Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A National Women's History Museum Without Historians of Women

In the New Republic, historian Sonya Michel has written a scathing indictment (with a response and followup) of the "National Women's History Museum," a group dedicated to making a real museum on the Mall in D.C. 

According to the piece (and many other historians, including - full disclosure here - my mother), the NWHM has gone out of their way to distance themselves from actual professional historians, instead presenting an out-moded, superficial, amateur, and often inaccurate face of women's history.

The story is important for its own sake, but it also reveals a much longer contest over the stories we want to tell about discrimination, progress, and the relevance of such issues in today’s society.

Since its founding, the NWHM operated without any input from scholars. Finally, though, a few years ago, some very important scholars were invited to form an advisory board and to help the NWHM with their project. Sadly, that collaboration has now ended.

“Last month,” Michel writes, “Joan Wages, the president and CEO of the National Women’s History Museum, abruptly informed me and my fellow historians on the museum’s Scholarly Advisory Council that our services were no longer needed. For three years, we had been trying to help Wages’ nonprofit organization develop an overall vision for the institution it hopes to build on the National Mall.”

Why this abrupt end to the collaboration? Michel suggests that while history is often messy; these people wanted to tell a clean, simple, positivist story. She continues:

In mid-March, the museum announced that it had launched a new online exhibit, “Pathways to Equality: The U.S. Women’s Rights Movement Emerges,” in conjunction with the Google Cultural Institute. Never informed that the exhibit was in the works, much less given an opportunity to vet it, we were appalled to discover that it was riddled with historical errors and inaccuracies. To pick just one example: Harriet Beecher Stowe was described as having been “born into a family of abolitionists” when, from the time of her birth through her young adulthood in the 1830s, her family actively opposed the abolitionist movement. “Pathways to Equality,” noted Kathryn Kish Sklar, the nineteenth-century specialist who pointed out the error, “could have been written by a middle-school student.”

Let's not undersell middle school students. Many, in fact, work well with experts (their teachers and parents) to fact-check.  

Michel suggests that at the core is a strong difference between fundamental conceptions of what history, especially women's history, is, does, and is for. She writes:

According to the large-font text, the central theme of the museum was to be the struggle for women’s rights and the triumph of the suffrage movement.

The historians found the focus on “great women” and the acquisition of formal political rights to be outdated and much too narrow to capture the manifold ways in which women have shaped U.S. history. We were also dismayed to note that nearly all of the women pictured on the brochure were white, and several (Mary Wollstonecraft, Olympe de Gouges) not actually American. This sort of thinking about history typifies the NWHM style. Its approach is encapsulated in this statement on its website: “Women's history isn't meant to rewrite history. The objective is to promote scholarship and expand our knowledge of American history.” While most women’s historians would agree with the second part, we would disagree with the first. We have set out to rewrite history. [My emphasis]

This, I think, is the most important detail of Michel’s piece. Beyond the politics and perhaps personalities, there is a fundamental difference on the purpose and nature of history between the enthusiastic amateur and the professional scholar. It’s a split that goes far deeper than the issues at play with the NWHM.

Women's History and many other fields that have emerged in the profession more recently – queer studies and disability studies, for example – have pushed us all, sometimes uncomfortably, to re-examine the past, our own understandings, and to re-structure whatever "master," or perhaps "mistress” (as Judith Bennett writes) narratives of history survive the process. That's as true for my field (medieval) as for U.S. history.

Within contemporary American society, the position of American women in our history remains a subject of intense debate. Michel’s piece coincides with continued debates about paycheck fairness, rape culture, voter suppression, the right of women to have access to birth control, and the rapid proliferation of anti-choice legislation.

These political issues match up with a flurry of articles about whether people interested in gender equality should talk about deep structural problems, bias, and sexism, or whether what women really need to do, in order to achieve equality is to be more confident (or “lean-in”).

Experts in women's history are able to place such contemporary questions in a broad historical context, linking sexism and discrimination now and in the past. That's threatening to a bland positivist master narrative of progress from the "bad old days" before the vote to the good times now.

We need to bring that uneasy re-examination of ourselves, our historical memories, and the stories we tell into the public space. It is the chief work - not fact-checking - of the publicly engaged historian, and it’s clear that there are lots of women’s historians ready to engage.

But we need partners to do it.

It's too bad this organization seems unwilling to risk opening the door.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Academic Rejection and the Confidence Gap

Apparently it's a write-about-writing week so far on the blog.

I really like Rebecca Schuman. This week, she has a call out for why academic rejection hurts more than other kinds of rejection. If it does for you, you should go give her your story, as she curates data well and writes beautiful polemics on higher ed and the false meritocracy. Her emergence in the last year as a major higher-ed media voice has been a great thing and I look forward to reading her piece on this.

I started to send her some thoughts, but they got long, and, well, this is what I have a blog for, right?

I'll be especially interested to see how her responses norm to race, class, gender, orientation, ability, and so forth, as I've been thinking about this in the context of the many discussions on male and female (over/under)confidence of late.

For me, academic rejection is not worse than other kinds of rejection. I think it's because I don't believe in the meritocracy of academia and because of irrational white male overconfidence that next time it'll be better. Next time, Lucy will let me kick the ball.

All academics know, or are told anyway, that the capacity to be rejected and to move on with life is a seriously necessary skill to succeed as an academic. Sure, there are some people who just soar through undergrad, get accepted to all their grad programs with big scholarships, and I can imagine that the first rejection hits them hard. But most academics have been rejected for countless jobs, publications, conferences, grad schools, grants, and especially, jobs. Did I mention jobs? We know this is a part of our profession. In fact, our prestige economy depends on journals, for example, advertising their selectivity as a symbol of quality. Prestige emerges when one person gets something that most people don't get to have. Rejection is built into academia.

But prestige culture says to people that if you get the gig, grant, pub, whatever, you are in fact better than everyone else. Rejection, therefore, says you're not. It hurts.

