Kanye West Shrug (feat. Taylor Swift), VMAs

What The Hell Do I Know?

Jose Vilson Jose 10 Comments

Kanye West Shrug (feat. Taylor Swift), VMAs

To my most fervent readers,

Despite whatever any of you think about my prolificity, I rarely get into discussions about war, poverty, and education in person unless I’m absolutely prompted. One time, some of my colleagues talked about some students as potential crack babies due to their erratic behavior. As they laughed and scoffed, I carefully told them that, despite society’s long held beliefs in this epidemic, there’s no such thing as a “crack baby.” Surely, there are people who were affected by their parents’ unsavory habits, but to say there are babies whose behavior stems from the drug introduced in their mothers’ placenta? Not true.

What a buzzkill.

They not only stopped discussing crack babies after they asked me to explain myself, they went right back to what they were doing before any of the conversation started. I find myself in that position often, where what I’m about to say is going to potentially break down a whole conversation. I’m all for doing it if it means people understand that I’m quiet because I’m paying attention, not because I don’t know what I’m talking about. Most of my friends are more outspoken, and they rarely remove doubt about their intelligence. They almost relish the moment when they get that “Shut up! Ha! Whatchu gonna do now?!” moment. I’ve learned my sneak-attack method lets me find out peoples’ most honest opinions before I give them mine.

And the fact that I’m not just some online diarist, but someone who’s got a few hundred thousand people reading his material consistently, makes me even more cautious about who and what I’m saying things to. For instance, I got some great news this week, and I was so excited, I called the person who gave me the news back just to be sure I could tell my family and friends at this point (I can). I told a couple of people and even blasted it on people. The congratulations rained in. However, upon calling my girlfriend, she asked me to be cautious.

At first, I didn’t get it, but now I do. It’s bad enough people think I’m arrogant (they confuse it with confidence, I assure you); when I tell them I’m in the company of some of the leading education advocates in the nation, they’ll probably expect me to preach the minute they parrot the Arne Duncans and Bill Gates of the world. They’ll expect me to tell them that comparing Finland to the US as the reason for having national common standards is erroneous at best and only a sliver of the story. They’ll expect me to debate the merits of actually having homework when there’s no definitive study on the benefits of homework, at least according to Alfie Kohn. They’ll expect me to become an administrator as soon as possible, even when I’ve stated I’m not interested.

Whenever people put you in a box, whether it’s a teacher box, angry Black / Latino man box, or the quiet box, they often let the worst of their humanity bleed through in the form of conceit and patronizing double talk. I’m not down for that.

So I’ll just keep on the poker face, let people speak on, flash a grimace when I disagree with something and continue letting my actions speak more than my words can.

Besides, I’m just a teacher, but what the hell do I know?

Jose, who’s still writing, still fighting …

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 10

  1. joycemocha

    I *want* you to be an angry Black/Latino teacher man when you need to be; it’s a necessary corrective in a far-too-pale passive-aggressive teaching dialogue. I am thrilled that you’re pulling down a bigger and bigger voice in national education discussions. It’s something that has needed to happen.

    You’re awesome, keep it up.

  2. Chris Lehmann


    I still think Ken Robinson’s first TEDTalk where he talks about being at the dinner party and telling people you’re a teacher and having everyone move away from you is pretty accurate. :)

  3. bivey

    Chris, there is where I am lucky. I grew up and still live in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts, where there were three colleges in my home town and so over half the population of grown-ups worked for one school or another. In that context, people don’t move away from you at parties when you say you teach.
    However, when I say I teach middle school, I do often get a, “Well, God bless you; I could never do it.” which shows to me how misunderstood and maligned that age group is.
    I still think that our society only professes to value children but doesn’t actually, and when you combine that with teaching being a profession historically made up primarily of women (also not valued as much as they ought to be), I think it goes a long way toward explaining our society’s attitude toward teachers which is otherwise incomprehensible, not to mention unforgivable.

  4. Post

    Wow, thanks for all the feedback.

    With all your thoughts in mind, I have one thing to say. If you think telling non-teachers you’re a teacher creates adverse reactions, imagine what happens when you tell your school staff you’re a blogger.

Leave a Reply