I Will Be The Muhammad Ali Of Education Writing (My Top Ten Posts of 2013)

Jose Vilson Jose

George Foreman vs. Muhammad Ali

George Foreman vs. Muhammad Ali

Dear reader,

The reason I haven’t spoken about Kanye West all year is because, in some ways, I’ve occupied a similar space that he does in education discussion. I don’t mean marrying Kim Kardashian, either.

Here’s the list of my top ten posts according to how many views I got:

  1. Chris Christie and Why Teaching Intersects With Women’s Rights
  2. I’m Diane Ravitch and I’m Tired of Your Shit (A Review of Reign of Error)
  3. First They Came For Urban Black and Latino Moms (For Arne Duncan)
  4. Excuse Me, Your Privilege Is Showing (White Privilege in Ed Reform)
  5. An Open Letter From The Trenches [To Education Activists, Friends, and Haters]
  6. Quvenzhané Wallis, Matthew McConaughey, and How We See Our Children of Color
  7. Boredom, Thy Name Is Charlotte Danielson (On Rubrics and Misuse)
  8. If You’re Teaching Black History Month This Way, Please Stop
  9. The Revisionist’s Martin Luther King Jr., “I Have A Dream For Most Of Us”
  10. No One Puts Algebra 2 In A Corner (Math For All Kids)

This year, I dedicated myself to more honest writing, especially around issues of race and equity, and it shows. Seven of my top ten posts deal, at least implicitly with racial justice, four of these deal with women’s rights, and eight of these dealt with educational equity.

Yet, these all have something in common, too: each of them have had someone say, “Well, actually …”

The “Well, actually” crowd loves when you’re controversial in their lane. You agree with everything we have to say? Please walk right in. Have a seat. Jump on our lists. Sit on our board. Have these awards. I’ll follow everything you do for more than a day. Whatever you do, though, please don’t call out anyone or anything that we like because we don’t know what to do with valid counterpoints, especially as it pertains to race and class.

Most of this year’s counterarguments to my pieces can be summed up in this next paragraph:

Stop picking on Grant Wiggins and Nicholson Baker, Vilson. You didn’t donate to the Opt Out movement even though I know for a fact you’ve taught in the classroom longer than I have, so you’re not a real activist, Vilson. I’m a white educator in a charter school, and I care about my Black kids, so I have no idea what you’re talking about, Vilson. It’s not like we’re talking about Hitler here, Vilson. The Onion was just making a joke about Quvenzhane, and you’re taking things too seriously, Vilson. I’ll wait until you stop talking about race and gender to engage with you, Vilson, since I obviously don’t have good arguments. You don’t have a doctorate, so how dare you speak about teaching to us, Vilson! Your book review won’t be as funny or entertaining as such-and-such, Vilson. 

No. I just want a chance to show I belong in the same sentence as the favorites. If not, then I’ll still be here creating my own sentences with my people.

As Errol Smith, executive director of the Bammy Awards came to find out, though, I’m not here for a personal victory, but for everyone’s victory. Nobody wins when a whole segment of highly qualified individuals is excluded on the basis of gender, race, or any other category. Ask baseball pre- Jackie Robinson. What’s more, even after the kerfuffle between Errol and I, even after the awards were cancelled until further notice, I still felt a little pride when I heard Jesse Hagopian, one of the organizers of the Seattle MAP boycott, won two of the big awards at their last event, not because I think Jesse is somehow a better human being than everyone else, but because his brilliant work won’t get recognized if the right people don’t back him up.

The conundrum is, as has always been, do you want to be popular or do you want to do what’s right for the unnamed, the people without the platform?

In some ways, I’m glad I chose the latter and still found an answer to the former. I’m blessed that so many of you HAVE supported my work. From the people who consistently shared my work and pre-ordered my book to the folk who thought enough of me to contribute to their publications, speak at their functions, and invite me in, knowing I won’t hold back on the things that matter most. The top ten posts of the year demonstrate the power of many, that, in spite of the “Well, actually” crowd, I have hundreds of you who insist that I keep writing, especially during my lowest points of the year.

The “Well, actually” crowd might look elsewhere, but you’ve stuck through. That matters more than you know.

Muhammad Ali once said, “I know where I’m going and I know the truth, and I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be what I want” in response to questions about his beliefs. I’m not as free as I want to be yet; I’m employed by the same system that I critique. This means I’m still the underdog because I choose to write as I do. Well, actually, you’re the motivator, so thank you. Hopefully, in 2014, I’ll still have your support.

If not, I’m running up on stage and telling everyone how wrong they were. Swiftly.

Bumaye, Jose