I've been rejected a lot. As a journalist, my rate of rejection has gone up even more. I like to tell academics that by moving into the world of public writing I have entered new cycles of rejection the likes of which they have never seen. Before the Chronicle agreed to publish me regularly, I had no writing home other than this blog, and every piece I wrote required me to hustle if I wanted it read. I felt, in fact I still feel, that sometimes I do more hustling than writing, and I certainly get rejected repeatedly.  I've succeeded in part thanks to my  irrational overconfidence that my words matter. I just keep shoving them out there.

I've been rejected plenty in my academic work. I have been rejected for hundreds of jobs. There was one job I desperately wanted at a place I once taught for which I didn't even receive a first-round interview. It would have fixed so many issues in our life. Not a sniff. There was another job, the year before I got my position at Dominican, which I really wanted. I got an on-campus interview. I remember driving to Broder's Pizza in Minneapolis with my wife when the call came in that they were hiring someone else (an internal candidate; she's great, as it happens). I pulled over to the side of the road and took the call, thanked the chair, told my wife, and we went to dinner. These things hurt, for sure. And yes, I'm writing this from a tenured perspective now, and I'm very lucky, but I can remember those days clearly.

Right now, I have a big scholarly project ahead of me and was rejected for each and every grant for which I applied. Journals have rejected me. Presses have rejected me. Professors have rejected me. Once, a professor refused to grade an essay of mine because he didn't want to depress me - a fact that did not, in fact, fail to depress me.

And yet, these rejections never felt so much worse than other rejections. Rejections aren't fun. I think, in the end, it's not just that I'm an irrationally overconfident guy, but that I don't believe in the myth of the meritocracy. I believe academia functions as a pseudo-random or weighted number generator. There are factors that can skew the odds ever in your favor: race, class, gender, prestige markers like the Ivies or mega-grants. I believe that academia is basically packed with really smart and really hard-working people, some of whom get lucky enough to fulfill their potential as teachers, scholars, administrators, researchers, etc. and most of whom do not.

There's a flip-side to the belief that randomness is at work - despair. If it's just random, then no amount of dedication and hard work can drive you to the top of the meritocracy. Frankly, I think that's freeing. The people I see drive themselves literally to mental health breakdown because they think just working a little harder might get to through the job market wringer, or get them that prestige marker to move to the next tier of university. Yes, it's possible, but to what extent is trying to shift the weights of a random system worth it? I can't answer that question, but I do know that if things aren't working out, it doesn't have to shake your sense of self. And if it does, well, I understand that too. The job markets are all brutal. In Academia, we are told that rejection of a project is rejection of the self. It's hard to shake off years of that kind of discourse.

I've been rejected  repeatedly. It hurts, but it doesn't have to batter the foundations of my identity. I do, however, try to think hard about where I'm likely to do well and where I just lack the prestige markers to weight the roll of the dice in my favor.

Here's a rejection that was much worse than anything I've experienced as an academic. One Friday in 2002, in the late Autumn, a woman who I loved told me that she wasn't in love with me anymore and that she was going to her mother's and that our marriage was over. The next Friday, we met with a therapist, and she confirmed that she didn't want to work on the marriage.

Now that was a bad week.

On the bright side, it was also better fodder for country music song-writing than my job hunt, though now that I think of it, the "Academic-Job-Search Talking Blues" does have a certain ring to it.

Maybe in the people's key of B-flat major.

Monday, April 28, 2014

"Best Dressed" and Writing Online

A little over a year ago, I wrote a piece for CNN on my daughter. It was the first piece I had written that hit a truly mass audience - well over two hundred thousand clicks, 32K facebook shares, incalculable tweets (because CNN does things with their URLs that makes it hard to count them). I did my first radio interview. I turned down a radio interview with a right-wing misogynist. It was an exciting week that motivated me to keep writing about gender for a mass audience.

Two days ago, I started getting feedback on twitter and Facebook about the piece again. I know that "A Mighty Girl," a hugely influential Facebook group, shared the piece, but I am not sure why. Who read it and decided to post it? Did someone important tweet it out? Did it just percolate around the net for the last year, landing on the page of a decision-maker who then hit share? I'm endlessly curious about such things, but they don't really matter. I'm gratified the piece is getting a fresh wave of readers, 15K more shares, and so forth, because I still think the message is important.

Here's the interesting thing for me - In another era, an op-ed like this would have been written for a magazine or newspaper, even a highly influential one, read perhaps, then done, resident only in libraries and basement boxes of hoarders. Online, even if the internet proves more ephemeral than we believe, pieces have the potential for long afterlives, hooking a reader via search engines, social media, and suddenly gathering steam to live again.

I've seen it happen with Lisa Bloom's excellent, "How to Talk to Little Girls" - Now up to 81K shares, nearly 600K likes, and surely millions of readers. It's from 2011, but every so often it pops up excitedly in my social media feeds. This is a good thing as it makes a great argument, and if you haven't read it, you should. My piece is nowhere near her numbers, and frankly, just between you and me, I'm not sure my piece is anywhere near as good. She is offering direct advice; I am explicating a problem. Advice > explication.

Still, I am struck by the power of internet publishing to spur something into a new pool of readers over 11 months after it's published. I wonder if there are ways to do this intentionally (I'm sure the media savvy folks do it all the time) or if I, at least, just have to let events and the random game of link-sharing propel pieces worth sharing through the internet, waiting until they burst out again.

It's enough to give a writer hope, it is.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Adjuncts, Admin, and Gender - The Sunday Roundup

I had two published essays this week:

One for Chronicle Vitae on The Language of Labor and Adjuncts with a blog comment.
One for CNN on the Canonizations of the Popes John 23 and John Paul 2 with a blog comment.

I've been writing a lot about Higher Ed of late, in part thanks to new column opportunities at the Chronicle. For me, writing begets more writing.

