Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sunday Roundup: School to Prison, Dan Savage, Starbucks

Welcome to Sunday. I had three essays and five blog posts published this week. I filed an essay for the Chronicle, sent out a lot of pitches, and am waiting on edits for a feature. I'm also revising a book proposal and, someday, hope to be able to announce something about that.

I'd like you to read my post - Love Song for a Neoliberal University: StarbucksU

The Atlantic magazine has a big feature on the first crop of Starbucks employees to go to college under their widely publicized plan, and while it's overall a fair and well-written piece, there are implicit anti-intellectual biases in the description of what a university is for. As my friend Professor Matt Gabriele says, we allow others to define and describe the university at our peril.

My published work:
I also wrote two pieces of cultural criticism this week, one on disability in Daredevil, and the next on a terrific new novel by medievalist Bruce Holsinger.
My other blogs:
Thanks for reading! 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Stagger - I would like to sell you a CD!

From the Department of Shameless Commerce:

I am in a band. Many of you supported our Kickstarter to make our first CD (THANK YOU!), which was an amazing experience. The idea that just by asking, people would give us nearly $6000 to make some art (it's whiskey-infused art, but still art), is extraordinary.

The Internet Era is a hard time for mid-level professional creators like freelance writers and non-famous touring musicians, but it's also a time in which some of the pressures of patronage have eased. Instead of needing a few rich backers (whether a lone millionaire or a corporate label), we have crowdfunding. At our level - a solid regional band with a nice but not giant following - crowdfunding works. I'm so grateful and I love the CD.

Image: Wood paneling with Whiskey glass.
Words: The Tooles - Stagger. Live at the Irish American Heritage Center

Our website has been re-designed. Check it out. Listen to clips from the band, and if you can afford it, please consider buying a copy of the CD.

Or, if you're in Chicagoland, come to our CD release tonight (or another show) and buy an autographed copy.

Thanks for all your support.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Medieval (Dan) Savage

Dan Savage, famous sex columnist, featured a letter from a medievalist that echoed many of my complaints about lax medieval discourse. The letter is in response to Savage calling a conservative religion "medieval." This anonymous medievalist explains why it's wrong, then writes:
The reason why this matters (beyond medievalists just being like OMG no one gets us) is that the common response in the West to religious radicalism is to urge enlightenment, and to believe that enlightenment is a progressive narrative that is ever more inclusive. But these religions are responses to enlightenment, in fact often to The Enlightenment. As such, they become more comprehensible. The Enlightenment narrative comes with a bunch of other stuff, including concepts of mass culture and population. (Michel Foucault does a great job of talking about these developments, and modern sexuality, including homosexual and heterosexual identity, as well—and I'm stealing and watering down his thought here.) Its narrative depends upon centralized control: it gave us the modern army, the modern prison, the mental asylum, genocide, and totalitarianism as well as modern science and democracy. Again, I'm not saying that I'd prefer to live in the 12th century (I wouldn't), but that's because I can imagine myself as part of that center. Educated, well-off Westerners generally assume that they are part of the center, that they can affect the government and contribute to the progress of enlightenment. This means that their identity is invested in the social form of modernity.
So that's all pretty great, especially as the anonymous medievalist signs off, "And sorry for such a long letter, but it allowed me to put off my grading for a while."

