Thursday, December 14, 2017

Texting 911

St. Paul finally has implemented the ability to text 911. The disability accessibility implications here are enormous, of course, but like most systems that improve accessibility, everyone will benefit. One example, people in a dangerous domestic situation who can't make a phone call, but who need to call for help.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Dominionists and Jerusalem

Two posts on medievalism, apocalypticism, and the Jerusalem decision.

By Matt Gabriele:
As Trump “spiritual adviser” Paula White said, “Evangelicals are ecstatic, for Israel is to us a sacred place and the Jewish people are our dearest friends.” John Hagee, the founder of Christians United for Israel, responded to Trump’s announcement by noting its precise “biblical timing” set out in Leviticus. Michael Evans said that America is “in the middle of prophecy right now” and compared Trump to King Cyrus, a pagan king who nonetheless was an instrument of God and helped Israel. At a rally for the president in Florida, state Sen. Doug Broxson excited the crowd by declaring: “When I heard about Jerusalem — where the King of Kings (applause) where our soon coming King is coming back to Jerusalem, it is because President Trump declared Jerusalem to be capital of Israel.”
Such statements are important because they shift the frame with which listeners are asked to consider what happened. They position Trump’s statement within sacred, rather than secular time. In other words, they show that they think the Jerusalem decision was part of God’s plan for the world, a step on the way to the reunification of the holy city (still considered occupied under international law) and the restoration of the ancient Israelite Temple. In other words, a step on the way towards the apocalypse.

By Cord Whitaker:
Trump’s decision, likely born of the influence of current and former advisors such as Steve Bannon, aligns with Alt-right ideology’s strange and rather disrespectful view of mainstream Christianity. Alt-right ideology is supersessionist, but not in the usual way—in which Christians view themselves as having replaced Jews as God’s chosen people. Alt-right thought owes a great debt to early twentieth-century Italian thinker Julius Evola. Evola, whose thought influenced Mussolini and who has been described as a “prominent icon of fascist idealism,” argued that medieval knighthood represented a spiritual order that superseded devotional Christianity. In other words, endeavors like chasing the Holy Grail and engaging in mystical rites, as did the Knights Templar (who were headquartered on the Temple Mount during the Crusaders’ medieval occupation of Jerusalem), were holier and more spiritually important than the Church. That alt-right protestors showed up in Charlottesville carrying medieval-style shields is connected to Trump’s decision. Both events indicate the current White House’s attempts to trump Christian faith.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

On Police Reform

Worth re-reading: How to talk about police reform (by Marianne Kaba):
Ultimately, the only way that we will address oppressive policing is to abolish the police. Therefore all of the ‘reforms’ that focus on strengthening the police or “morphing” policing into something more invisible but still as deadly should be opposed.
All reforms involving MORE, BETTER, policing should be avoided. Reforms must aim at less policing.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Disability and Arrest Rates

From the great s.e. smith, a new piece at Tonic (VICE) on disability and arrest rates:
As conversations about disparities in police killings and incarceration rates hit the news, one researcher wanted to answer a simple question: What’s the demographic profile of people being arrested? “I was looking for data and I was unable to find it, so I went out and I made it,” says Erin J. McCauley, the author of a new study on disability and arrest rates and a doctoral candidate in policy analysis and management at Cornell University.

Her work appears in the December issue of the American Journal of Public Health, and it provides valuable insight into the demographic profiles of people arrested across the US. Specifically, McCauley found that disabled people—including people with emotional, physical, cognitive, or sensory disabilities—are much more likely to be arrested before age 28 than nondisabled people, and that these statistics are even more dramatic for disabled people of color.
READ THE WHOLE THING.

Friday, December 8, 2017

On Franken

It's time to shift to the politics. The next piece I am writing is about the need to start repeatedly calling for Donald Trump to resign, explicitly, on account of the credible allegations of serial sexual assault, abuse, and harassment.

But for another minute, let's remember that getting serial sexual harassers (Franken) out of power matters. It matters for its own sake. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Humanities and Work

On the myth of the "English major Starbucks barista." From 2016, but in my feed last night and I missed this the first time around.
What are we to make of this new old joke about the English major? Why did barista replace fast food worker? The fact is that English majors are not particularly likely to end up as baristas or as workers in the food service industry in general. Plenty of data is available to disprove this idea, so what does its persistence mean? The English major barista is a myth in the sense of being untrue. It is also a myth in the deeper sense of that word: a story that a culture tells itself to explain wishes or fears. In this case, fears.
I think about this with history a lot, too. We know that historians in fact go on to do great work in myriad fields and generally feel pretty good about their history majors. But no one believes it coming into my office as a student. Their parents, moreover, don't believe it either. And data (SEE THIS WONDERFUL DATA) isn't persuading the story.