I wrote a piece on the numbers of Admin Bloat and some thoughts on how I think it happens. I wrote another on how to talk about the adjunct crisis when you're privileged (i.e. tenured). I really like both of these pieces and some of the comments, pointing out where I wasn't clear or wrong.

Earlier in the week, I blogged about McDonald's and gender norms, a topic that seems to be in the conversation a lot lately, and the use of "trespass" to threaten a family that didn't want their child to take a test.

Next week is grading week, which means either I'll write a lot or very little.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

How to Talk to Adjuncts (if you're tenured)

This is my first attempt to generalize some guidelines for talking about people with less power than yourself, especially when trying to highlight an injustice that you, to some extent, are responsible for perpetuating.

Almost a year ago, I wrote a piece on how to talk about feminism if you're a guy (especially a straight white married guy).  It was a somewhat light response to a serious discourse problem - it's complicated if you want to talk about problems experienced by others, especially if you are of the group that has all the power and privilege. It's complicated, but it's also necessary. The four core rules are:
  1. It's not about you (don't make stories about the discrimination faced by women about how you, the man, feel about it).
  2. It's sometimes about you (men need to talk to men about rape, for example).
  3. It's always about them (don't erase women's voices from the conversation. Cite, link back, use privilege to amplify the voices of others and hopefully erode one's own privilege).
  4. Don't expect gratitude (A lot of male feminists want women to like them more, or to exempt them from critiques - the "not all men" defense - or otherwise, once again, making it about the wrong topic).
This week I wrote about adjuncts - the contingent labor force of academia. I think all these rules apply

I'm a tenured professor living in a nice house in a suburb of Chicago. My wife and I have two professional incomes. I've also been given a big platforms on CNN, the Chronicle, and beyond. I'm a straight white married man. My university is a great place to work. If adjuncts resent these facts, that is reasonable. I can't expect gratitude for noticing their difficulties. And most of all, I cannot make the stories about me.

Rule #2 applies too, though, as it's going to take tenure-stream faculty being part of the movement to achieve any kind of change. I  have some ideas of how that can happen; I have a criticism of the attempt to use hyperbolic metaphors to evoke sympathy. I think we need SHARED identification, not to use analogies to marginalized groups. I might be wrong though.

For the rest of the blog, I want to offer an example of how NOT to talk about adjuncts from a position of privilege, then give a critic my space to critique me. 

Matt Reed, aka @DeanDad on Twitter, wrote a blogpost on Inside Higher Ed in which he asked for ideas to get adjuncts to come to workshops. He wrote, among other things:
In a perfect world, of course, we’d have enough money that this wouldn’t be a problem. But this isn’t a perfect world. So within the fiscal parameters that actually exist, we’re trying to find a more effective way to reach significant numbers of adjunct faculty.
In my piece for the Chronicle, I talked about specifically this kind of language, saying, "We tut-tut and say it’s too bad, but then throw up our hands, blame the budgets, and let the system continue." Reed's heart is in the right place I guess. Most people's hearts are in the right place. But then when attacked on Twitter, he got defensive. He makes a huge amount of money overseeing a system in which adjuncts are exploited, but he wants to be the good guy.

Adjuncts online started criticizing him, asking him how dare he ask adjuncts to do anything given that Deans make 150K and they make 3K a class. Dean Dad responded defensively. Here are the tweets.

In fact, most Deans at Reed's school make 80-90K. If you are an adjunct making $3000 a class, the difference between 90K and 150K (both with benefits and job stability) is negligible. It's like when people making a million dollars a year complain that they shouldn't be seen as rich because they aren't making 10 million a year and real estate in NYC is so expensive. Getting defensive when you have the privilege and are being criticized for it doesn't help. It's also not right. Sometimes, you just have to take it.

When I was criticized, I tried to keep Dean Dad in mind. Below is a Storify of a critique from an adjunct. What I tried to do was to accept the criticism and not to get too defensive. I tried to remember - it's not about me. Don't expect gratitude.

The critic, Gordon Haber, wants me to use my platform to rage about the injustice, making the criticism that sure, while adjuncts are raging, people like me aren't. We, to use my own language, just "tut-tut." I can defend my piece, but his criticism isn't wrong. I'm doing something think-y rather than rage-y, even though I agree the injustices are worthy of rage. Maybe a stronger piece as my first step onto Vitae would have been better.

At any rate, it's not about me and I'll keep working on living up to my rules.

I'm letting Gordon Haber have the last word from his blog post, in which he writes.
Now, Perry is right. And he was gracious when I criticized him on Twitter. And he ends his piece by suggesting that tenured faculty make common cause with adjuncts, to which I say, “A fine idea but I won’t hold my breath.” But in the end I find it galling that here we have another academic launching a critique of labor issues in higher ed byparsing adjunct rhetoric.


Friday, April 25, 2014

Saints and Memory

I have a new piece on CNN today about the upcoming canonizations of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. When CNN asked me if I had anything to write about it, the core question to me was - why should non-Catholics, especially secular people, care. I'm lucky in having very smart people around me - virtually and on campus - to help me think through that question. I'm also lucky in the power of the press to get interesting people on the phone (Robert Ellsberg in this case).

I wrote:

So what might non-Catholics take away from this?
First, both saints offer a model of risk-taking based on a strong sense of moral purpose. Second, one could learn a lot about what's going on with the billion or so Catholics in the world today.
The dual canonizations, it turns out, symbolize an attempt to turn the church away from decades of infighting and turf wars and toward a mission for the common good.
I'd like to know what you think.

What really makes me happy, though, are these paragraphs:
According to Catholic belief, popes do not make people into saints; God does. Canonization, an all-too human practice, is the process of recognizing divinely given sanctity. As John Allen Jr. has written, ideally this is a deeply democratic process, with devotion to a holy person flowing upward from the laity to the hierarchy.

Canonization provides an opportunity to shape memory.

People become recognized as saints, in part, through storytelling, a topic I study as an historian of the Middle Ages. When we choose what stories to tell about a person, we reveal a lot about ourselves, our hopes and fears, the ways in which we might try to do better personally, and the kinds of changes we'd like to see in the world.

