Friday, October 20, 2017

Penn History Department Letter on Right-Wing Attacks on Graduate Student

I have been given screenshots of a letter which I transcribe below. My read is that this is an improvement on the letter from the PR folks, which did not specifically address the issue of right-wing targeting.

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Dear History Department Graduate Students,

We want to acknowledge your concerns about recent developments. Please know we stand in firm support of our teaching assistants. We fully recognize, respect and encourage many of the innovative pedagogic methods designed to encourage the participation of marginalized students. We also deplore the ways that social media has been used to target those who seek to further this mission. While we cannot comment further at this time, we are cognizant of our responsibility to make all students feel welcome and included in our classrooms. We remain deeply committed to realizing these goals together.

We hope to have the chance to meet and hear your concerns in the coming weeks.

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The document is signed by the Director of Graduate Studies for History, the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies, and the Chair of the Department of History.




AltCrusade17

Last week various historians came to D.C. to talk about the alt-right and their use of crusade iconography.  Eventually, various alt right social media accounts became aware of the event and its hashtag, #altcrusade17, and started tweeting violent memes out. Thus proving the point.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Study Humanities; Get a Job

In Pacific Standard, Noah Berlatsky and Ilana Gershon wrote a great piece about how humanities supports you getting a job!

The skills you learn in the humanities are exactly the skills you use in a job search. The humanities teach students to understand the different rules and expectations that govern different genres, to examine social cues and rituals, to think about the audience for and reception of different kinds of communications. In short, they teach students how to apply for the kinds of jobs students will be looking for after college.
This is a good piece. I have made similar arguments and will continue to do so, both as a writer and as an advisor in history.

That said, it's still accepting the premise that the value in what we do is about capitalism. I'm not sure, long term, that's going to work.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Chicago Public Schools Attack Special Ed

WBEZ has a breathtaking scoop about CPS hiring auditors, some of whom billed as high as $350 an hour, with no background in special education, to reshape CPS special ed! The results have been disastrous.

Here's how it worked:

1) Declare CPS is broke.
2) Declare Special Ed is too expensive, especially for black and Latinx boys.
3) Hire auditors.
4) Pay them vast sums
5) Create new systems to make it harder and harder for kids to get benefits.
6) Declare victory, I guess.
In an interview with WBEZ, CPS officials involved with the special education overhaul said if students were denied services, it was because they didn’t qualify under the new criteria.

Yolanda Williams’ daughter was one of thousands of students affected. She has Down syndrome and had qualified for occupational therapy for years, Williams said. But last year the staff at Penn Elementary in North Lawndale suddenly stopped providing it to her, she said.

Williams’ daughter sees an occupational therapist outside of school at the University of Illinois-Chicago. That therapist says the girl still needs the extra help at school, Williams said.

“I am trying to understand what happened and why?” she said.

The UIC therapist is teaching her daughter life skills such as brushing her teeth and tying her shoes, Williams said. But she said her daughter’s handwriting is virtually unreadable and she doesn’t know how to read, which are skills an in-school occupational therapist could work on.
CPS has always depended on some parents not knowing their rights.  Now they have made it worse.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Counting Killings


Over half of all police killings in 2015 were wrongly classified as not having been the result of interactions with officers, a new Harvard study based on Guardian data has found.
The finding is just the latest to show government databases seriously undercounting the number of people killed by police.
“Right now the data quality is bad and unacceptable,” said lead researcher Justin Feldman. “To effectively address the problem of law enforcement-related deaths, the public needs better data about who is being killed, where, and under what circumstances.”

Friday, October 13, 2017

Trawling for Historians?

Historians are receiving a weird email asking for their views on objectivity. Is this a right-wing trawl or a desperate student?

I don't know, but as I said last November:
It has never been more important for academics to speak, to write, to engage, and to push. I actually don't think it was less important a year ago, 5 years ago, 15 years ago, and so forth. It's always critical. But the rise of Trump mandates regular public engagement, while also elevating the risks of backlash.

So be careful out there. Write, tweet, talk, teach as if your words are being tracked by people who want to destroy you. But also write, tweet, talk, listen, and teach as if your words can make a difference guiding us through what I believe will be a difficult slice of American and global history.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Tolkien and White Supremacy

New! A conversation with Helen Young about medieval studies, colonialism, fantasy, and white supremacy.
ME: Was Tolkien explicitly a racist, or more just a "man of his time?"
HY: Tolkien is often quoted as having condemned "that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler" in a 1941 letter to his son Michael. But the reason he gives for that condemnation in the same letter is: "ruining, perverting, misapplying , and making forever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to preserve in its true light." The very idea of a "noble northern spirit" is fundamentally a racist one because it's predicated on the idea that the people of northern Europe were inherently different and better than anyone else.

[Tolkien's] statements against anti-semitism and Hitler give "cover." It's the idea that only something overtly abusive or violent is racist. People think that one can't be racist except deliberately, consciously, intentionally. Lord of the Rings and Middle Earth are structurally racist, but because Tolkien doesn't appear to have been personally an extremist, that racism is denied, ignored, and dismissed.
ME: And that has an impact on the whole genre of fantasy.
HY: Ultimately, the structural racism of Middle Earth got built into the conventions of High Fantasy; 19th-century race theory still circulates in contemporary popular culture as a result.
READ THE WHOLE THING!

Monday, October 9, 2017

Patrick Harmon - #CultOfCompliance

There is no de-escalation training that can build better policing. There is no video monitoring that can hold police accountable. So long as cops can say, "I was afraid," even when video evidence shows that they are lying, they are legally entitled to commit murder.

Patrick Harmon, a black man with, according to his sister, psychiatric disabilities, was pulled over for biking without a light. As the encounter escalated, he ran away and the police shot him in the back. Later, they said it was a terrifying encounter ... but video demonstrates that this was not the case. No weapon, no threats, just a scared man being non-compliant.

There is no reason to expect justice here, because our system doesn't promote justice. It promotes compliance.

Do not share the video. No one needs to watch it. We know what it shows.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Gun Control and Healthcare

The GOP plan is to blame mental illness instead of guns for gun violence ... while doing everything to end access to mental healthcare. I wrote for CNN.
On Tuesday morning, House Speaker Paul Ryan made his first remarks about the mass shooting in Las Vegas.
He said nothing about guns, but traded easily in false stereotypes linking mental illness with mass murder. He said that "one of the things we've learned from these shootings is often underneath this is a diagnosis of mental illness." He touted the 21st Century Cures Act, which passed with wide bipartisan support in the waning days of the Obama administration.
Let's be clear. Only 3% to 5% of all violent crimes involve people with psychiatric disabilities, including conditions such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. People with such conditions make up more than 18% of the American population. These individuals are 10 times more likely to be victims of violence than those without mental illness.
Talking about mental illness, whether it's relevant or not in a given case -- and it is often not -- is an attempt to dodge talking about guns.
It's long since time to separate conversations about mental health and gun violence.
And then Trumpcare:

Since President Donald Trump took office, every Republican attempt to replace Obamacare has proposed stripping away community and medical supports from people with mental health needs. If the GOP has its way on health care, insurance companies would have the right to raise premiums and potentially even deny care based on pre-existing conditions. People with mental health needs would either have to hide their conditions or go broke trying to pay for care.
READ THE WHOLE THING PLEASE.