I'm Wherever Franklin Sits

Us Against Them, Unless We Say You’re Not One Of Them

Jose Vilson Jose 2 Comments

I'm Wherever Franklin Sits

Last night, I got into it with a few, well-established individuals of color over their union bashing. I’ll stop it there because every time I hear it from people of color, I often lay up a “whatthefuckisthisshit?” and then zip my mouth henceforth. The first time I saw it this summer, it came from a guy who I thought I would respect. Then, he implicitly had to bring the stereotypical “bad teacher,” who went by union rules (whatever that means) and didn’t cooperate with what he wanted to do. I wanted to say to him and the individuals in our community who joined “the other team” that, without unions, you wouldn’t have your precious book appearances, perch positions, or appearances on CNN.

One of the points I made recently in my post-SOS March was this:

I genuinely believe that there are 95% of us who actually believe in the cause. This 95% will move the objectives of the SOS and will do everything in their power to do what’s right for our students. The other 5%, the ones that can really do some damage, fall into a few categories, but it’s often a strand of selfishness that pervades their thinking. For instance, they might say they’re for a particular group being represented in this space, but only if they’re leading it. If they’re not leading it, then that group was never represented. Any new initiative makes it super-easy for someone to see things as a movement for self. That’s why we need to see things for the bigger picture, and the bigger picture doesn’t always have you in front.

As we turn our thoughts to making true progress, we have to consider the means and end by which we achieve this “win” of ours. I mean that for leaders of all backgrounds and colors, by the way. I’m of the belief that “wins” that matter don’t just belong to one person, but to a collective. As such, the collective would do well to include as many people of like mind as possible into their ranks. It’s as if people want to replicate the very power structure they purport to oppress them.

Is the movement about the people or about you as the leader of the people?

Thus, I find myself occupying this third rail where I want to do well by the proletariat, but not by emulating the very people who brought us here to begin with. I prefer to find ways to be ahead of the curve and be proactive, and not simply react to everything with a point-by-point retort. The latter suggests that we’ll always react and not get ahead of whatever corporatist / deformist movement we protest. Further, we need to take the long and wide view on the things we do if we even have a shot to make critical change.

People wonder how we become leaders. A big part of that is the simplest thing you can do: make sure that what you’re doing as a leader is selfless. It’s about the people. Even if you’re by yourself saying this, people understand your work as representative of the people, and that the work becomes so much bigger than you. If you’re bigger than your work, then maybe you should check behind you to see who’s actually following.

Jose, who prays that peoples’ pain be champagne …

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Comments 2

  1. ClassroomSooth

    If leaders are not reflecting the will of the people, then it is our responsibility to debunk their claims, and redirect their efforts. Granted union leaderships have done some pretty crappy things, but chief among them is claiming democratic principles and acting autocratically.

    Teachers Unions as the only (current) collective voice for teachers and the institution of public education. They must reflect the true needs of teaching and learning. Which is why we say, “Good working conditions are good teaching conditions are good learning conditions.” I dream of the day that the working conditions are something we have little need to fight for, so I can finally focus directly on teaching and learning, as opposed to dividing my attention between the three. I dream of the day we will no longer be regarded as “semi-professionals,” but respected and regarded as experts in our vocation.

  2. Andy S

    Especially liked the point, “I prefer to find ways to be ahead of the curve and be proactive, and not simply react to everything with a point-by-point retort.” The binary bigmouth-no-ears debate schtick wastes everyone’s time and energy and our culture would start to get more bearable if more people did something else.

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