That's been true since the early centuries of Christianity, a period in which sainthood was generally bestowed by local and regional communities without any broader oversight from church authorities. If a group of people believed that someone was a saint, and they set up shrines, venerated relics, developed rituals and told stories about miracles -- then that person was a saint. During the Middle Ages, the papacy asserted ever-increasing control over the process of who got to tell the stories of saints. While the vox populi still matters, next Sunday is Pope Francis' show.

That stuff about storytelling, memory, medieval history - the that the way we shape stories matters as much as the actual lived experiences of the saints? That's my day job. I've written a book about hagiography (writing about saints) and memory in the aftermath of the Fourth Crusade (1204). In general, I am an historian because I'm interested in the way that people shaped memory, rather than trying to tease out "what really happened" in any given case - though I like to know that too.

So sneaking that into CNN pleases me. Hopefully, when my book comes out in February next year, I'll be able to sneak some more.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Adjuncts are Labor. Professors are Labor. Graduate Students are Labor.

Adjuncts are Labor. Professors are Labor. Graduate Students are Labor.  Staff are Labor. Administrators, well, that's more complicated. What's a "Chair" anyway? More on that later (and in the meantime follow that link for a good piece on definitions).

I am going to be writing regular columns for the Chronicle and Chronicle Vitae over the next few months (and hopefully indefinitely, but I've got about 15 columns planned at this point on various topics, though organized around language and how it shapes the decisions we make).

I wanted to start with a few pieces nominally about adjuncts, but in many ways really about the rest of us and our response to adjuncts. Here's the first column - Sharecroppers. Migrant Workers. Adjuncts? - and some thoughts on it.

Resources: Adjuncts as slaves. Contingency in the modern workforce.

My opening anecdote is true. A friend, just about to finish his PhD and finishing a great 1-year, offered me a lift to JFK from Fordham's Lincoln-Center campus. I paid for parking and tolls, glad to skip the taxi or the train. In the car, he asked me what I thought about adjunct rights as civil rights. I gave him a response then and this essay is the longer form version once I actually read the work to which he was alluding.
Over the past few years, an increasing number of voices have argued that adjunctification is best understood as something especially terrible rather than an all-too-typical example of the rise of contingency across the North American workforce. Why do advocates need to go to such rhetorical lengths to gain our sympathy? 
In the piece, which I hope you will read and share (thus increasing my chances of having more columns published there),  I do two things. One, I argue that adjuncts are not slaves, migrant workers, or sharecroppers. Two, I argue that people use this language because we're not listening, or if we are listening, we don't act.
The issue here is not that writers are loosely deploying hyperbolic metaphors. The real problem is that adjuncts and their advocates believe the rest of us aren’t on their side.\
We tut-tut and say it’s too bad, but then throw up our hands, blame the budgets, and let the system continue. Civil rights, slavery, sharecropping, migrant laborers—these are terms that evoke sympathy and demand action within the neoliberal world of higher education in ways that just calling adjuncts “temps” does not.
The solution is not to see adjuncts as labor - the solution is to see yourself as labor.

 More to come.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Priorities in Higher Ed - Admin Bloat By the Numbers

Yesterday I followed a tweet from New Faculty Majority to Academe Blog (from but not speaking for the AAUP) - and read a startling set of statistics.

I posted this tweet:
It was re-tweeted a lot (for me). As I altered and sent out the numbers again over twitter, those tweets were picked up by more people and circulated.  Clearly the story these numbers tell seemed compelling to the twitter-academics.

Here's the context from the blog:
In this past week’s issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, there is a very revealing graph representing the changes in employment in colleges and universities from 1976 to 2011. The graph is based on an analysis of IPEDs data by AAUP’s John Curtis.
I've talked about this before when discussing the rise of the administration (aka the "Fall of the Faculty"). I wrote:
"I was called out for using the phrase, "administrative bloat." It's pejorative and I think I will drop it. [spoiler alert: I haven't dropped it] There certainly has been a rise in the number of administrators. This has both cultural and financial costs. A recent piece from the Chronicle notes that the faculty:admin ratio declined from 2000-12 by 40%, now at 2.5:1. Thus the savings from shifting to the adjunct model have largely been spent on hiring new admin. But at least some of this has happened because of new regulatory models (assessment assessment assessment), and "bloat" suggests that the university did this on purpose, rather than having no choice. It's an issue to consider."
That was me being nice. I know so many brilliant, dedicated, administrators who do amazing work to make their institutions of higher ed better. I feel exceptionally fortunate in the administrators with whom I work at Dominican. But the numbers are kind of bleak. Moreover, as I'll discuss below, there are choice here being made by administrators that lead to bloat, even if it's not deliberate, even if many of the choices are defensible.

When I survey the big higher ed landscape, I see the following linked processes [update: see comments for clarification] - 

1) Cuts in funding for public universities
2) Cuts in numbers of tenure track lines
3) Rise in numbers of students at the same time
4) Explosive growth of adjuncts
5) Explosive growth of staff and admin

What this ends up meaning is that the money saved by cutting full-time lines ends up going to admin and other non-instructional costs rather than to education OR to improve bottom lines. Adjunctification, admin expansion, and the cutting back on FT teachers has been a somewhat zero-sum game shifting costs around rather than saving money (to some extent).

Academe Blog has this useful take after running the numbers [my emphasis]:
It is as if higher education has borrowed very selectively and poorly from the corporate model. Although we now have much the same ever-widening gap in compensation between upper management and the bulk of the employees, we also have the sort of burgeoning middle management that was more typical of American corporations in the third quarter of the 20th century and increasing eliminated from our corporations in the last quarter of the 20th century. If our colleges and universities were truly operating as efficiently as the best corporations, the increase in administrative staff would be among the lowest numbers on this chart and not the highest number.
That rings true to me. It's not just that the universities have corporatized, but that we've DONE IT BADLY.

