Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Racism in Historical European Martial Arts

There's a vibrant sub-culture of people who practice "Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA)." This is not the Society of Creative Anachronism, though surely there's plenty of cross-over in North America, but people learning how to use European weapons to fight.

As I've been writing about, any sub-culture that engages the imagined European medieval past can easily become a locus for anxieties about whiteness and identity.

I've been made aware of a Tumblr on "Racism" in the HEMA community. This spring, I hope to talk to Ken Mondschein, who is researching this phenomenon, when we're both at a conference. For now, you can browse the tumblr.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Once Time Boy. Hero.

I wrote a story about my son watching the third Harry Potter movie, signing "deer" during the Patronus scene, and his engagement with stories. It's a fairly serious piece, wrapped about some tearful and sweet moments, about presuming competence in an ableist world.
Here’s why all this matters. Presuming competence is a fine concept, but hard to execute in practice. Our society and its people are deeply steeped in ableist concepts relying on assessing skills and deficits, intelligence and abilities, based on highly prejudicial concepts of normal. No matter how enlightened one wants to be, it’s hard to go about presuming competence without evidence. So when my son cheers for Rey, Moana, or Harry, he’s not only showing me that he’s engaging with stories, but also telling me to remember that he’s competent in all kinds of other ways he can’t yet prove.
Sometime last fall, I told my son his usual good-night superhero story, which he capped off with “the end.” Then he grinned, and said, “once time boy. Hero.” Lying on his back, he raised his arms into the sky and made superhero flying sounds (a kind of whooshing sound). “Nico. The end.”
J.K. Rowling read it.

Additional pieces on narrative and my kids:

Friday, January 13, 2017

Anti-Semitic Violence and Jared Kushner

Last week I wrote about "The New Blood Libel," a wave of anti-semitic mythography following the election of Donald Trump.

Earlier in the week, bomb threats closed Jewish Community Centers across the Eastern seaboard. I'm afraid it's going to get worse.

Meanwhile, Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law, an Orthodox Jew, is rising in the ranks of advisors. Right now, Trump's supporters cite him as evidence that King Trump is not, in fact, an anti-semite. As soon as things go badly, those supporters will turn on Kushner for poisoning the king's ear with his bad counsel.

More to come on Kushner and the New Versailles as I have time (book manuscript needs to be damn close to done this month, plus a scholarly article and white paper).

Thursday, January 12, 2017

IEP at SCOTUS: Endrew F. vs Douglas County

It's almost impossible right now to keep up with all the stories circulating. Congress is defunding the ACA. The Republicans voted down an amendment against mandating coverage of people with pre-existing conditions, condemning millions of people to an early death, if that actually ends up being law. Donald Trump's banana republic press conference demands a unified response from the press, and not to mention that until he releases his tax return, we should assume he is financially compromised by both Russia and China, and will make his military decisions based on his personal financial wellbeing. I haven't even gotten to the vaccination story yet. We're overwhelmed.

Next week, I hope to write more about being overwhelmed and some thoughts from the Berlusconi era in Italy on how to respond (I've been waiting for someone else's piece to emerge).

In the meantime, SCOTUS heard a case that could prove vitally important to special education across the country. Special education is federally mandated, but was never funded (it was supposed to be funded, but you know Congress ...).

There's a very real chance that the Supreme Court will rule that school districts must go beyond "de minimis," meaning education that takes us beyond the minimum possible, to a standard “aimed at significant educational progress in light of the child’s circumstances.” That would, to my reckoning, represent an enormous judicial push to improve special education standards across every school district in America.

And then ... well, then there will be a lot of local battles between family and schools to come. But the IEP process is already so fraught, so filled with litigation, that I have a hard time believing it'll get worse.

