Who Taught Educators To Hate Themselves? (About Lists and Authenticity)

Jose Vilson Jose


The following is a debate I’ve had with a few folk, so here is an uninterrupted fleshing out of these thoughts.

Michael Petrilli put out another list of edu-influentials this year. This list, unlike the last time I wrote about this, didn’t need any particular prodding from me regarding diversity and inclusion of women who discuss education policy. This list, unlike the last time, kept Sabrina, Audrey, and me, and added Xian Barrett, too. I generally feel ambivalent about lists, awards, or any special recognition unless I know there was a concentrated effort by a group of folks to put me on. For that, I must be thankful.

At first, I felt as strongly as Audrey Watters does about lists. For the most part, I do agree with her assertions:

We can debate, as philosophers have for ages, the meaning of these terms – “intelligence,” “influence.” But more importantly, we should ask: why do these characteristics matter? To whom do they matter? And once there’s a practice in place that has defined these terms and has designed measurement tools to assess them and a scale to rank them, we should ask what purposes these designations serve. I don’t mean what sorts of perks do you get with your Klout score or your IQ; I mean for us to consider how might these ranking systems reinscribe hierarchy and inequality, all the while purporting to offer an “objective” tool that reflects ability.

Sorta like “science,” but not.

But then something hit me: there’s a lot of connected educators and edu-activists saying they don’t care about lists, awards, and recognition but taking them anyways. Before I became fully acquainted with the intricacies of social media and the worlds of ed-tech and edu-activism, lots of folks received plaudits, gifts, and followers just for existing, willing to include corporate sponsorship in their message as long as their “numbers” flew. Now that there’s a wider range of folk getting in the door (and yes, I do mean me), there’s a problem?

I’m suspicious.I’m suspicious when, out of 100 educator types that Secretary Arne Duncan follows, only two have the courage to say, “Hell no.” (Audrey and John Spencer, if you must know.) I’m suspicious when we say we don’t care about lists, but won’t ask the creators of the lists to take our names down because we want our numbers to go up authentically, whatever that means. I’m suspicious when we’re OK with everyone from celebrities, education professors, and other expert-types speak for us, but the minute an educator comes in that slot, it becomes an issue in our community. Some of the critique I see from educators about actual teachers seems counter-intuitive to building up a profession already favored by the general public.

In other words, who taught educators to hate themselves, specifically each other?

Sabrina Stevens also reminds us that, in spite of what others think, lists and awards do matter because they often lead to other opportunities, other ventures, and more recognition from within communities and from the outside communities, too. This leads to having more influence, getting to speak to others, having your ideas spread, and, yes, more opportunities. Human nature, for better or worse, often has us believing in numbers even when a part of us considers them irrelevant.

Is this a game of “don’t hate the player, hate the game?” It’s more like “Hate the game, and change it so everyone has a better chance to win.

Or don’t play at all.”As for me, I’m suspicious when we act like crabs in a barrel and never question the actual barrel. I’ll keep doing what I do in promoting the great works I see all around me. I also have an obligation to promote the great works of folks who also don’t get on the same lists others do, and I’ll keep opening doors that were once only held open for folks with 20K followers and above. It’s weird that people profess to hate the game yet embrace the benefits bestowed upon them from it. Reminds me of another type of privilege …