A really smart criticism of my customer service article for the Chronicle emphasized that my discussion of customers relied on a model for customer service not reflecting best practices in the business world. I believe it! But I also know that my outmoded model reflects the model that most universities use when they say "students are customers." It's not just corportization, it's bad corporitzation.

I don't think admin bloat happens intentionally - no one says (I really hope): Let's get rid of a bunch of tenure-track lines, hire a ton of Deanlets for high salaries, and then fill the classrooms with adjuncts. Rather, administrators get hired defensively - a need is located and the solution is to hire a single person and to give them a title to solve it. Those people are often understaffed, under-budgeted, and individually pretty well compensated as they try to wrestle with difficult tasks. They are hired, though, so their salaries now eat up a chunk of the budget once occupied by tenure-track lines, and the numbers have to balance. Enter the adjunct to save the day (or fill the lecture hall anyway).

Right now, at my unversitiy, we are hiring our first Chief Diversity Officer. We have real diversity issues on my campus. We are becoming a majority Latina/o university taught by a mostly white faculty.  A swastika was carved on an elevator door. There have been racial slurs against some African-American students, and plenty of other problems. I'm particularly focused on disability as diversity, and we've issues there too. If your campus doesn't have diversity issues, it probably means that you aren't looking hard enough and that your students - whether divided by race, class, gender, orientation, religion, ability, etc - don't feel safe enough to raise the issues. Denial is not a diversity strategy.

I'm pleased Dominican is taking this step. I hope a CDO helps all our students and faculty feel safer, empowered to speak out, included, and I will do everything in my power to support whoever we hire, though I'm not convinced an administrative hire is the optimal solution to our issues.

There's a cost here though. I assume the salary, at the president's cabinet level, will be significantly higher than my own, perhaps as high as one and a half starting tenure-track lines. That means one fewer faculty member, bigger undergraduate classes, and more part-timers. We're a tuition-driven institution and the budget has to balance.

What is a university to do? We have a need - whether it's diversity, or assessment, or more IT needs, or better facilities, or any number of other kinds of problems requiring staff/admin to solve. Yes, in some colleges we've got explosive middle-management issues based on #badmin (as the hashtag goes) trying to carve out self-replicating bureaucratic fiefdoms. That's not the problem at my small university and I expect not the problem at many other places either.

And yet, the growth of admin continues and the faculty fall.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Do you want gender norming with that?

McDonald's toys are in the zeitgeist. More specifically, the gender-normative ways in which McDonald's describes their toys are in the zeitgest, and perhaps some progress has been made.

Last year I wrote a "straight married white male feminist manifesto." I wrote it for the Good Men Project which means I deliberately waved a red flag in front of Men's Rights Advocates (MRAs). It was a good learning experience and I like the essay. I reacted to current events (at the time) to explain why I am a feminist:

I am a feminist because when I go to McDonald’s (and yes, I know I shouldn’t go to McDonald’s), and order a Happy Meal, they ask me whether I want a “boy’s toy or a girl’s toy.” The boys’ toys are active, with moving parts, and often violent: cars, giants, aliens, catapults, action figures, heroes, and heroic paraphernalia. Girls’ toys come in pink, purple, yellow, and orange. They are passive—at most, they sparkle. Dolls, plastic versions of clothing, and animals—but not animals that might climb or hunt, but cute little things you can snuggle. Right now, boys get Hot Wheels ™. Girls get Sparkle shoes (little plastic keychain shoes, covered in hearts and flowers) from Sketchers ™. The people at the counter are supposed to say—do you want the shoe or the car? But they never do. What am I supposed to do if my son wants the shoe and my daughter the car? Of course, having heard the gender norming question, they just go with what’s expected. 
I discovered that the daughter of a friend of mine got angry when she was a child about this, so wrote McDonald's and received a nice corporate letter saying it wasn't their policy. She used to wave it at people who asked if she wanted the girl or boy toy. This has been on my mind for awhile.

And it turns out on other minds as well.

On Medium, Elly Vila Dominicis wrote, "I'm a girl and I want the boy's toy."
Every afternoon, my mom diligently picked me up after school and asked me what I wanted to eat. Chicken McNuggets was always the answer, but“Chicken MacNuggah” was what came out of my undeveloped five-year-old mouth.
We routinely went through the McDonald’s drive-through, craning our necks and straining our eyes to scan the menu even though we always ordered the same thing every day — a Happy Meal for me with Chicken MacNuggah, french fries, and a Sprite.
“Boy or girl?” the drive-through loudspeaker would yell.
A quick, expectant glance from my mom looked back at me from the rearview mirror.
A simple knowing nod in response from me.
“Boy,” she assured the loudspeaker.
The piece goes on to show the toys and their gender split.

Meanwhile, in Slate, a 14-year-old girl named Antonia Ayres-Brown wrote about her campaign to really change the language. Like my friend's daughter, she too got that letter from corporate HQ, but noted it didn't change anything. She contacted the CEO, and:
Instead of filing another complaint, I tried a more conciliatory approach. I again wrote to the CEO of McDonald’s, now Donald Thompson, sharing the results of our recent study and expressing my continued concern with the harmful effects of gender-classified toys. On Dec. 17, I received an amazing letter back from McDonald’s chief diversity officer, Patricia Harris, saying, “It is McDonald’s intention and goal that each customer who desires a Happy Meal toy be provided the toy of his or her choice, without any classification of the toy as a ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ toy and without any reference to the customer’s gender. We have recently reexamined our internal guidelines, communications and practices and are making improvements to better ensure that our toys are distributed consistent with our policy.”

Even more heartening, just posted a photo of a manager’s notice on the wall of an actual McDonald’s store instructing employees: “When a customer orders a happy meal you must ask ‘will that be a My Little Pony toy? Or a Skylanders toy?’. We will no longer refer to them as ‘boy or girl toys.’ ”
 So that's nice. I suspect the toys will still emerge in pink and passive vs colorful and active. Why can't we have a pink ninja robot? A bright blue lipstick with lightning bolts? There's room for variety here.

