My EduParent Perspective: On Being a Parent of Color and the Vilson Piece

If you haven’t read José Vilson’s piece, Michelle Obama and Why Teachers Need to Embrace Critique, you should. Many have criticized both Michelle Obama for her statements and José for his writing and in a perfect world, all teachers see kids as kids and not kids as something else. In a lot of places and schools, this is not the case.

I learned from my own mother that visibility was important. As a parent, I’ve learned that if I wasn’t visible at school…my children were invisible. We’ve seen our share of jacked up situations in the case of our children and if we were not a part of their educational experience directly, we would not have known.

For example, as a 1st grader my niece was having extreme difficulty paying attention in class and sitting in one place silent. Her teacher’s response to that was to place her desk facing a wall…alone…the entire year. To be clear, to keep her from talking to her peers, she turned my niece’s desk to face the wall…alone. Her principal approved this madness. We had no idea until parent/teacher night when my niece showed us her desk. Let’s just say that the next few months were interesting and eventually that desk moved. There were other ways…better ways to deal. That wasn’t it.

When my son was in 5th grade, he was often reminded by one of his teachers that he would be in prison by the time that he was 16. Why say this to a 5th grader? Well, he was a bit of a clown and also didn’t answer her questions fast enough. Their student/teacher relationship only declined from there. If my son released a breath sideways, he was sent to the office…a place where the principal and this teacher were best friends. So yes, we had to be visible and united.

And then there’s Braeden, a clearly gifted child who doesn’t make the cut or fit the mold of “giftedness” in our school district, given the awesome experience of a fully worksheet based education that clearly did not cater to him or his learning needs. My nephew, on the basis of his “subgroup”, had to undergo mandated pull outs and tutorials because…heaven forbid that he didn’t pass the state exam! Let me be clear in saying that this kid, like others, did not need those mandated pull outs or after school tutorials. Do you think that we needed to be visible for this madness to stop? YES.

In all of these situations, these teachers were not open to criticism and were quite offended that we called their practices into question because they were the “experts”…only they were not. There was no pedagogical theory behind what they did and even worse in understanding how to address the needs of kids of color.

I would love to throw my kids into the classrooms of many of the teachers that I know from twitter. Unfortunately, that is not an option. If you are a teacher that thrives on providing an equitable educational experience to all kids, that is wonderful.

However, instead of being offended at Michelle Obama, José Vilson and others…understand that you are not the norm. You are the exception and just because you do what you need to do…doesn’t mean that others are following suit.

Truthfully, in many schools, kids of color are still seen as “them”, “Subgroups”, “colored” and “troubled”. We aren’t quite there yet where our kids are seen as equal.

I’ll say this as well…

I consider myself a great teacher but I too do not have all of the answers when it comes to my learners. I am always open for critique because sometimes…you just need to hear it in order to become better. Those criticisms are why I am who I am and why I will always continue to strive for better.

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