Yesterday I also read a long essay from John Gray in The Guardian about the problems with Steven Pinker's "the world is getting more peaceful" rhetoric. It's a wide-ranging piece with lots of arguments, but one is again about the Enlightenment and the way we construct it as a sole source of positive results. Here are two key paragraphs.
Among the causes of the outbreak of altruism, Pinker and Singer attach particular importance to the ascendancy of Enlightenment thinking. Reviewing Pinker, Singer writes: “During the Enlightenment, in 17th- and 18th-century Europe and countries under European influence, an important change occurred. People began to look askance at forms of violence that had previously been taken for granted: slavery, torture, despotism, duelling and extreme forms of punishment … Pinker refers to this as ‘the humanitarian revolution’.” Here too Pinker and Singer belong in a contemporary orthodoxy. With other beliefs crumbling, many seek to return to what they piously describe as “Enlightenment values”. But these values were not as unambiguously benign as is nowadays commonly supposed. John Lockedenied America’s indigenous peoples any legal claim to the country’s “wild woods and uncultivated wastes”; Voltaire promoted the “pre-Adamite” theory of human development according to which Jews were remnants of an earlier and inferior humanoid species; Kant maintained that Africans were innately inclined to the practice of slavery; the utilitarian Jeremy Bentham developed the project of an ideal penitentiary, the Panopticon, where inmates would be kept in solitary confinement under constant surveillance. None of these views is discussed by Singer or Pinker. More generally, there is no mention of the powerful illiberal current in Enlightenment thinking, expressed in the Jacobins and the Bolsheviks, which advocated and practised methodical violence as a means of improving society.
***
Like many others today, Pinker’s response when confronted with such evidence is to define the dark side of the Enlightenment out of existence. How could a philosophy of reason and toleration be implicated in mass murder? The cause can only be the sinister influence of counter-Enlightenment ideas. Discussing the “Hemoclysm” – the tide of 20th-century mass murder in which he includes the Holocaust – Pinker writes: “There was a common denominator of counter-Enlightenment utopianism behind the ideologies of nazism and communism.” You would never know, from reading Pinker, that Nazi “scientific racism” was based in theories whose intellectual pedigree goes back to Enlightenment thinkers such as the prominent Victorian psychologist and eugenicist Francis Galton. Such links between Enlightenment thinking and 20th-century barbarism are, for Pinker, merely aberrations, distortions of a pristine teaching that is innocent of any crime: the atrocities that have been carried out in its name come from misinterpreting the true gospel, or its corruption by alien influences. The childish simplicity of this way of thinking is reminiscent of Christians who ask how a religion of love could possibly be involved in the Inquisition. In each case it is pointless to argue the point, since what is at stake is an article of faith.
These arguments matter to me. I've frequently written about the way that loose appellations of "medieval" impose a chronological alterity between the thing we dislike and ourselves (most recently here, in a review of Bruce Holsinger's latest historical novel).

I am similarly frustrated with loose praise for modernity, given that the genocides of the 20th century are at least as much a factor of the modern age as are the advances. I wrote, in response to a piece on the Jewish victims of the First Crusade:
And so this is the problem with Jacoby's closer. She says that ISIS shows us what the world might look like had there never been the great leaps forward by white folks in the West, ignorant of the catastrophic violence those leaps brought to the west itself, the world, and indeed the very Jews she mourns in her essay.
The 21st century is a different world. A more connected world. A world with weapons and technologies unfathomable to our ancestors. But the belief that we are more advanced, and thus relegate people who are nasty to other eras, is something we say only to comfort ourselves. It's a lie.
Anyway, kudos to the anonymous Savage Medievalist for making the argument.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Love Song for a Neoliberal University: StarbucksU

The May edition of The Atlantic has a long article on the first batch of students to go to StarbucksU (I wrote about it for CNN last May, troubled by the notion of employment-based education). Overall, it's a solid article in terms of reporting and structure. It tells the stories of people struggling to finish college. Starbucks comes off pretty well here, trying to do its part while getting good PR and not spending too much money. So far, about 1500 people have enrolled, and some will undoubtedly finish, and good for them.

And yet, the article has a kind of casual anti-intellectual and pro-corporate voice. In short, it's an advertisement for the neoliberal university.

