason or another, I was called into the principal’s office a week or two later; my department chair was also present. (Side Note: I spent more time in the principal’s office in my 5 years as a teacher than I did all my years as a student.) I had no idea why I was called in, but I knew I was in trouble for something! This man had the unmitigated gall (I really like saying that) to say that the movie was inappropriate for showing during the instructional day and it was not tied to the curriculum. (My mind was turning, thinking “This dumb S.O.B. hasn’t the first clue about curriculum.”) But I kept my cool.

I asked: “Why is it inappropriate?”
His response:
“Well, when I walked in, I saw the guy smoking a cigarette.”
Long pause (trying to calm the screams in my head):
“Are you sure he was smoking a cigarette? I don’t remember that.”
Him: “Yes.”

I reviewed the movie in my head because I honestly did not remember anyone smoking a cigarette. However, more importantly, someone smoking a cigarette was (in my humble opinion) a non-issue because many of the kids at the school had been expelled for either smoking or selling marijuana. Some had done both.

I said: “Well, the movie is tied to the algebra curriculum. Besides, it’s on the approved video list. I checked before I bought it.” Hmph.


I decided right then and there that I would not return to that school. For some reason, I have a problem working for obviously ignorant and incompetent people. Sadly, it appears that those are the most important qualifications for (some) aspiring leaders (building principals). I won’t paint everyone with the same broad stroke, but that has been my experience since moving here 8 years ago.

It’s really sad when you think about it: I worked at an alternative school, as a Special Education teacher, with all males, and it didn’t bother me. I actually loved it but I couldn’t deal with the administration. I couldn’t deal with the manner in which they dealt with the students. I especially couldn’t deal with the blatant disrespect of teachers. There were incidents more severe and offensive than the one I described. Those are some of the reasons that I believe teachers don’t just become ‘ineffective.’ They are driven to ineffectiveness. The leadership sets the tone for the building. Period.

I took a stand for the sake of my kids. Some may argue that I should have stayed, but I was still fairly young at the time and there were just some things I would not tolerate then. I have definitely grown since then, but there are still some things I will not tolerate. Who am I kidding? I’d probably do the same thing today! But the important thing is that my students knew I went to bat for them because so many other had not and would not.

Ask yourself, after Jaime and Marva are gone: Who will take a stand?

Monise Seward



You Are Now Entering the Twilight Zone ...

“You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s the sign post up ahead, your next stop…The Twilight Zone!” ~Rod Serling

As an elementary school administrator, I currently work in the Twilight Zone. This environment is completely foreign to me. Before my recent promotion, I couldn’t imagine any public school in my district (urban district in Southeastern, U.S.), operating this way.

This public school is nestled in an affluent section of town. Parents in this community typically send their children to private schools. If they chose to send them here, it’s only because this school has the feel of a private school. This school, along with a few others hidden in the same community, are anomalies. Over 90% of the student population is Caucasian. District-wide, only 9% of our students are Caucasian. Only 5% of our students are eligible for discounted/free lunch (district 80%) and we receive no Title 1 funds (88% of the schools in the district are Title 1). The PTA manages a six figure annual budget to compensate for the federal funds we are unable to receive. Our PTA funds projects and programs at the level of a national non-profit organization. The school is not suffering financially. In fact, we have far more resources than fully-funded, and often low performing, Title 1 schools in the same district.

In the Twilight Zone, all students entering kindergarten are already readers. This is in stark contrast to students the district’s other schools (parents lack time/resources to provide early learning opportunities). Many students, in fact, enter school reading a grade-level or two above kindergarten. Kindergarten teachers focus on building vocabulary and comprehension. Over 50% of the student body is “gifted.” In the Twilight Zone, not passing the “gifted” placement exam is the equivalent of failure, regardless of how well one is performing in the classroom. Parents have the financial resources to pay for private tutors, speech/reading specialists, and educational psychologists whenever they feel their children are deficient in any learning area. This is a highly competitive environment and students feel pressure from parents to be “perfect” students. Parents of first graders are already thinking about private schools (for middle and high school) and preparing for the SSAT.

So why am I writing this post?

In one of my many roles, I meet with parents and teachers to discuss student progress. The following is a typical conversation between a parent and I:

Parent: “My child needs extra time on standardized tests.”
Me: “Ok. Why do you think so?”
Parent: “She might have ADHD.”
Me: “Might?”
Parent: “My neighbor’s son has it. My daughter is hyper.”
Me: “Neither you or I are qualified to make such a diagnosis.”
Parent: “She can’t keep still.”
Me: “Okay, how is the student performing in class?”
Parent: “She’s in the gifted program. She earns all A’s, but she did get a ‘C’ on her last math test.”
Me: “How does the teacher feel?”
Parent: “She feels my child is doing fine, but she’s wrong.”
Me: “But based on your child’s grades and teachers input, your child is performing above grade level. There is no reason why she needs any accommodations.”
Parent: “Well, that’s your opinion.”
Me: “No. Not opinion. Fact. It would be illegal for me to sign off on accommodations in this case.”
Parent: “I am not happy with this at all.”