Here's SCOTUSblog on Endrew F. v Douglas County:
At today’s oral argument in the case of a Colorado student with autism, one thing seemed relatively clear: The justices were dissatisfied with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit’s ruling that school districts can satisfy federal education law as long as they offer a student with a disability an educational program that provides him or her with a benefit that is more than merely de minimis, or non-trivial. It was less clear exactly what standard (if any) the justices might substitute for the “more than merely de minimis” standard, but a standard “with bite” – as Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan put it – would be a welcome development for children with disabilities and their parents.
A standard "with bite" could be pretty good. It's not inconceivable that this SCOTUS could provide such a thing.

And yet ...
Despite Fisher’s efforts to focus the justices on the text of the statute, they remained skeptical. Justice Anthony Kennedy expressed concern about what new costs Fisher’s proposed standard might impose on school districts, by requiring them to provide additional services, while Justice Stephen Breyer worried aloud about the propriety of the justices – who, he suggested, “don’t know much about” education – creating a standard that could then be interpreted differently by “judges and lawyers and people” all over the country.
Chief Justice John Roberts flagged a different potential problem, echoed by Kagan: How would Fisher’s proposed standard work for students who, because of their disabilities, may not be able to follow the general educational curriculum? Suggesting that there is some “flexibility” in the IDEA, Fisher advanced a slightly different version of his proposed standard: A student’s IEP should generally “be tailored to achieve a general educational curriculum at grade level”; if that is not possible, the IEP should use alternative benchmarks that are “the highest possible achievable by the student.”
So what's going to happen? Who knows, but here's the key possibility:
Today’s argument ended with the justices on the horns of a dilemma, as they so often are. Despite excellent advocacy from all three lawyers, there is no clear and easy answer. But they seemed sufficiently unhappy with the “more than merely de minimis” standard that they are likely to strike it down. The standard proposed by the federal government – which would require the school district to offer a program “aimed at significant educational progress in light of the child’s circumstances” – seems to be the most likely replacement, both because the justices regard it as most consistent with existing law and because it comes from the Department of Education, which – as Breyer noted – has expertise in issues related to education and the IDEA. And even if it’s not the standard that Drew and his family are advocating, they would no doubt nonetheless regard it as a significant victory. A decision in the case is expected by summer.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Awesome! Wow! - My son turns 10

It is, incredibly, my son's 10th birthday today. All I can say is ...

You read the story about Nico and Hamilton, right? And you saw that Lin-Manuel Miranda liked it? Cause that was pretty, um, awesome. Wow.
It's been a great year. He's become a particularly great traveller (so long as we can obtain the appropriate foods, something I'll write about more this year), a good communicator, and remains extremely emotionally savvy.

As I right, he's rocking out to the guitar solo in "Black Friday Rules" by Flogging Molly and eating a bowl of cheerios. Later, we'll celebrate with his favorite things - blueberries, pretzels, fig bars (Matt's, not Newtons), and orange noodles.

Nico wants to communicate. He wants, as I say, to dance like someone's watching. And so I write, because that's what I know how to do. Here's some pieces, old and new.

I'll have a piece about storytelling coming soon!

Happy birthday to my son.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Disability, Bullying, and Violence - Recent pieces

I wrote for Pacific Standard on the sexual assault of a disabled black teen by white classmates, after months of racial harassment. Neither sex nor racial hate charges are being brought.
I also wrote for CNN about Meryl Streep and Trump. Stop talking the mocking incident, start talking healthcare, violence, poverty, and education.
Today, I'm off to watch Obama's farewell address and write about historical transitions and how much we have no idea what's going to happen next.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Adventures in Academic Freedom

Four stories.

1) ALEC is meeting with legislators and talking about pulling funding from public colleges and universities if they don't include more conservative views.
The academic freedom PC Run Amok people don't seem to care. Note, this is a standard idea among conservatives, as evidenced by this Ben Carson interview.  If you aren't terrified by this, you aren't really concerned about academic freedom.