Here's an example.
We assume that people drop out of college because of the cost. But that’s only part of the explanation. Listen closely to former students, and you’ll hear them tell stories about bureaucracies losing their paperwork, classes running out of spots, nonsensical tuition bills, and transcript offices that don’t take credit cards. The customer service is atrocious.
Simply put, many Americans fail to finish college, because many colleges are not designed to be finished. They are designed to enroll students, yes. They are built to garner research funds and accrue status through rankings and the scholarly articles published by faculty. But those things have little to do with making sure students leave prepared to thrive in the modern economy.
Notice the slash at scholarship. Here's another.
"Arizona State still relies upon many standard college practices, and some faculty members remain more focused on winning grants and publishing than on teaching. But over the past decade, the university’s leadership has gotten unusually creative about circumventing these models and finding new ways to reach students."
Those damn faculty members who want to do research. They are the problem, not a bureaucratizing corporate system that extracts wealth from students in exchange for the lowest possible standard of education that for-profits like ASU Online can provide. Yes, there are lots of problems with our system. Yes, I think the ways in which our prestige economy rewards research over teaching is an issue. But I am quite sure that faculty members pursuing grants is not what's threatening higher education in America today.

Moreover, the forces driving the kind of quantitative assessment of scholarly productivity, where all that counts is what can be counted, are the same forces that create massive over-bureacratization, the for-profit wings of ASU, drive college costs ever higher, and otherwise contribute to a world in which StarbucksU looks like a solution. It may be, but it's coming out of the same world that created the problems in the first place.

But no fear, the university is creative.
“ASU Online is a profit venture,” said Goldrick-Rab. “And basically, these two businesses have gotten together and created a monopoly on college ventures for Starbucks employees.”
  • For example, ASU spent last December trying to exploit its NTT faculty even more by preemptively raising their teaching load to 5:5, though they backed off a bit under pressure
Creative! You think you're getting an ASU education, but what you really get are Pearson functionaries and incredibly overworked instructors. Welcome to the future of Neoliberal University.

This article speaks to a number of problems, but I want to focus on this one. We, as a profession, have failed to explain (and keep explaining and keep explaining) why having professors who do research matters. We need to work on that, and by we, I mean everyone, especially people who do more specialized research than I do. 

In the meantime, we have this
Since Starbucks announced the program in June, 20,000 people who have applied online for jobs at the company have cited the college benefit as a reason for their interest. One barista I interviewed had quit her office job in Dallas and taken a $4-an-hour pay cut to attend college for free through Starbucks. The company does not have data yet on whether employee retention has increased, but so far, it has spent very little and received significant PR and HR returns.
That's a failure of our national system, and something I wrote about for CNN in my piece. When we make college contingent on employment with a certain company, as we do now with healthcare, we limit mobility, we limit choice, we limit career development, we limit risk-taking and entrepreneurial spirit.

So, the challenges are clear.
  1. Articulate why specialized research is not in opposition to good teaching, but is in fact complementary.
  2. Resist linking college to employment (in the way that linking healthcare to employment has been a disaster).
  3. Continue to fight the development of a two-tier college education model, in which elites get access to individuals and ideas, thus being prepared for tomorrow's jobs, while everyone else is offered training only for yesterday's.





Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Writing: 59 Weeks, 64 Essays

Since 3/11/2015, about 59 weeks from today, I have published 64 essays. Most of them were at mainstream media sites. About 95% were paid (I haven't written outside unpaid work in a long time now, but sometimes, rarely, I send someone a blog post that might resonate with their audience. If they edit it and make it an independent essay, I might put it in my publication list, just for record keeping).

I often wonder how many different humans those 62 essays represent. My most viral piece was published almost two years ago now (May 2013 - on my daughter's "Best Dressed" award and gender norming in pre-school). I really started writing for public audiences in February of 2013, and wrote about 30 pieces over the course of that year. In March 2014, though, I decided to really dedicate myself to public writing, and this last year is the result.

This morning on Twitter, I've been having a wide-ranging conversation about the economics of writing. It's based on this article that lists only one in ten writers as being able to make a living as writers. I fall well into that 90%. I have a day job as a history professor that includes time and the expectation to write among its perks, and enough flexibility within my institution for my public work to count. It's a problem, though, that it's increasingly hard for writers to make a living as writers. Freelance rates have fallen or are stagnant.

At the same time, we are in a hyperscribal and hyperlexic golden age of text. Probably a few million, maybe two? - people have actually read my work. Thousands of you come to my blog - my blog! - every week. These numbers boggle the mind. There is no way that I could write enough at my current rates to make a living (it would take about 450 essays a year), but I do seem to be able to sustain one a week. Thank you all for reading.

