To author and education activist José Luis Vilson, humanity and inclusivity are at the core of creating a productive learning environment in today’s society.

Last Tuesday night, the University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies hosted Vilson in collaboration with VCU at the Sacred Heart Center in Richmond. Vilson spoke to community members about his 2014 book “This is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education."

Vilson's talk was the second of six events that make up the 2017-2018 Graduate Education Speaker Series. 

Vilson drew off of his experiences as both a former student and as a public school teacher in New York City to advocate for personal relationships between students and their teachers.

“One of the things that happens in classrooms is that we forget we are human beings,” Vilson said. “It’s not so much about scores and standards, it’s about the relationships that we create with students."

Vilson attended a Nativitymiguel Coalition school, a non-profit organization that aims to break the cycle of poverty through faith-based education, according to its mission statement. Two of the coalition's member schools, the St. Andrew’s School and the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School, are located in Richmond.

Rob Ryan, junior, has volunteered at the St. Andrew’s School in Richmond for almost two years and said he believes schools like St. Andrew’s help provide students with a quality education that they may not be able to receive through a Richmond public school.

“What is so wonderful, but also discouraging, about St. Andrew's School is that it’s an alternative to the Richmond Public Schools, a school system that in many cases fails to provide low-income students with the resources they need to realize their full potential,” Ryan said. “The whole-child model is one I believe all schools can benefit from in preparing their students to succeed in all walks of life." 

In addition to advocating for the personal relationships that schools such as St. Andrew’s provide for students, Vilson also challenged current federal education policies, such as Common Core standards, and questioned whether they are inclusive for people of all backgrounds.

“I want people to think that we all belong at the table,” Vilson said. “And if we can’t be there, then we need to create a new table, policy-wise."

Vilson is the founder of EduColor, a coalition of educators, parents, students, writers and activists who work to elevate the voices of public school advocates of color on educational equity and justice, according to the group’s website

He also runs a blog where he has criticized prominent figures in education including former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

When asked about his opinion on the Trump administration and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Vilson said that there was still work to be done in creating an inclusive educational environment nationwide.

“The one desire that I have for a secretary of education is that they care for all of our kids,” Vilson said. “What good is the position of the top educator of the country if you’re not going to use it to make sure all students feel included?"

Vilson then challenged members of the Richmond community to think about their role in making a difference in education.

“My challenge to every single body here is: Wherever you are going to go, whether you are a parent, student or teacher, is how are you going to make the work that we do more loving,” Vilson said.

Contact news writer Bri Park at brianna.park@richmond.edu. 

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