Still, small victories are victories. Good work Ayres-Brown

Monday, April 21, 2014

Cult of Compliance - Georgia School Edition

Most of my writing on the cult of compliance focuses on police violence. It's where the deification of compliance is most visible and most dangerous. Schools, however, are another site for such practices, especially as they turn into bunkers. Sometimes such moments turn violent, but there are more subtle forms, such as this story out of Georgia.
MARIETTA — The parents of two West Side Elementary students say they do not want their children taking the CRCT, a standardized test given in Georgia, but the city’s school system told them their children would be trespassing if they came to school and didn’t take the exam.
The context for this story is the right-wing myth that standardized tests "collect data" on the kids to be used in nefarious government plots. Myths aside, the problems with the testing regime abound:  For example - Teaching to the test erodes critical thinking skills, many tests are designed with inherent biases, they take away lots and lots of time from actual teaching.

What interests me in this case, though, is this part of the response from the school (emphasis mine):
The Finneys worked out a meeting with school administrators early Wednesday morning to talk things over. But when they arrived, they were confronted by a police officer instead of the principal.
According to Tracey Finney, the officer was extremely nice and professional, but told them being on school property while actively opposed to the test was “kind of a trespassing thing” and that their kids weren’t allowed on the property either if they weren’t going to take the test. The officer’s report confirms the parents were told they and their students would be trespassing if they stayed on the property.
Now there's a whole context of missing emails, canceled meetings, and a reasonable question as to whether the parents were being deliberately provocative. I don't especially care. What's important to me here is the quick recourse to the language of criminalization and criminal penalties.

I expect it's complicated for a school to have all of their staff involved in testing and to know what to do with kids who opt out. Schools will have to sort that out. It's got to be complicated when angry parents show up for a meeting that was canceled and demand to see the principal (if I am sorting out what happened here).

And yet, to start saying the kids who aren't testing are trespassing, with the legal ramifications, is a perfect example of the softer side of the cult of compliance (as opposed to having one's face smashed in, being tased, shot, etc.). It's insidious and it's spreading.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sunday Roundup - Legos and Manifestos

This was a good week. Spring is here in Chicagoland, my son is currently head-banging to the CD version of "Let it Go," and later I'll be cooking salmon in delicious little packets of butter, lemon, and tarragon. For lunch, thanks to secular Easter, we'll be having egg salad. I've got 5 higher-ed columns out for review at the moment and hope for them to start rolling out in the middle of May. We'll see how it goes.

I wrote a manifesto about work and inclusion for people with developmental disabilities (and other disabilities). If you have time, please read the manifesto, give me your thoughts, and share it. I need to get this right. More context below.

This week I wrote briefly about: "Cutting Edge," a program at Edgewood college for adults with developmental disabilities and compiled some resources on Catholic Higher Education and immigration reform for a future column.  My university is a real leader in this cause and I'm proud of them.

The most read piece this week was a fun essay on teaching writing using lego metaphors, from my friend and fellow medievalist Leigh Ann Craig. If you're at all concerned about critical thinking or just frustrated with writing instruction at any level, give it a read. I can't wait to try it in the classroom.

I got angry at Slate reporter Jordan Weissmann for being excited that people are losing their jobs in higher education. I like Jordan - we've had cordial twitter exchanges and I read him a lot, but I think he's mis-using the payscale data to make his arguments, I think his assumption of a rational market in higher ed is mistaken, but most of all I think one should never be excited about people losing their jobs. Yes, markets change, technologies make jobs irrelevant, and disruption happens. It's rarely rational in its outcomes. The human suffering is real. Do not celebrate it, even if you think it's necessary.

I spent a lot of the week writing about inclusion. My mantra: inclusion; not same-ness. I stand by that mantra, but this week have had to work with a key caveat - Inclusion as appropriate for a given individual. So I first wrote about shifting away from sheltered workshops as the primary work-space for people with disabilities in Rhode Island, then blogged about an important piece in the New York Times arguing for the need for non-stigmatized segregated school space for some children with disabilities - and now I follow the author on Twitter. She's another Chicago historian and advocate. Segregated and sheltered spaces are a vital part of the landscape for individualized accommodations for people with disabilities. I don't want them to be the default, but nor should we stigmatize them.

I'll have much more to say about employment and developmental disability in the coming months. But this week I wrote a manifesto, by which I mean a set of guiding principles as I write about this topic. As I said at the start, if you have time to read one thing, I'd appreciate any feedback.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

"Cutting Edge" - Down Syndrome and Edgewood College

In a happy Saturday post, here's a story going viral about Noah, a man with Down syndrome in Wisconsin, being accepted to Edgewood College in Madison.

I hope to go to Edgewood in the fall and write about Noah and their "Cutting" Edge" program.

It's a nice conclusion to a complicated week of writing about inclusion. I don't know to what extent inclusion is happening at Edgewood ... but I'm gonna find out!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Education - Individualized; not-sameness

I've been writing about work and inclusion this week. I actually began the week by writing against the sheltered workshop model and celebrating a Rhode Island decision. But as I clarified in that post, the goal isn't to end all sheltered workshops, but to end the default slide into segregation that dominates the work-life of people with developmental/intellectual disabilities.