Lately, I've been branching out into media criticism (Marco Polo, Game of Thrones, Daredevil, the historical fiction of Bruce Holsinger, and more to come). I do this because I think representation matters, I enjoy it, but also as a break from all the pieces about violence and death. There was a good piece in TNR on how writing about trauma causes trauma. I don't do the kind of close journalism - interviewing families, living in war zones, seeing bodies and bruises - that would cause trauma, but I do get very upset when I just read horrible story after horrible story. Breaks are vital.

I have a lot more to say on academics and public writing. You could bring me to your campus to talk about it! More on that later. For now, it's back to work.

Here are the 64 essays from the last year+.
  1. Daredevil and Scenes of Ordinary Disability (Vice.com, 4/20/15)
  2. "The Net is the Meat:" Bruce Holsinger's Medieval Fiction (Tor.com, 4/20/15)
  3. Autism and RFK Jr. RFK owes a lot of people an apology. (CNN.com, 4/16/15)The
  4. Telescoping History of Game of Thrones (Vice.com, 4/14/15) 
  5. Sheehan vs SF: A Chance to Reduce Police Killings of People with Disabilities (Al Jazeera America, 3/22/15) 
  6. Bruce Rauner: Picking on Society's Most Vulnerable (CNN.com, 3/18/15) 
  7. "Daddy, What's Down Syndrome?" (Yahoo! Parenting, 3/17/15) 
  8. Dear Student? How about Dear Provost? (Chronicle Vitae, 3/11/15) 
  9. Why Write a Book? (Chronicle Vitae, 3/3/15) 
  10. To assess LAPD shooting, look past the moment of gunfire. (CNN.com, 3/2/15) 
  11. Information, Not Inspiration: How to work against the fear of Down syndrome (CNN.com, 2/18/15) 
  12. Conservatives want to rewrite the history of the Crusades (The Guardian, 2/7/15) 
  13. Kristiana Coignard Did Not Have to Die (CNN.com, 2/2/15) 
  14. Airlines Break Too Many Wheelchairs - But We can Fix It (Al Jazeera America, 1/31/15) 
  15. Associate Dean of What? (Chronicle.com, 1/26/15) 
  16. Anti-Choice Legislators Try to Force Wedge Between Reproductive, Disability Rights Activists(Reproductive Health Reality Check, 1/16/15) 
  17. Who Will Teach All the Free Community College Students? (Chronicle.com, 1/15/15) 
  18. Harsh Critics in Public Spaces, Judging Only What They See (NYTimes.com, 1/12/15) 
  19. Police Violence Sparks Disability Rights Movement (Al Jazeera America, 12/22/14) 
  20. University Presidents and Public Engagement (Chronicle.com, 12/18/2014) 
  21. Academic Freedom and Repellent Speech (Chronicle.com, 12/15/2014) 
  22. Marco Polo Would Be Better Without Marco Polo (Vice.com, 12/11/14) 
  23. Should I Let my Boss Friend Me on Facebook? (Chronicle Vitae, 12/9/14) 
  24. Eric Garner: The Intersections of Race and Disability (CNN.com 12/4/14) 
  25. Playing Politics with the Disabled (Al Jazeera America, 11/26/2014) 
  26. #FergusonSyllabus (Chronicle.com, 11/25/2014) 
  27. For Parents of Children With Down Syndrome, ‘Abortion vs. Hardship’ Is a False Binary (Reproductive Health Reality Check, 11/18/2014) 
