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This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education Paperback – May 27, 2014

4.4 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Jose Luis Vilson has written a spell-binding book that explains the joys And burdens of teaching. The joys are the kids, with all their heartaches and dreams. The burdens are the politicians and careerists who snuff out the spirit of children and teachers. Read this book!" —Diane Ravitch

"Jose Vilson writes from a place of authority about the intersection of race, class and America’s education system. His straight-talk about the absurdity of America’s test obsession, failure to meet or even acknowledge the needs of an increasingly diverse student population, and a “reform” movement that has reformed nothing, failed at much and distracted from students’ very real needs is a telling portal on what’s really going on in American education today. Those who can relate to Vilson’s experiences as a student or a teacher will welcome his unvarnished honesty and reflections. And those for whom this is terra incognita will find an insightful and illuminating window on the educational experiences of America’s emerging majority—students of many hues and languages, whose families struggle everyday, for whom their education may be the only way up, yet who too often are failed by systems ill-equipped to foster their success. Vilson’s visceral accounts remind us of the humanity of teachers—their struggles and triumphs, their frustration with forces outside their classroom walls and, above all, their devotion to their students. By telling his own story and those of his students, Vilson shows why teacher voice is essential to shedding the failures of the past and to reclaiming the promise of public education." —Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers

"As the principal of Morrill, a school that serves 850 students from preK-8th grade, this book hit home for me. Our school is nearly evenly split between Latino and African-American students, and 90% qualify for free or reduced lunch status. It is critical that we, as educators, can discuss issues of race and class with our students and with our colleagues. Mr. Vilson's book is one of the most honest, relevant, and timely books I have read. His words have been inspiring to me, and helped me reflect on my own practice. I gave a copy to every member of our faculty and staff so that they too can find the inspiration and reflect on their practices as educators." —Michael Beyer, Ed.D., NBCT and Principal, Morrill Math & Science School

"Drawing from his own insight as a teacher, Jose Vilson hits right between the eyes, exposing how hardscrabble poverty and the pernicious effect of racism distort young lives. In This Is Not A Test: The New Narrative On Race, Class, and Education Vilson argues for more teachers of color, more time for teachers to support each other, and more ways for teachers to shape policy. Bristling at the “cold calculus” of tests, This Is Not A Test calls for practices that engage imagination and respect students as people. In gripping language, Vilson sends students an urgent message: “When we find our passions, we must enter into them boldly” and believe in the value and gift of oneself."
—Dennis Van Roekel, President, National Education Association

"In its telling, Jose Vilson's evocative collection of essays are ferociously honest and, as expected from someone whose creative impulses are informed by hip-hop, unapologetic and lyrical. A thoroughly engaging narrative about the intersection of race and culture, identity, economic disparity, and education, This is Not A Test is a must-read for parents and educators who want to understand, truly and deeply, the challenges inner-city students face. It was, after all, written by one of those children, a young man from a marginalized community, who grew up and bum-rushed the system he dedicated his life to changing from within." —Raquel Cepeda, author of Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina

Jose's autobiographical journey offers a big window for seeing why our nation must blur the lines of distinction between those who teach in schools and those who lead them. With powerful prose and poetry, his narrative as student and then later, NYC teacher leader, loving father (and husband), and advocate for children paints a portrait of what public education can and must be for American society. Jose's last chapter, "Why Teach," offers a hopeful vision for the future of the profession in spite of wrongheaded policymakers who seek to control teachers rather than listen and learn from them. Jose represents so many teachers across the United States, whose pedagogical skills and leadership acumen have yet to be tapped in the transformation of teaching and learning. Read "This is Not a Test" now!
—Dr. Barnett Berry, CEO and Founder of The Center for Teaching Quality

"Too many books about teaching read like dull academic treatises, condescending how-tos, or simplistic Hollywood scripts. Jose Vilson’s This is Not a Test avoids these traps with a narrative that is by turns passionate and funny, angry and vulnerable, and full of keen insight born of on-the-ground experience in schools. Whether referencing Jay-Z or John Dewey, discussing corporate school reform or the intimacy of one-on-one interactions with students, Vilson is a bold and fearless writer, weaving his own story and struggles into broader conversations about race, equity, and the future of public schooling. His singular, urgent voice is one we all need to hear." —Gregory Michie, a public school teacher in Chicago and author of We Don't Need Another Hero: Struggle, Hope, and Possibility in the Age of High-Stakes Schooling

"Jose Vilson is a teacher of the highest order. Through the powerful narrative of his life both inside and outside of the classroom, Jose teaches us important lessons on every page of _This Is Not a Test_. Jose teaches us about the intersection of education, race, class and activism while calling all of us to do better - to be better - as we strive along with him to be the educators all our children need us to be. This book is a must read for educators, soon-to-be educators, parents, students and anyone who cares about education and the children of this country."
—Chris Lehmann - Founding Principal, Science Leadership Academy

About the Author

José Luis Vilson is a math educator for a middle school in the Inwood / Washington Heights neighborhood of New York, NY. He writes for Edutopia, GOOD, and TransformED / Future of Teaching, and has written for CNN.com, Education Week, Huffington Post, and El Diario / La Prensa, NY.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 220 pages
  • Publisher: Haymarket Books (May 27, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608463702
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608463701
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #105,441 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Vilson’s book is a collection of personal stories and passionate essays about his own education, his work as a teacher, and his journey from anonymous blogger to "The José Vilson." It’s a good read, and an important contribution to the growing canon of texts that dissect U.S. education at this pivotal time in history.