We've seen that default slide end in education. When I was a child, I never saw kids with disabilities. That's just not an option anymore and we are all better for it. That doesn't mean, however, that every child should be fully included all the time. I wrote this:
There's no one pathway forward. The key is, as always, inclusion; not same-ness. For some people, a segregated controlled environment is absolutely essential for making progress in education or work or anything. My son is one of those people. In First Grade, he spends about half the day in a special needs room and half the day with his class. Although philosophically I am deeply committed to full inclusion, it's not the right thing for Nico right now. He needs the social interaction of a full class, but he also needs the quiet, controlled environment in order to work on his math, spelling, reading, and writing.
With that in mind, here's historian Margaret Storey in the New York Times, a DePaul professor and advocate for the same principle for her daughter.
A Civil War historian, I never thought I’d use the word “segregationist” to describe myself, but my daughter’s public school has changed all that. I’m not talking about racial segregation — her school is one of the most economically and ethnically diverse in our town. I’m talking about self-contained education for children with disabilities, which, in the United States, is increasingly rare.
My daughter is 10 years old, but as dependent on others as a 12-month-old. She cannot speak, but communicates volumes with her eyes, vocalizations and gestures. It can take a while to “get” her, but once you do, you’ll never forget how deep she is, nor how much she understands.
My daughter’s school challenges the idea that children with disabilities are best served by being educated alongside non-disabled peers. But the idea that inclusion is best, I would argue, is in danger of hardening into a dogma that risks re-stigmatizing children with severe or profound disabilities.
The dogma is very concerning. Nico is flexible, but needs some segregated space. Story's daughter, on the other hand, needs isolation. We can't let the laudible growing focus on inclusion undermine her needs. Storey continues:
The alternative of a special school is hard for some parents and educators to embrace. As one mother reflects, “Sending a child to a separate school can feel like a surrender, as if you’re giving up on keeping a child in the community.” I see this stigmatization all around me — most recently, in the mother who had to fight to have her nonverbal, significantly cognitively delayed child placed in a specialized school over the determined resistance of district authorities.
But there is an alternative: destigmatize these children and the special schools they need.
My daughter loves to learn, but to do it, she requires specialists trained to teach a child whose memory and cognition are affected by multiple daily seizures and loads of dulling medications. She needs a setting where the student-to-teacher ratio is low, the expertise of the staff very high, and one that has the resources necessary to pay for that intensive support available. There is no shame in this.
There should be no shame at all. Stigma is always a mistake. And yet she's right, our oscillation from segregation to inclusion has become a kind of dogma. Storey finishes:
We still need self-contained special education schools, and we need them to be rigorous and well-funded. Only when we honestly admit that we need these schools can we get down to the hard work of educating kids with disabilities, no matter what the setting. We cannot truly celebrate the diversity of people with disabilities if we fail to acknowledge the diversity among people with disabilities, and rise to meet the varied needs of all.
I'm really glad the NYT published this and hope we can extend the call beyond this piece.

Once again, I offer my manta: Inclusion, to the extent inclusion is appropriate, not same-ness.

That mantra includes Story's daughter and her need for a special school, with rigor, without stigma.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Legos and Teaching Writing

One major complaint about college students today, even highly-prepared college students, is that they have been taught to do well on tests, not to think critically. The culprit may be No Child Left Behind, and I'm not convinced that the Common Core will change this.

As a history professor, I assign a lot of essays asking students to analyze multiple sources, events, people, artifacts, etc. What I get, most typically, are essays that describe all of the individual sources, events, people, artifacts, etc., rather than building a thesis-driven argument or analytical case.

I'm not alone. On Facebook today, medieval historian Leigh Ann Craig posted the following metaphor about writing and legos, which I share with her permission. Emphases mine.
It occurs to me, as I read another batch of papers in which my students' k-12 training to fear and avoid independent critical analysis is sadly evident, that perhaps what they need in order to make the conceptual leap is a good Lego metaphor.
Primary source analysis: Here is a Lego brick. What color is the Lego? Who made it? How many buttons does it have and what shape is it, and what could it potentially be used to build? What could it NOT be used to build?
Book review: Check out this Lego car someone built. What bricks did they use? Tell me about the Lego car's design, whether it is any functional good, and what the problems might be with it. Is there anything especially ingenious about the car's design?
Position essay: Here's an entire bucket of Legos. Build me a Lego car. Make sure it's functional.
Research Paper:  Hey, I hear there's Lego bricks out there all over the place. Go find some. Build me a car out of the Lego bricks you are able to locate. Make sure the car is functional.
Historiographical essay: review all recent Lego cars built. Consider what sort of design needs are typically not being addressed very well. Propose possible new design for Lego cars. Or maybe Lego airplanes.
Because when I ask you to build me a Lego car and you passively look over and then describe to me a series of individual Lego bricks, that's a problem.
I like it and am going to use this metaphor in class. Or maybe just bring in a lot of legos and tell them to get building.

Resource: American Universities and Undocumented Students

I'm writing a piece on the ways that Catholic Colleges and Universities, especially my own, are helping undocumented students. The help comes in three ways: Money for tuition/expenses, changing discourse, and political action. What I'm really interested in for this piece is the link between mission and policy changes.

One piece that has emerged is terminology
  • Some universities use the term "Dreamers," referring to students who are advocating for the DREAM act. A typical dreamer came to this country as a child, often as a very young child.
  • More universities use the term "undocumented," and the students to whom I have spoken use that language to describe themselves most commonly. 
  • There are still places that endorse "illegal." In fact, yesterday the USA - Undocumented Students and Allies met at Illinois Institute of Technology to demand an end to such terminology and to publicly ask for a meeting with the higher administration to talk about undocumented students at IIT. That said, I also know there are people at IIT who have been working on this topic for a long time. I'd need to do more reporting to figure out what's going on there (and it's not the focus of this piece).
Related to terminology, I have found both in interviews and in reading/listening to undocumented students the adoption of the language of "coming out" about their status. It's an interesting turn of phrase because, of course, sexuality is a very different kind of identity statement. People who are undocumented would like to change their status, but I think coming out is appropriate - it's about being open about with one's identity and fighting stigma and exploitation. It also enables the language of allies, offering a clear role to people who are documented but who want to fight for equality here. Perhaps most importantly, it places undocumented students into the category of diversity

Diversity is something that universities try very hard to improve. Diversity has an office. Sometimes a Chief Diversity Officer, too! It has committees. It has budgets. Maybe not big budgets, but budgets none the less. So making undocumented about diversity and status has, I think, helped the issue find traction in academic institutions.