  28. No Longer "Falling off the Cliff" - College for People with Intellectual Disabilities (Chronicle of Higher Education, 11/11/14) 
  29. The Death of London McCabe: Child Murder & Discourse of Disability (CNN.com 11/10/2014) 
  30. Save the NEH (from itself) (Chronicle Vitae, 10/16/2014) 
  31. Down Syndrome - Getting Beyond "Cute" (Al Jazeera America, 10/15/2014) 
  32. Fictionalizing Your Scholarship (Chronicle of Higher Education, 10/13/2014) 
  33. What To Tell Your Kids About Columbus (CNN.com, 10/10/2014) 
  34. Fix the Hiring Process (Chronicle Vitae, 10/6/2014) 
  35. End the Conference Interview (Chronicle Vitae, 9/23/2014) 
  36. Kanye West and Questioning Disability (CNN.com, 9/16/2014) 
  37. Review: Disability and Technology in John Scalzi's Lock In (Huffington Post, 8/29/14) 
  38. Fighting Gender Norming One Backpack at a Time (Huffington Post, 8/26/14) 
  39. Psychiatric Disability & the Police: The search for reasonable accommodations (CNN.com, 8/26/14) 
  40. Save the Dissertation! (It saved me) (Chronicle Vitae, 8/25/14) 
  41. Don't Speak Out: The Message of the Salaita Affair (Chronicle.com, 8/21/14) 
  42. Pope Francis did NOT call for a Crusade against Isis (CNN.com, 8/20/14) 
  43. Ferguson and the Cult of Compliance (Al Jazeera America, 8/15/2014) 
  44. The problems with telling jokes about Down Syndrome (CNN.com, 8/6/2014) 
  45. Why John Walsh's Plagiarism Matters - It's not what you think (Chronicle Vitae, 7/25/14) 
  46. "Never Alone - Our Story of Down Syndrome Diagnosis" (BLOOM Magazine, 7/21/14). 
  47. Catholic Universities and Undocumented Students (Chronicle.com, 7/21/14) 
  48. A Thousand Neil deGrasse Tysons! (Chronicle Vitae, 7/21/2014) 
  49. Eden Foods - Ethics, not Politics (CNN.com, 7/11/2014) 
  50. A Medievalist on CNN (Inside Higher Ed, 7/2/2014) 
  51. The Learning-Centered University (Chronicle Vitae, 7/1/2014) 
  52. Sustained Public Engagement - "But Does it Count?" (Chronicle.com, 6/23/2014) 
  53. College, One Latte at a Time? No thanks. (CNN.com, 6/17/14) 
  54. The Most Interesting Adjunct in the World (Chronicle Vitae, 6/11/14) 
  55. All Faculty are Labor (Chronicle Vitae, 5/22/2014) 
  56. Do we need Trigger Warnings in the Classroom? (CNN.com, 5/20/2014) 
  57. An Academic "Working Dad" (Chronicle.com, 5/19/2014) 
  58. Police Violence and Disability, with Lawrence Carter-Long (TheAtlantic.com, 5/6/14) 
  59. Forced Baptism, Blood Libel, and Sarah Palin's Militant Christianity (CNN.com, 5/1/2014) 
  60. Why Should Secular People Care About Saints? (CNN.com, 4/27/2014) 
  61. Adjuncts and the Language of Labor: Part I (Chronicle Vitae, 4/24/14) 
  62. Frozen vs Little Mermaid - Two Anthems for Two Generations: (Good Men Project and Business Insider 4/13/14) 
  63. Faculty Members Are Not Cashiers: Why the 'customer service' lingo in academe is bad for students (Chronicle.com, 3/18/2014) 
  64. Rape Culture and Disability Intersect in Georgia (CNN.com, 3/11/2014)

