The Question Is: Are You Part of the Conspiracy?

Jose VilsonEducation, Jose

Pedro Noguera

Reading through the plethora of feedback given not only to this blog, but the rest of the blogs out there, I noticed a big part of the Teach for America event missing in all of our posts. For the purposes of this post, I’m glad we did since I’ve mulled it over so many times, it’s made me stop dead in my tracks twice since Wednesday.

Dr. Pedro Noguera made good mention of the schools-to-prisons funnel system, highlighting how so many schools are structured like prisons and how people have looked at 3rd – 4th grade test scores to determine the need for more prisons. My biggest takeaway in his rant was the following:

“I’ve been to prisons before, speaking in front of the inmates with guards all around the premises, and I’ve said, ‘There is a conspiracy to keep you in prison, and there are people whose jobs and income depend on keeping you here. There are policymakers planning to build more prisons right now, and whole towns in upstate New York that rely upon their prisons for jobs and economic development of those towns. There are corporations that run prisons for profit, taking advantage of the low wages prisoners receive for the work they do. Even the guards in this room understand their jobs depend on you being here. But my question to you is: are you part of the conspiracy?'”

The whole room paused. Most people in the audience had never read Noguera’s work , but even those of us who did stood silent while he struck that question. What’s often missing in the questions about responsibility is whether or not we’ve actually addressed that conspiracy. How do we play into the very stereotypes and limits set for us? How do we build bridges that address the needs of communities of color from a perspective of self-empowerment?

For that matter, when do the high-brow people in our communities stop talking down to those communities and integrate them into their work? Those of us who’ve had an opportunity to get enlightened act more like the Illuminati than illuminated: privileged and exclusive versus humbled and inclusive, as if the work we do gives us a certain holier-than-thou-art status instead of making us de facto servants for others.

And does that make us, those of us with Internet access who can read at a high school level or above with connections and a certain level of income, part of the conspiracy too? Let me not ruffle any feathers, though.

Mr. Vilson, who doesn’t mean to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but he is, so that’s how it comes out …