Boy As King

Whether They Wither or Weather The Perfect Storm [Genesis of a Nemesis Series]

Jose Vilson Jose 1 Comment

Boy As King

Boy As King

For the next 4 days, I’ll be writing about my students through their eyes, through mine, and then through your eyes, hoping that maybe we can grow from our limited thinking about our own students (myself included) and start to have real discussion, uncensored. Let’s get into it, shall we?

He wakes up in the morning, glasses thick, sullied, and intact. He’s bit heavy set, and has a naiveté uncommon to his rather humble surroundings. His apartment’s full of roaches and other creatures he never sees when he turns the knobs on his TV. Fox: Family Ties. Ahh, nice brown house. Family’s there with the mom, dad, and their siblings. Cosby Show: Dad and mom. Nice house. Bunch of siblings. Everything’s nice and works out in the end. Family Feud: 4-5 members of the family, all smiles. Superficial and fun competition in which they embrace openly. He wonders where his mom and him fall in that spectrum of what TV promotes as a healthy family. He stops scratching his head and gets to playing video games, for he feels more akin to plumbers in fantasy lands and turtles mutated from a sewer than this wholesome image portrayed on TV.

After all, these are all escapist mind frames.

He goes to school, and excels as you can expect. He behaves well … for the most part. And teachers cater to him because, well, he’s the smart kid. With time, he’s told he’s special because of his academic abilities, and so the quarantining begins. It’s in the adults’ mind frame that now this child has to come home extremely early, stay away from anyone who doesn’t even appear smart or doesn’t share the same interest, check in with an older cousin even when they may not really trust that person either, and worst of all, don’t touch any person of the opposite sex because, indirectly, that would lead to that deadly disease of pregnancy.

But eventually he grows up, makes it through public school, through private school, through “university,” and gets a really good job somewhere out in a city people in his neighborhood hasn’t heard of but the money’s somewhere in the 60K-80K range.

Success story right?

After 20+ years of “raising him right,” what’s the first thing people do when they see him? Point to a “failure” and say, “See? Why can’t you be like that?!”

We often stand there hypocritically and use these academic luminaries to set some really high and inequitable standard for many students when we use words like “uniqueness” and “differentiation.” (Is it because most of us are him or her?) We can’t complain about how badly our students do on statewide exams and, in the same line of thinking, hold our students to the same standard for their personal achievement as the next, right? Just because they’re both culturally similar doesn’t mean they have the exact same rate of success.

There are indeed likelihoods that certain populations won’t do well versus the other, but let’s be real: if I’m looking at my kids and the statistics against their success, we’re looking at a barrage of obstacles for them to overcome to become that “success” story we so often like to laud. What are the chances that a student growing up in poverty makes it through K-12, middle school, high school, and college without incident, accident, prejudice, or mishap? How many people do they have for them modeling the behaviors that they need to succeed? Do our students have the wherewithal to weather the psychological damage abject poverty, going from foster home to foster home, or watching your first person shot up on the block? Hmmm?

How many people, places, enforcers, and institutions through that path serve as oppressors to that child’s ability rather than enhancers and supporters of their abilities? Or how about those that inflate that child’s ability to the point where they forget to take care of the small things that matter, like developing good work habits and treating others respectfully? Many students, who may have tons of potential, encounter more people and types than they ever might have imagined when they started out in a rug fitting blocks into spaces with that one teacher at the center. Thus, the combination to that lock of success gets more complex, and far too many of our students barely make it through year 10 of this crazy process we call schooling.

Chances are, that aforementioned student, who everyone called the exception to the rule, actually proves the rule with his / her existence. For without him / her, we may think that one’s surroundings have little to do with how well a person does, right? Right.

And when he or she makes it through the possible culture shock of 120+ students in a Greco-Roman inspired room, more than 1/2 of whom can easily afford to be there, with loans up to their eyeballs, will they believe in this idea of uniqueness and isolate themselves from people whom they once called friends and thus indirectly extracting them from people who they shared so much in common with before this college-ification?

Where does someone step in and give the student a little token called humility and say, “Keep it with you. This never runs out, and use it whenever it feels right.”?

Jose, who wants less “curriculum enhancers” and more uprooting of the current educational system …

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 1

  1. Tricia

    Yo, if you replaced “he” with “she” you could be talking about me. And I can’t speak for the others who can relate to this story, but the college-ification process is what gave me my slice of humble pie: seeing-living-befriending others who got certain opportunities so easily (including the opportunity to go to college without so much as a thought as to how they were going to pay for it) lead to a FULL appreciation for the many many many opportunities that were thrown my way because I was the smart kid and the numerous educators who paid me special attention because I was “special” – and made me feel for those who didn’t shine as bright back then but deserved the special attention nonetheless, just as much as I did. College-ification showed me that in some places, people were offered amazing educational opportunities for reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with their intelligence. Why couldn’t it be that way for my schoolmates? I can’t help but to wonder if we all got the same attention – if the school system didn’t pick and choose who got certain educational opportunities and we were all able to take advantage – what potential would have been tapped? What potential remains untapped today?

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