    Monday, April 20, 2015

    Daredevil is Blind

    Foggy Nelson: "A blind old man taught you the ancient ways of martial arts. Isn't that the plot to Kung Fu?" (Marvel's Daredevil, Netflix, Episode 10)
    I've got a review of "Scenes of ordinary disability" in Daredevil coming out later today from Vice. Edit - Link is here!!

    In today's blog, I want to say a few more things about the nature of Matt Murdock/Daredevil's disability. Yes, thanks to his heightened senses, he can create a full map of his space in real time, helping him with Kung-Fu, knowing if people are nodding or flicking him off, and otherwise navigating the world just fine. He's a superhero. He can do things that real humans, blind or not, cannot do. In the show, it's his hearing that gets the most play - he tracks a car based on the music inside it while running over the rooftops of Hell's Kitchen. He hears Kingpin talking on a radio inside a truck from some distance away. These are cool superpowers!

    But what he can't do is read a license plate.
    He can't read a digital alarm clock.
    He can't read a message printed on his cell phone.

    I emphasize this because I think it's easy to miss the ways in which Murdock is in disabled. And if you miss that, you also miss the ways in which he's got little bits of assistive technology that help.

    He uses a refreshable Braille display.

    Image: Refreshable Braille display. From Wikimedia Commons
    He uses a screen reader (a program that reads words on computer screens as well as provides other kinds of command information. It's why I put descriptions of images on my page, as I know I have some blind readers. And honestly, all websites should do it all the time).

    His cell phone talks to him. "Karen calling. Karen calling." His alarm clock talks to him. "It's 7 o'clock."

    These are just small little bits of assistive technology that make independent living more possible for blind people.

    And so while Murdock is a superhero, he's still blind. He still has a disability.

    And that's why how Marvel/Netflix represents his blindness matters so much to me and to so many people in the disability community, because however you count it, he's one of the two or three most prominent disabled characters in comics history (Professor X - his legs, not his mutant powers, Daredevil, and Oracle/Batgirl).

    Previous item: Comics, Disability, and Race.

    Edit: Updated to correct assistive tech terminology.

    Sunday, April 19, 2015

    Sunday Roundup: Writing Life. Restraint and Death.

    I filed five essays this week, which is a lot for me. I also had two pieces published (linked to below):

    1. A review of Bruce Holsinger's novel (appearing Monday, Tor.com)
    2. A feature on inclusion at the Brookfield Zoo (appearing early May, Belt Magazine)
    3. Op-ed on RFK's comments on autism and vaccines (published here at CNN.com)
    4. Essay on Kayleb Moon-Robinson and the Cult of Compliance in Schools (date tbd. Al Jazeera America)
    5. Review of disability in Daredevil (appearing early next week, Vice)
    Blog posts:
    I also had bronchitis last week, which was less fun than all the writing. 

    Thursday, April 16, 2015

    History and Memory: Action T4

    I have a new piece on CNN about Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and his views on autism. I end by talking about Action T4, when the Nazis exterminated people with disabilities as a warm-up to the greater Holocaust. I worry that many people haven't heard of Action T4.

    As a Jew, the father of a boy with an intellectual disability, and a historian, it's vital that we (collectively) remember this piece of the memory of the Nazi murders, as well as all other victims.


    Description: Sheet of stained paper with German words (both typed and handwritten)
    It's signed and has a Nazi sigil in the upper left corner.
    Hitler's order for Action T4
    From Wikimedia Commons
    Here's the lede to the piece. RFK compared autism to the Holocaust, was criticized for it, then apologized ... on behalf of the Holocaust's memory. I said he's apologizing for the wrong things.
    In a statement, Kennedy said, "I want to apologize to all whom I offended by my use of the word to describe the autism epidemic. I employed the term during an impromptu speech as I struggled to find an expression to convey the catastrophic tragedy of autism, which has now destroyed the lives of over 20 million children and shattered their families."
    Robert Kennedy Jr. has apologized for the wrong things.
    First and foremost, vaccines do not cause autism. The two have nothing to do with each other.
    Second, he seems to think people with autism are "gone," their lives "destroyed" and their families "shattered." Autism is not a death sentence. People with autism are not missing or destroyed. They are everywhere, trying to live their lives in a society that too often demeans them as subhuman, missing or worthless.
    Please read and share the whole piece to hear a number of actually autistic people responded to Kennedy.

    I end with this:
    There is, though, one story from the Holocaust that he might do well to consider. The first group the Nazis systematically exterminated, in the infamous Action T4, were people with intellectual and other kinds of disabilities. Thousands of children, adolescents and adults were sent to gas chambers, laying the groundwork for the later, larger scale acts of genocide. Underlying Action T4 was the belief that people with disabilities were devoid of value.
    We fight those beliefs by celebrating neurodiversity, not by fearmongering.
    Action T4 represents the extreme of eugenics, and arguments ad extremum are always suspect. But while I hope we don't see the mechanized state murder of people with disabilities in the future, the eugenic principles behind Action T4 remain extant in the modern world.

