Readers of Eduflack know that I am a strong advocate of discussion, disagreement, and engagement. To put it simply, we spend just far too much time talking to and seeking out only those that we agree with 100 percent of the time. While this approach can make us feel better about ourselves, the simple fact is we cannot have truly meaningful conversations with those who agree with every syllable that comes out of our mouths.
The issue is compounded when we talk about how best to improve our schools and deliver a better education for our children without actually talking to the teachers who stand in those classrooms each and every day. And it is hard to argue with the fact that the educator perspective is often in short supply when we start talking about change and reform to our educational institutions.
One of the ways I solve both issues is by closely following Jose Luis Vilson, known on the Twitters as @TheJLV. On a daily basis, I find Jose’s frank observations and pull-no-punches approach to education refreshing And while I don’t agree with many of the positions he takes, I enjoy following his logic model. I love hearing him tell a story. I applaud his passion and conviction. (And he wins bonus points from me by including hip hop and rap in his approach.)
So I wasn’t sure what to expect when I dove into Vilson’s Haymarket Press-published book, This Is Not a Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education. Any reader of Eduflack knows, professionally, I am a big supporter of accountability and believe that testing plays an important part in K-12 education. But as a father of two Latino children, I am also keenly aware of the issues surrounding race in our schools and know far too well we cannot and must not try to test our way out of them. When I talk about the achievement gaps, it isn’t a talking point or a buzz word for me. It is a wholly personal issue and the reason I do what I do in the edusphere.
I was prepared to be lectured to. I was ready to hear that our schools have never been better and the only problem is poverty. But I got none of that. Instead, I got an incredibly smart narrative that captured and held my attention. More importantly, Vilson forced me to think about many of the educational issues I hold so dear in very new ways.
But most importantly, I walked away thinking I want someone like Vilson to be teaching my kiddos. This is a teacher who cares and a teacher who is making a difference each and every day he steps into his classroom. We may disagree on the finer points of testing, with me hoping he would give more credit to the value of interim assessments in improving both teaching and learning. But there is no disagreeing that Vilson gets it. He knows what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong in the American classroom. He cuts through all of the flowery language and platitudes and excuses we hear far too often, and speaks truth on issues where honest truth is often absent. And he lays out issue after issue that I want to further engage him on, have a deeper discussion of, and, yes, try to change his mind about.
TheJLV reminds us that all of these discussions of education reform and achievement gaps and the impact our rhetoric has on black and brown kids are very real. It isn’t a test, and our actions have very real consequences.
Some of his stories may make people feel uncomfortable, but they are must reads. If we are serious about addressing what ails our schools, we can’t ignore a voice like TheJVL. Agree with him or not, This Is Not a Test is a must read.