Fuck That Shit

The Token’s Worth More Than You Bargained For

Jose Vilson Education, Jose, Race

Fuck That Shit

What About Our Dreams?

My favorite part about the GE Futures in Education Conference in Orlando wasn’t the wonderful 85+ degree weather, the beautiful accommodations (including free wi-fi), or even the wonderful speakers ranging from Jon Saphier and Robert Marzano to Ron Ferguson and David Jackson. It was my eclectic crew of math and science teachers who I broke bread with, hated on multiple people with, and had meaty debriefs about the daunting realities that our classrooms represent. In the midst of the edujargon we’re so quick to lean on like “professional learning communities,” “accountability,” and “curriculum integration” (sidenote: we’re likely to use that when we want to be comfortable or we don’t feel the need to explain ourselves to every and anyone), we forget about the real shit, the gangsta, or what some might call the pedagogy.

At the speed of education talk, it’s hard to escape using some of these terms, but more importantly, it’s hard to not clone oneself to sound like the others. When the most popular tweeters talk about ed-tech, then everyone’s going to talk about ed-tech. When the most popular bloggers talk about ed reform, then everyone else is going to talk about it. It’s similar to something I said about #edchat recently: when discussions about certain things get too hard, people go to that which they have an expertise on or that they can simply hypothesize on without making any critical dent into something.

That’s usually when I come in and stomp my foot like I interrupted a fine game of Hokey Pokey.

For some, they appreciate my eloquent, scrupulous thoughts on things because it’s not the same perspective (and the majority of those who appreciate it are White people). For others, though, they’re quick to change topic and become wonky or derisive. But Vilson don’t play that. Often, what this kind of talk does is shut out young voices, Black voices, female voices, gay voices, Asian voices, non-comformist voices … or any voice that doesn’t fit into this frame that’s got a Post-Note label with the word “teacher” on it. Those in the conversation that want real change, even when they may fit into the mold, notice when voices are ostensibly reticent.

When I see pictures of educators clamored together and none of them look like me or have my experience, I don’t think to run away from that crowd. I think: “What could I bring to that dialogue?” When I see a concentration of a certain type of blog, I don’t think: “Well, if everyone else is doing it this way, then I should write that way too. I need the comments.” I think: “What isn’t being talked about here?” I’m not here to agitate for agitation’s sake either; I’m here because conversations about equity, pedagogy, and the voiceless. Those of us with a voice need to speak up, be courageous, and find integrity and passion with our message. We’re not all going to agree, but that’s the part about being uncomfortable that’s going to need more than a bathroom break and a paper towel.

This is also why I have no problem being the only Black / Latino person in the crowd. Sometimes, the token is worth more than the collective bargains for.

Jose, who may be a token in certain settings but never settles for tokenism …