    Daredevil: Intersections of Disability and Race in Comics

    I'm working on a piece about the new Daredevil show on Netflix. My interest is in portrayals of "ordinary" disability, rather than the martial arts, represented by the image below (courtesy Netflix) of Murdock just walking down a street with his cane, rather than in costume or fighting or whatever.

    CHARLIE COX as MATT MURDOCK shown walking down a New York street with cane.
    Photo: Barry Wetcher © 2014 Netflix, Inc. All rights reserved.

    In researching the piece, I've been reading lots of stuff on disability in comics, and I especially like it when the analysis gets intersectional. Here's one of the most interesting things I've read - "Oracle and Representations of Disability in Superhero Comics," by professor Carolyn Cocca.

    There's a long history of disability in comics, as accident and illness and exposure often function as critical in origin stories, both to give people their powers and to motivate them to do whatever good or evil things they like to do. I'll have more to say about that in my piece, but here's an insightful bit on intersections of race, gender and disability.
    When I think about disabled superheroes, three who have been in comics as well as on tv and film come to mind: Charles Xavier/Professor X, Matt Murdock/Daredevil, and Barbara Gordon/Oracle. Two others would probably be familiar to many comics readers: Victor Stone/Cyborg and Misty Knight. But even in this small group there are some uncomfortable differences in their portrayals, in terms of race and gender. For instance, white male professor Charles Xavier uses a wheelchair and yet also has telepathic and psionic abilities; white male lawyer Matt Murdock is blind and yet “sees” even more with his radioactively mutated “vision.” Both are privileged men, made more privileged through their mental superpowers. By contrast, Cyborg and Misty Knight are African-American superheroes with sci-fi-prostheses much stronger than their replaced human limbs. Their superpowers are physical, rather than mental; their dark disabled bodies made more fearsome and more “othered” with technology. While it is significant that there are these representations of superheroes with disabilities in and of themselves, the problematic commonality here is that all but one of these five is portrayed as having some extraordinary power that so overcompensates for disability that we almost forget about what we would have labeled a disability in the first place. It is almost as if disabilities are not represented through these four characters.
    I've been watching this season of Agents of Shield and comparing two characters who went through the Terrigen Mist (read this great piece "Meet the Inhumans" for more on that). Skye/Daisy (played by Chloe Bennet, who is half-Chinese and half-American, but reads as very Anglo in the show as opposed to say, her Mandarin-language pop hit video) has the power to sense and control the vibrations in molecules, more or less, while remaining physically unchanged and beautiful.

    Meanwhile, Raina (played by Ethiopian actress Ruth Negga), gets her body covered in spines. Her additional power was just revealed at the end of last week, so I'll skip it in case it's a spoiler, but suffice it to say that it's not going to compensate for her physical transformation.

    More to come. But I think it's fair to say we've got a "dark disabled body made more fearsome and more othered," in the same pattern as Cocca notes above.

    Edit: Disability on Shield is fascinating. Coulson. Fitz. (white, minds altered). Deathlok (black, body altered). More on this maybe in the future.

    Tuesday, April 14, 2015

    Resources: Restraint, Criminalization, Zero Tolerance, Disability, Schools, Compliance

    These are stories of restraint, criminalization, and the cult of compliance in our schools. Most, but not all, involve disability. Names are as listed in the media reports, sometimes with last names, sometimes not. More to come.

