waiting for superman Archives - The Jose Vilson

waiting for superman

I rarely get the opportunity to have my opinion come in direct conflict with an outstanding actress of any repute, so excuse me if I brag via quote today. The following excerpt was published in the independent media outlet In These Times, written by Josh Eidelson:

Vilson says he was particularly disappointed by Viola Davis’ participation, given The Help star’s past comments about wanting to elevate the voices of often-ignored domestic workers.

“You should also see the alignment between that and what’s going on with teachers,” says Vilson, “and the bad tone that’s being sent throughout the country.”

“I’m sorry,” Davis told the New York Times, “I just know if you don’t have a strong advocate for a child, they’re not going to make it.”

The New York Times reported that the trigger law portrayed in Won’t Back Down differs from its real life counterparts in a key respect: Unlike standard parent triggers laws which require just a majority of parents’ signatures to trigger a turnaround, the law in the movie requires support from a majority of a school’s teachers as well. Asked why, Weil told In These Times, “It was important that the law used be fictional because the film is not based on a specific actual law,” but instead “draws on many situations throughout the country.”

Obviously, we didn’t actually respond to each other, but I might as well have. I anticipated that some of the interviews regarding the two-pronged events of the movie Won’t Back Down and the Teachers Rock! concert sponsored by Walmart will have the same soundbites about helping kids and giving parents advocacy.

The crux of my argument against Won’t Back Down specifically is this: we should recognize that this movie will have a similar effect to what Waiting for Superman had on the general zeitgeist. While not very popular, WfSset a precedent for how many times a non-educator could ask a teacher (namely me) about what really happens under the presumption that the movie has more than an ounce of truth to it.

It had very little, but people bought it anyways, because the movie told them so.

I do get it, though. Parents across the country are in fact frustrated. So are many others. Many public schools aren’t working for kids, and the bureaucracy can frustrate even the most patient parent. It often feels like they get the run-around, and when they do protest, they’re often told about how poorly their child performs and that nothing can be done no matter what they say. Too often, even my colleagues fail to see that side, the side where we as educators have to be complicit in the crap when we rather not be.

Let’s work together.

Instead of supporting “parent trigger,” which replaces one school for another and turns the public school into a non-unionized charter school, let’s assure that children get experienced, high-quality educators who won’t leave after 2-3 years. Let’s have answers, and, if not, let’s work towards creating them. Let’s give the idea of a “community school” one more look over, and see how schools often provide a neighborhood spirit where poverty can’t.

Let’s be the solution.

How do we suppose students and parents get their own agency from a company that doesn’t believe in workers’ rights or fair business practices? Come on now. I’m not backing down from this vision.

Neither should you.

Jose, who has three days left on this book giveaway!


On Malcolm X And The Importance of Public Opinion

by Jose Vilson on May 22, 2011

in Jose

Malcolm X, "Our Freedom Can't Wait!"

For the last few days, some of my fellow math teachers and I have been grading the NYS math test in an elementary school in Harlem. It’s been great because I get to wake up at 7 instead of 6 and still get to “work” on time. Yet, the warmer weather and my natural inquisitiveness has also sent me traversing my relatively new neighborhood in search of the best slices of this proud Black Mecca.

I walked up to 125th Street on Thursday when I noticed that almost every business (save a nationally recognized bank) had closed their doors from 1pm – 4pm. At first, my fellow math teachers and I were shocked; we weren’t used to the tradition for a man so many Americans malign. Yet, I grinned as I walked past the Rapture prophets, sneakerheads lining up in front of the House of Hoops store, and the mystics selling their oils and scents. While gentrification slices through Harlem like a blunt letter opener, the people still remember the contributions of an absolute legend.

This coincided with the premiere of The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman, a movie created under the Grassroots Education Movement umbrella (shout-outs to Norm and Julie) about the facts portrayed in Waiting for Superman. Fellow teacher-blogger BNiche and I had a discussion after the movie about the next “leader” of this movement. We both came to a point where we asked if that person had to be a teacher, or someone who works in education directly.

