Sunday, July 6, 2014

How To Read "This Is Not A Test"

Over the past few weeks of the Global Math Department discussion of Jose Vilson's This Is Not A Test, I've realized that I'm reading the book differently than others are. I'd like to take a moment to lay out the case that this book should be read, essentially, as directed toward policy-makers and policy-advocates. In other words, this book wasn't written primarily with teachers in mind.

My main support from the text comes from this passage:
"After coming along on this journey with me, I hope you've gotten a sense of what it is like to teach--not just in urban schools, but within the parameters of any space in which we are beholden to a certain set of children, a certain set of adults, and a certain set of conditions." (p.211)
Doesn't this passage imply that Vilson has not been addressing teachers in the past 210 pages? After all, teachers don't need to get a sense of what it's like to teach.

To me, the whole thrust of the book is a critique of present-day education reform. I think all the short narratives he tells start gelling together when seen as part of a case that accountability reform and high-stakes testing have created at atmosphere that's bad for learning, teaching, and especially bad for Black and Hispanic students and teachers. (This was the framework through which I wrote this piece.)

I mean, he named the book "This Is Not A Test," right? And the book is full of policy suggestions, but has relatively few teaching tips. A book written for teachers would look very different, I think.

None of this means that teachers shouldn't read Vilson's book, or that reading This Is Not A Test won't help your teaching. The conversations we've been having as part of the book discussion show that this rich memoir is helping teachers continue to think through how they can better help their Black and Hispanic students. Teachers are obviously finding this book valuable, and that's great.

But I don't think that this book was written with the primary goal of helping teachers better teach their Black and Hispanic students.

I know that many of you disagree -- for all I know, Jose Vilson himself disagrees! -- and I happily invite your disagreement. Do the conversation a favor, though, and come with evidence from the book that teachers are the intended audience.


  1. In your previous post you said: "Fundamentally, this is a memoir, and Vilson is writing to tell stories the likes of which many in education have never heard."

    We got into a knockdown dragout fight over exactly this line, as I said "this is proof you've never been to ed school."

    Now you are saying that "many in education" does *not* refer to teachers? I did not really get that out of your first comment.

    I skimmed his book and pretty much lost patience with it. So I'll not try to argue the point vis a vis his book. However, his *blog* manifestly involves itself with being a black teacher in a sea of white teachers that don't get it. Do you agree, or do you see his blog as aimed at policy, too?

    1. Now you are saying that "many in education" does *not* refer to teachers? I did not really get that out of your first comment.

      My thinking that this book isn't primarily aimed at teachers is a development that came after our argument. So this is definitely a shift in my position.

      The truth is that I haven't read Vilson's blog with the sort of care that I've read his book. I'm inclined to say that Vilson's blog is aimed at a variety of audiences, and that when he's addressing teachers its mostly activist, policy-minded teachers.

  2. I am a student research assistant at Montana Tech of the University of Montana. Technology has created exciting ways to connect with others and form professional learning networks. As a part of an active member of a social media community made up of teachers, I wanted to contact you to ask you to participate in a study our research group is conducting.

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    Kaitlyn Rudy
    Research Assistant
    Department of Mathematical Sciences
    Montana Tech of the University of Montana