    Lede - Virginia: Kayleb Moon-Robinson: 11, black, autistic. Criminalized for kicking a trash can and not staying in his room after. Here's the PRI report, the longer Center for Public Integrity report, and a similar report from Reveal.
    Restraint - Disability. Please note that this is not representative of racial breakdown of cases, but of cases that have made the news recently. I suggest that white kids are more likely to get this kind of attention, given the data below about the ways that zero tolerance policies are more likely to be used against African American kids.
    • Tennessee: Colton Granito, 8, autistic, white, was "arrested, thrown in a jail cell, and placed in a strait jacket over an outburst at his elementary school.
    • Georgia: Patrick, 6, "special needs," black - placed in handcuffs by School Resource Officer (SRO) to "keep him from hurting himself," in violation of the IEP. (My blog post on it)
    • Indiana: Kevin, 10, "behavior issues," black - tackled by school police, handcuffed, head injured.
    • Georgia: Salecia Johnson, 6, black. Arrested for tantrum. "According to the police report, Johnson tore items off the wall, threw furniture, and knocked down a shelf that injured the school’s principal. Cops said since they couldn’t reach Johnson’s parents that the girl had to be arrested."
    • Virginia: 4 year old, ADD, no other details: Arrested, handcuffed, shackled, taken to police station because - "The pre-kindergarten student had thrown blocks, climbed on and over deks, and scratched and kicked both the principal and the director of special education. “The boy was out of control, basically, throwing his arms around and kicking– trying to kick the deputy, trying to run away, and the deputy felt that putting the handcuffs on him was for his safety as well as everybody else’s,”
    • Michigan: Kevin, 13, autistic, white. Refused to get up from desk in an empty classroom, so police come in and handcuff him as he screens. Original post here. Re-post with working video here.
    • Florida: Ryan, 10, autistic, Latino. Ryan made threats against himself with scissors. School called police and not initially parents. Police dragged him down the hall, handcuffed and pressed to the back of a hot car, and invoked "involuntary commitment" Baker act.
    • Oklahoma: No name given, 9, ADHD, Schizophrenia and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, white. Handcuffed as a threat despite presence of father.
    • Washington: Wyatt, 6, Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Restrained in bus due to unruly behavior. (My blog).
    Other Compliance - Disability
    Compliance - Not Disability
    General Studies (reporting from ProPublica)
    • New York and LA pin down kids then say it never happened.
    • Connecticut pins down and restrains a "staggering" number of kids.
    Zero Tolerance Studies
    • StudyTracing the School-to-Prison Pipeline from Zero-Tolerance Policies to Juvenile Justice Dispositions,
    • "The Hidden Side of Zero Tolerance Policies: The African American Perspectives." By Charles Bell.
    • How Urban Minorities are Punished for White Suburban Violence (via Jstor).
    • Weapons in Schools and Zero Tolerance Policies.
    • Gender, Race, and Disability Disparities in Who is Subject to Corporal Punishment.
    • Zero Tolerance - Moving the Conversation Forward.
    • Zero Tolerance - Overview
      • Zero tolerance policies may negatively impact students with disabilities to a greater degree than students without special needs. Although IDEA '97 requires continuing educational services for any student with a disability who is suspended for more than 10 consecutive days or 10 cumulative days in one academic year, policies that require suspension or expulsion for certain behaviors put many students with disabilities outside of the education setting, apart from educators who could help address their needs. Further, discipline practices that restrict access to appropriate education often exacerbate the problems of students with disabilities, increasing the probability that these students will not complete high school. School personnel charged with disciplining students with disabilities must be familiar with relevant components of IDEA '97, including the provisions for Interim Alternative Educational Placements (see resources below). Other alternatives are mandated by federal and state statute to assure that students with disabilities have ongoing access to an appropriate education.
    • When can zero tolerance policies be applied to people with special needs?
      • When a school district seeks to expel or suspend a student with a disability for more than ten days, the threshold question that must be answered is whether the conduct at issue was a manifestation of the student’s disability. The law provides a very favorable standard for making this determination. In order to find that the misconduct was not a manifestation of the student’s disabilities, all of the following must be found to be true
        • (1) the child’s IEP and placement were appropriate, and the school provided services consistent with the IEP;
        •  (2) the child’s disability did not impair the child’s ability to understand the impact and consequences of the behavior subject to disciplinary action; and 
        • (3) the child’s disability did not impair the child’s ability to control the behavior. 
      • If any of these conditions are not met, the school district may not discipline the child.
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