Naturally, people would point to the luminary Diane Ravitch, who offers her opinion on the state of education early and often, but we also wondered if the person could be or should be someone from the K – 12 arena. Then, I thought out loud, “Well, the powerful thing that people never discuss about Malcolm, Martin, or any of the other giants of the civil rights movement is that they had the opportunity to be so outspoken because they were publicly financed. Their congregations and followers supported most of their moves, made sure they were taken care of, and thus, assured that the message of their leaders wasn’t compromised.

As it turns out, almost every teacher I know doesn’t get hired for their personal opinions; they generally get hired to teach. Sorry for stating the obvious, but teachers who speak up do so at their own peril. Any monies they garner from books, speaking engagements, after-school tutoring, or ads on their website (if they get one or any of these) are minimal compared to their already undermining teacher salaries. Granted, I consider the average experienced teacher very opinionated about education, but there’s a point where many miss the opportunity to take action and become fatalistic about the state of education.

Frankly, that goes for many of us. And if we’re not afraid of losing our jobs because of our opinions, we’re afraid because schools are closing, our opinions aren’t being heard … our kids are failing. We keep putting scotch tape on cement cracks, hoping no one runs over the pot holes. Malcolm X knew that more than anyone, and that’s why people followed him. He voiced the opinions of the voiceless in ways many couldn’t, and acted out these values in ways few others did.

By the time 4pm came around, and Harlem businesses reopened, some of us kept the spirit of Malcolm going.

Jose, who wants a seat at the table to dine …


Walk Up And Donate Yourself

by Jose Vilson on December 5, 2010

in Jose

Local Hero

Out of the hundreds of e-mails I get every day, I always catch one that I thought had a shred of authenticity, but ends up just annoying the hell out of me. This time, I came across an e-mail from Borders, an e-mail I asked to receive, but didn’t think I’d get. In this particular e-mail, I saw an advertisement for Waiting for Superman, and it read:

Support Out Schools!
Shop at Borders, get up to $30 to donate to a classroom.

Dec. 4-5 in-store, make any purchase at Borders and get a $15 DonorsChoose.org gift card to make a donation to a classroom on DonorsChoose.org.

Plus, buy the book Waiting for “Superman” and get an additional $15 to donate! While supplies last.

On the surface, this seems rather innocuous, until we get to the piece about Waiting for “Superman.” Anyone who’s read this blog for a while knows how I feel, but in case you haven’t, let me be clear: I don’t like the message behind it nor the philosophy of the people behind the film. Thus, I find the gift certificate for a donation we’re supposedly getting disingenuous. Like any ad should be.

The root of my annoyance stems from the fact that a) we have to spend in order to donate and b) we have to buy Waiting for “Superman” in order to get the full $30. Anyone with any understanding of how much teachers pay for a nice classroom in time and monies knows that the monies we’re giving towards this Borders purchase would be more effective if we just went up to a neighborhood school and gave it straight to the school, or even to the website DonorsChoose directly.

Plus, if you buy the book Waiting for “Superman,” you’re essentially giving monies to people who don’t need the money to take your money and use it for their tax returns. This is the type of absurd capitalistic insidiousness that got us a non-educator as a chancellor, or the reason why people don’t think teachers who have an opinion shouldn’t share their opinions on anything but education. If that.

If your name is not Davis Guggenheim, do yourself a favor. When you have a cause you’d like to donate to, focus on it, put your attentions on it, and give directly to them. Go to the school and see if they’re delivering. Don’t fold your donation into a paper airplane and hope it glides onto the principal’s desk.

And please, whatever you do, don’t drive by the school, feel pity on it, drive your kids to the pretty school a few miles away, and make a movie about how bad public school is. That’s already been done.

Jose, who has some other ideas for books you can pick up instead, because I just got my copy …


How Much Superman Knows About Pedagogy

September 21, 2010 Jose
Waiting for Superman

Pardon my snark, but what does Superman really know about pedagogy? Really, I’m not sure why Davis Guggenheim, John Legend, Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, or anyone else think this superhero should be the face of education reform when a) he probably wants nothing to do with this mess b) kids aren’t asking to be “saved” […]

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