2) Donald Moynihan, a prof at University of Wisconsin, writes for the New York Times about these real threats. He's not focused on ALEC, but on Wisconsin lawmakers who want to censor university professors, and the threat of guns on education.
If you truly believe that a university should be a place where people are empowered to pursue a fearless sifting and winnowing of ideas and evidence that benefit us all, I have a simple request: Look at the bigger picture beyond a few elite private institutions. For those of us who teach where most American students are educated, actual triggers are a more relevant danger than trigger warnings. Safe spaces are less threatening than shutting down teaching and research spaces.
Policy makers who accuse students of weakening campus speech should lead by example. Free speech on campus has survived and will survive challenges from students and other members of civil society. Its fate is much less certain when the government decides to censor discomforting views.
3) Meanwhile, the UK is worried about PC Run Amok.  Sigh.

4) Finally, conservative academics are mostly pretty happy, rather than the besieged minority that they are alleged to be.
I should first mention that, contrary to the prevailing wisdom, conservative faculty are just as happy as their liberal counterparts, if not more so. In fact, in 2014, two-thirds of conservative faculty on a nationwide survey responded “Definitely yes,” the most positive on a five-point scale, to the question “If you were to begin your career again, would you still want to be a college professor?” Nationally, an average of 58 percent of all faculty members said they would, while 56 percent of liberal faculty responded in such a positive way -- 10 points lower than right-leaning faculty. 
Interestingly, tenure does not play a role in levels of satisfaction, either. Tenured and nontenured conservative faculty members are both highly satisfied, at 65 percent and 61 percent respectively. The numbers look different for faculty members who identify as liberal: of those, 62 percent of tenured faculty would remain a professor compared to only 49 percent of those who aren’t tenured -- a nontrivial difference.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Pacific Standard Column: New Blood Libel

I have a new piece at Pacific Standard, my first column for them since signing on as a regular contributor. It's called, "The New Blood Libel."

It's not the piece I expected to be writing. I thought I'd write first about DeVos and disability education under Trump, or maybe healthcare and mortal risks to vulnerable people, or even Sessions and the DoJ and police reform. Instead, I'm writing about Nazis and information culture.

My kicker:
In the 12th century, the blood libel came from a publicity-seeking monk. In the 19th, anti-semites used the Dreyfus Affair to purge Jews from the military. In the 21st, the new blood libel will fly over the Internet, fueled by tweets, YouTube videos, and unrepentant media outlets that sell only fear. Meanwhile, elected officials hungry for tax cuts and re-election look the other way.
Previous posts on blood libel:

Lots more writing to come about militant Christianity, racism, and violence to come. Alas, alas, alas.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

SCOTUS - What's a Free Appropriate Public Education?

Big case coming up next week about education for people with disabilities. "Special education" is mandated by the federal government but funded from the states and localities, and is often a place where school districts try to cut corners, provide the absolute legal minimum of services, and otherwise shirk their obligations.

Here's SCOTUSblog on the case:
Next week, the court will hear oral argument in the case of a Colorado boy who has asked the justices to clarify exactly what kind of “educational benefits” an IEP must provide: Is it enough that the benefit is simply non-trivial, or does the IDEA require more? The boy and his family argue that a greater benefit is required, and that a ruling to the contrary will directly affect the quality of the education that is offered to millions of children with disabilities. But the school district where the boy attended school counters that imposing the kind of specific standard proposed by the boy and his family will create its own set of difficulties, including entangling courts in complicated inquiries that they are not qualified to undertake.
I may write about the arguments, depending on the direction they go. I'll certainly write about the results.

UPDATE: Here's a summary from Wrightslaw.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Dylan Roof: Anti-Semite

Dylan Roof, the murderer of 9 black people in South Carolina, rejected a psychiatric evaluation and mental health defense because psychology is a "Jewish invention."

It's an important example of the way that hatreds intersect. Obviously, his hatreds manifested in acts of violence against black worshipers in church. He didn't, say, attack a synagogue. But the rise of the newly emboldened American Nazis combines all kinds of racism. Roof is just the most extreme - so far - case.