Here’s what I loved about it:

1. Vilson’s voice is familiar. Reading This Is Not a Test didn’t feel like reading an “education” book. It wasn’t work. It was like talking to someone I know. His classroom stories remind me of my own, the kinds of stories teachers don’t often share out loud for fear of looking unprofessional. And Vilson doesn’t shy away from profanity. For me, this is a plus. I always knew my love of the strategically placed swear word was motivated by more than immaturity or laziness, but it was only when I read Vilson’s defense of the practice that I had a clear explanation for it: “Cursing isn’t just a way to vent. It serves a purpose: to shock the usually puritan education audiences and aggressively advance ideas about the need for change.” Thanks for that one, José. I have a feeling I’ll be quoting you in the near future.

2. It’s kind of all over the place. It’s hard to pinpoint what this book actually IS. The book doesn’t follow a straight narrative path; it doesn’t lay out a clear sequence of one-note essays; it doesn’t offer easily referenced pieces of advice. It does all of those things, all at once. The bad thing about this is that it’s hard to describe the book in an elevator pitch. The good thing is, the book has texture: It covers a LOT of ground and there is something for just about everyone. At one point, you’re reading about the hollowness of our obsession with ed tech.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is really 3 1/2 stars. As a 30-year veteran of public school teaching, who is a white male, and who has spent the last 11 years teaching in a district which is overwhelmingly populated with poor children of color, I looked forward to this book--for some perspective, some validation and most importantly some insight. What I read was a book that did not really count me as a target reader. What I got was a book that at times was a little too self-congratulatory. Young, beginning teachers, especially those that are of color or who teach mostly children of color should read this book. JLV's voice is one you should hear and attend to. You won't learn tricks of the trade...he is not Rafe Esquith or John Owens, but JLV's call to action and finding your voice will serve the future of our profession well, if heeded. I wish this book had been around 15 years ago. The last 1/3 of the book I found full of highlightable points. And it is very well written and edited. So I do recommend this book. I just think it was written to a target audience, and I feel a little like an uninvited guest at the party.
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Format: Paperback
Despite the advice of numerous editors that the road to publishing success in education these days is paved straight and narrow through the territory of “how-to” and “Common Core,” Jose Vilson believed he had something more profound to say.

He says it in powerful and compelling ways in This Is Not a Test, illustrated by stories from his own life and the lives of his students. Vilson’s deconstructed anecdotes cut through the platitudes of politicians and the endless alibis of central office admins, into the heart of America’s unresolved contradictions: public education and democratic principles; equity and privilege, race and class.

It is, indeed, a new narrative, spoken by a still-young teacher whose voice rises from the very center of urban America. As he says in his conclusion, “A Note from This Native Son” —

"At its most revolutionary, the collective of women and men of color in any field see themselves as the spiritual mothers and fathers of those who seek to come afterward. As a teacher of color, sharing a lived experience with your students makes it imperative to do your best for your students.… My job is to lead them on the path to success knowing full well that, systemically, the odds are truly against them."

In his book Possible Lives, Mike Rose tells us that “public education is bountiful, crowded, messy, contradictory, exuberant, tragic, frustrating, and remarkable.” Jose Vilson’s must-read book shows us just how true these rich adjectives really are – and where we might find courage to do something about the tragic and frustrating parts.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The author's spot-on depiction of classroom life, of teachers' passion for their kids and their craft, and his eloquence have made me his number one fan. This book should be required reading for anyone who even remotely has contact with students.
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Format: Paperback
I first started reading Jose Vilson's blog at the recommendation of Michael Doyle. I'm guessing that this was four or five years ago - before the award nominations or the famous speeches or the opportunities to meet with folks in power.

What kept me reading was his voice. He spoke the truth, even when it wasn't pleasant to hear. Clearly he knew pedagogy at a deep level and he was an expert at technology. However, his blog consistently pointed to people. Whether it was systemic injustice or racism or the power that a teacher has in the lives of students, there was a constant reminder that what we do is, first and foremost, human. Deeply human.

I've had the chance to get to know Jose on Facebook and Twitter. Occasionally, we sparred over the issues of the day (such as whether or not Richard Sherman should have apologized). Still, there has always been a tone of respect even in the midst of conflict. Jose has shared not only his beliefs and ideas, but his story. I love the posts that he has written about fatherhood and family.

So, on some level, I wasn't sure I would see anything knew in This Is Not a Test. After reading it and re-reading it, I am struck by the sense that I got a chance to know him better. I know, for example, why it is important that he has and keeps the "The" before his name. I see where his deep sense of justice comes from and why his words are never merely talking points to win debates.

In other words, I get to see a more human side yet again. Although this is a book about society and policy, this is in so many ways, a memoir of the best kind. He is a gifted writer who expresses the personal and particular so well that it leads you to the global.
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