In my scholarly work, I often turn back to the anthropological definition of a myth as a "story with a purpose or function." The function of the barista myth is:
[it] reflects negative attitudes about the English major itself rather than the realities of an English major’s likely employment. Since coffeehouses are places for reading, writing and talking, spending time in a coffeehouse is a lot like spending time in the study of English. Naturally enough, English majors like to hang out in them. STEM majors have their labs; English majors have their Starbucks. The joke about the English major barista implies, however, that unlike the science done in a lab, the study of English, whether pursued in coffeehouse or classroom, is without value. What better punishment for wasting this time than being sentenced to work at a coffeehouse rather than enjoying its pleasures, serving those who presumably chose some more valuable and lucrative major?
More on this to come.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Accessibility and Ed Tech

Lawsuits work.
Failure to provide accessible technologies for learners with disabilities can have serious consequences for universities. Many institutions have been sued in recent years for noncompliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, ratcheting up pressure around accessibility issues. As a result, some universities are thinking about how they might work together to test the technology they buy and make sure it is accessible to all.
What would have been nice is if universities had cared about accessibility without being sued. Even nicer if Congress wasn't threatening to take this tool away

Monday, December 4, 2017

Lessons from South Carolina

Finn Gardiner writes that "zero tolerance" policies disproportionately affect students of color, disabled students, and especially disabled students of color.
Spurred by a violent altercation between a school resource officer and a Black student in 2015, South Carolina’s Department of Education introduced guidelines in the Safe Schools Taskforce Report in 2016 to reduce the likelihood of students being punished by school resource officers for disciplinary infractions that are not legally defined as crimes (Spearman & Cooper, 2016; Perry, 2016). These guidelines include clearly defined roles for school resource officers, comprehensive training programs for SROs, clear communication between involved stakeholders and stipulations for proportionate disciplinary actions. South Carolina should additionally include further mechanisms for ensuring that individual school districts adhere to the set guidelines, including both internal and independent oversight.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Adventures in Inspiration Porn

I see it's time to refer back to the This Mess rules.
1. Don't take pictures of disabled strangers without their consent.
2. Don't share the pictures you shouldn't have taken to the internet without their consent. Their story is not your story to do with as you see fit.
As always, inspiration porn uses the experience of a disabled person to evoke feelings in the viewer, usually by praising the heroism of an abled person. If one were going to report on this story, the correct journalist practice would be to inquire about the lack of support structures leaving vulnerable people at the mercy of the kindness of strangers. But first - get consent. Ask disabled people if they want their lives shared.

AND ALL YOU FACEBOOK TYPES WITH YOUR CAMERAS: Respect disabled people's privacy. Be a better human.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

What is Education For? - To Kill a Mockingbird and Medieval Literature

Guest Post by Eric Weiskott. Weiskott teaches medieval English poetry at Boston College; he's working on a book about the division of the past into medieval and modern periods.

Last month Biloxi School District administrators pulled Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird from the junior high curriculum. “There is some language in the book that makes people uncomfortable,” explained Kenny Holloway, vice president of the school board. The book remains in the school’s library but will no longer regularly be taught to 8th graders. (Administrators later backtracked slightly, permitting interested students to read To Kill a Mockingbird if their parents sign a permission slip.)

The Biloxi School District’s decision to ban the novel, and their partial reversal of that decision, bring to the surface urgent debates about what education should do and whom it should serve. These debates transcend the particular merits of To Kill a Mockingbird or any other school text. As a professor and a specialist in medieval literature, I know that institutions of education historically have struggled with the choice between reinforcing the status quo and imagining a better future. In this, they resemble society at large. By banning To Kill a Mockingbird, Biloxi administrators caved to a pernicious vision of the social mission of education, in which comfort trumps justice. That vision, and its utopian opposite, have histories, reaching all the way back to the Middle Ages.

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In late medieval England, grammar school was an experience reserved for boys. The sons of some poor families had access to free or subsidized grammar schools—an early but limited version of public education. Higher education at Oxford or Cambridge was beyond the means of most.

Strong bonds existed between educational and religious institutions in this period. Grammar schools often fell under the purview of bishops, and theology was the jewel of university curricula. The connection between education and religion did not simply enforce subservience to church and state authorities, as we might assume today. On the contrary, the spiritual mission of education could provoke students to contemplate new and better futures for society.