I assume the matter is settled. A month passes. Same parent.

Parent: “We now have a psychological report that states that our child has ADHD. The report also indicates that she’ll need extra time on standardized tests. She’ll also need to be in a small group setting and can have the directions paraphrased or repeated when necessary.”
Me (begrudgingly): “OK. After we verify the psychologist’s license, we’ll set up a meeting to discuss/enact the accommodations under Section 504.”

This is not an exaggeration. This is typical. In the Twilight Zone, parents use Section 504 to give their children an unfair advantage over other students (within the same school and district) during state/national standardized testing (including gifted, norm-referenced, and SSAT testing).

Section 504 is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which is a civil rights act that protects the rights of people with disabilities. If it is determined that a student has a disability under Section 504, the school MUST develop and implement the delivery of all needed services and/or accommodations. Grades and student performance are non issues when it comes to determining eligibility for accommodations.

Again, parents, in the Twilight Zone, have the resources to pay for psychological evaluations. The thousands of dollars they shell out are considered an investment. They know which brokers (psychologists) to see in order to ensure this investment yields positive returns (diagnoses). They understand the law and use it to benefit children that are already excelling in the classroom.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are a few students who actually need/benefit from accommodations/services (medical condition/disability affects them academically), but here, they represent a small minority of the cases I deal with.

After conveying this story to a fellow colleague, the colleague recently asked, “Hypothetically, ”

Let’s play this out again, shall we?

***Twilight Zone music here ***

Parent: “We now have a psychological report that states that our child has ADHD. The report also indicates that she’ll need extra time on standardized tests. She’ll also need to be in a small group setting and can have the directions paraphrased or repeated when necessary.”
Me: “You just paid the psychologist two grand. Of course your child has ADHD now. I would have ADHD if I was evaluated by your doctor.”
Parent: “Excuse me?”
Me: “Did you really think he was going to write a report saying your daughter is fine? No issues? Really?”
Parent: “How dare you?! Do you know who my husband is?”
Me: “No, but I do know that you need to calm down.”
Parent: “Excuse me?”
Me: “Look. Your child is performing beautifully. She’s in the gifted program. She’s getting straight A’s. What more do you want?! Perfection? So she’s a little hyper. So what?! It’s obviously not affecting her academically. With all due respect, relax.”
Parent: “Well, I never.”
Me: “Never what?! Told your daughter how proud you were of her?”
Parent: blank stare
Me: “And do you realize what you’re doing? You’re attempting to give your child an unfair advantage over other students. There are some students here, and in other schools, that actually need the accommodations you’re requesting for your child. You’re wasting my time and the schools’ resources.”
Parent: “You can’t talk to me this way.”
Me: “Too late. I already did.”

That would definitely be a POW! moment, yes?

“Why am I here? What am I doing? Am I contributing to the perpetuation of the Achievement Gap?” These questions haunted me during my first few months in this position. As an African American/Latino male, I was conflicted because I became an unwilling participant in this system. Although I disagree with what happens here, it is legal. Yes. Legal (at least my part is). If I wasn’t here, any person in my position would be obligated to comply with the law in the same manner.

If this was my sole job responsibility, I would have completely lost my mind by Thanksgiving. Assisting teachers and interacting with students, especially the minority student population, keeps me grounded. This isn’t the final stop on my career path. Not the last stop on my journey. This experience is absolutely necessary. This is a learning opportunity. When I escape the alternate reality of this Twilight Zone to become a principal, I will return to my roots (Title 1 school with high percentages of African American and/or Latino students), I will bring this knowledge of this place with me.

We can’t work to close the achievement gap if we are not completely aware of all of its causes. I already have my Joe Clark speech ready:

Do you know what they are doing up there?! We have to work twice as hard to achieve the same results, but we will! We have no choice! Our students are not lacking in intelligence. Up there, students have a head start. In addition to that head start, many of parents twist the law to give their children a leg up on our students. These things are beyond our control, but we can control how we chose to teach our students here. All students have genius. Find it, tap into it, and nurture it! No excuses. No excuses.

This has been an eye-opening experience for me. Not many have the opportunity to see what I’ve seen. This post is my attempt to open your eyes.

C. Marquez (pen name)


Voices of Concerned Educators: Steal [Marcy Webb]

March 23, 2010 Jose
Ocean Swim

“Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.” – Ryunosuke Satoro Why is it that in teaching, ideas have to be stolen? In April of 2009, a colleague observed one of my “Twosies” (Spanish Two) classes. She observed the first 45 minutes of an 85 minute block. During the time she observed, I […]

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Voices Of Concerned Educators: Bridging The Gap [Jovan Miles]

March 22, 2010 Jose

Public education is a bureaucrat’s wet dream.  Our school and district level leaders rarely, if ever, create policy or drive education reform. They simply carry out the will and mandates of government officials, politicians, and the loud minority who, in most cases, have never set foot in a classroom as anything other than students. Pushing […]

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