One medieval Englishman dissatisfied with the state of contemporary education was a cleric named William Langland. In Piers Plowman, an allegorical religious and political poem of the late 14th century, Langland indicts the educational institutions of his day for serving the interests of the powerful. In one memorable scene, the narrator Will finds himself at a feast with Reason, Patience, and a fat doctor of divinity. The menu is mostly scripture, though soup, stew, and wine are also on offer. In this psychedelic scene, the doctor stuffs his face and bloviates on theology. Will remarks to himself that the university man is “a selfish glutton with two big cheeks— / He has no pity on us poor people; he misdoes / What he preaches and does not demonstrate compassion.”

Langland offers Piers Plowman itself as an alternative to actually existing institutions of learning. The poem takes the form of a spiritual education, an extracurricular exercise in envisioning a just society. It is supposed to make you uncomfortable. Will (at different moments, a given name or a personification of the will) discourses with Holy Church, Clergy, Theology, friars, and a host of other authoritative ‘persons.’ In building this educational/spiritual itinerary, Langland drew on the texts and skills that he encountered in grammar school: most obviously, literacy itself, but also Latin biblical commentaries and the moralizing aphorisms of the Latin Distichs of Cato, then a popular school text.

Late medieval English schooling had many problems, but banned textbooks were not among them. The era of book-banning in England got going in the 16th century. Henry VIII issued a list of banned books in 1526. Eight years later, he declared himself Supreme Head of the Church of England. At this time, formal education was still largely the privilege of the sons of the wealthy.

If anything, the English Reformation further entrenched the division between the powerful and everyone else. Church and state were now officially one. When the Puritan poet John Milton argued against state censorship in his treatise Areopagitica (1644), he made an exception for “Popery and open superstition.” Still taught today in law schools as a foundational text of free-speech libertarianism, Areopagitica places severe restrictions on what counts as free. Milton’s ideal public sphere excluded explicitly Catholic ideas. In the same year, Milton published Of Education, in which he proposed a course of study in a slew of subjects daunting even by 17th-century standards. Milton was working as a schoolmaster in London at this time.

The story of public education as we know it begins in the 19th century, with the establishment of national primary, secondary, and higher educational systems in Britain and the United States. Viewed from one angle, this is a story of liberalization, of the democratization of learning. This history can be recounted in firsts. Yale College graduated its first black student (Richard Henry Green) in 1857, its first women students more than a century later, in 1971.

Viewed from another angle, these changes in the constituency of schools highlight the uncomfortable dissonance between ideals and reality. Richard Henry Green graduated into a United States that still had not “in its whole system of reality evolved any place for” him—to quote James Baldwin’s famous comments on American blackness in 1965, delivered in a debate with William F. Buckley at the University of Cambridge. (In 1951, Buckley had published God and Man at Yale, attacking what he regarded as the arrogant liberalism and secularism of the curriculum.) Yale College would not award a degree to another black student until 1874. In 1971, the first women graduates of Yale College still had a year to wait for Title IX.

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To Kill a Mockingbird takes place in a fictional Alabama town and depicts a legal confrontation between Jim Crow and true justice. The state of Mississippi has a shameful record on public school desegregation. Lee’s novel appeared in 1960. Two years later, white segregationists rioted at the University of Mississippi over the court-ordered matriculation of James Meredith, a black man. Ironically, Biloxi was the first school district in the state to nominally desegregate, which it did in 1964.

The curriculum of a Mississippi middle school matters because the social and ethical mission of education is not—has never been—settled and complete. The goals of education continue to be partial in both senses of the word: biased by the current inequitable distribution of social power, and not yet fulfilled. Present-day religiously affiliated institutions of education may be in a position to understand this better than some others. Boston College, where I teach, is a Catholic Jesuit university committed to “the pursuit of a just society”—notice the word pursuit—an objective that I try to live up to in the classroom.

For many who took to social media to condemn the initial decision of the Biloxi administrators, the scandal was precisely that education should “make people uncomfortable.” Holloway’s assurance that “we can teach the same lesson with other books” rang hollow because Harper Lee’s representation of overt racism, including use of the word “nigger,” is essential to the book’s ethical project. To Kill a Mockingbird  even thematizes the connection in an after-school scene. “Do you defend niggers, Atticus?” “Of course I do. Don’t say nigger, Scout,” Atticus responds. “’s what everybody at school says.” “From now on it’ll be everybody less one—” “Well if you don’t want me to grow up talkin’ that way, why do you send me to school?” responds the precocious Scout. This question gets to the heart of the matter.

The administrators’ compromise solution is something of a cop-out. It puts the predilections of parents in between students and Lee’s text. That the political imagination of To Kill a Mockingbird has, after all, certain limits, characteristic of mid 20th-century Alabama, only underlines the irony of a Mississippi school declaring the novel out of bounds in this century.