Here are some resources:
I haven't verified most of these statements here, and the formatting is weird, but what I find interesting is the schools that use "international" student as the way to accept undocumented students. 
Dominican Resources

For students at Dominican, the word is out. "When undocumented students apply to a school it's because they've already heard that it's welcoming," says freshman Arianna Salgado, 19, an undocumented student who was born in Mexico and has lived in the USA since age 6. "It makes you really comfortable with the whole application process."
I also interviewed Salgado for my piece.
  • CNN Interview with Donna Carroll - 2/1/12 - Video, Transcript of followup discussion.
There's more, but this is a good start. And no, no one is trying to sue us about it.

More to come on this. Do you know your university's position? Let me know.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Jordan Weissmann is excited that you are losing your job

Jordan Weissmann, Slate columnist on business and education, is really happy that your small private college might be closing. Here's why:
These are agonizing times for small, private colleges. Enrollment is falling. Debts are rising. Tuition is high as it can go. And since the financial crisis, schools have been shuttering more often than normal....“What we’re concerned about is the death spiral—this continuing downward momentum for some institutions,” analyst Susan Fitzgerald tells Bloomberg. “We will see more closures than in the past.”

And that, I will add, might be a very good thing.

Small private colleges aren’t necessarily nefarious institutions, but they’re not exactly the heroes of higher education either.
Look out! A Death Spiral!
He quickly exempts Wesleyan (where I went) and Amherst and the other giants, schools charging 50,000+ and loading their campus with athletic palaces and gourmet food (I am seriously bitter that I missed the era of gourmet campus food. The food at Wesleyan when I was lousy institutional fare that was really bad for you). They are not all doing "fine," as Weissmann says, but they are not in danger of closing. They do, however, create this top cap that other schools feel they have to compete against, sinking their money into amenities rather than educators. More on that later.

Instead, he singles out Ashland University in Ohio as a model of the school we should celebrate going under:
Instead, consider places like Ashland University in Ohio, which Moody's has called a default risk. These institutions often cater to iffy students and produce mediocre graduation rates. But because they don’t have much in the way of endowments, they tend to charge high tuition, and leave undergraduates saddled with debts that simply might not be worthwhile. When all the aid is factored in, attending Ashland still costs $21,000 a year, according to the Department of Education. Meanwhile, only 59 percent graduate after six years. And so, according to Payscale, it offers one of the lowest returns on investment of any college in the country.

That might have been sustainable in a pre-Great Recession world. But as Moody’s has found, the business model of asking middling students to pay exorbitant prices for an education they might not finish is beginning to creak and fail.
I want to highlight three problems here:
One - Payscale provides an interesting, but flawed metric. Read Cedar Reiner on this. Basically it's a fairly flat measurement of tuition against average salary, not taking into account the complexities of student population and expected outcomes given that. We do know that students from lower incomes, from many minority groups, first-generation students, and so forth, are less likely to graduate AND less likely to have the means to pursue highly remunerative jobs. Reiner writes:
There are (at least) three classes of factors that could predict a high school student’s future salary. First, a student’s individual characteristics such as preferences, abilities, motivation and even demographic variables such as race and gender affect their future salary. Second, that person’s education and training of course influence what they earn. This is where college fits in, but it might also include high school preparation as well as out of school preparation. Third, students future salaries are dependent on the labor market they enter as they leave college. As many unemployed or underemployed PhD’s are now discovering, someone can have great achievements in the other two factors, but if there are few to no jobs, one’s salary is severely constrained. The PayScale rankings understate these factors in comparing salaries of graduates to the median salary for someone who has only a high school diploma.
It's not a surprise that many historically black colleges emerge on the Payscale list as the worst ROI and to simply blame the colleges, even while admitting one's metric is flawed, is to lie with statistics. Reiner writes:
The advice is not “Don’t be black, because structural racism will still hurt your progress” or “Don’t be poor in the south, because intergenerational economic mobility there is very low” or “don’t find value in art, because your society doesn’t support that,” but rather: “Watch out for these schools, they waste your money!”
This brings me back to Weissmann's latest piece (in which, even though he has admitted Payscale is flawed, he continues to mine their data for columns):

Here's two: There is a genuine problem here to which Weissmann is pointing. There are schools which do a poor job graduating their students and a poor job preparing them for a better career even given their population pool. Is Ashland one of them? I honestly have no idea (if I were doing a formal column, rather than a blog post, I'd go find out). I do know that Payscale is not an accurate means of assessing it.

There are college rankings out there that look at "bang for buck" - trying to measure the quality of education against the cost of education. That's a difficult multi-variable problem. I like the way that the Washington Monthly, for example, looks at expected graduation rate (taking into account the status of each student) against the actual graduation rate. I can't assess their exact formula, but it seems to be asking the right questions at least.

Weissmann, on the other hand, seems to assume that the market is rational and the bad actors will be pushed out. I see no evidence for this. Schools close for all kinds of reasons - one of them, surely, is a poor rate of return given costs, but there are all kinds of external factors in terms of changing demographics, bad administrators, poorly structured institutional debt, and who knows what else. A school closing does NOT mean it offered a bad product, as Weissmann seems to assume. It might, but there are so many other factors.

He writes: "If the demise of a few schools can make the rest of higher ed a bit healthier, then let the death spiral whirl."

I see no evidence that such demise will make higher education healthier. Rather, I think it'll push schools to try and get leaner by hiring more adjuncts, by focusing on marketing, on branding, on corporatizing - not on teaching.

Three: The assured cruelty of Weissmann's prose is distressing. "Let the death spiral whirl," he says.

I've been trying to think about an analogy. Across the country (and beyond), newspapers are closing, journalists laid off, magazines shuttering. There's been a huge disruptive force moving through the world of media, one that surely Weissmann recognizes. Many people believe that this is a necessary byproduct of the internet age and perhaps not a bad thing, but it's been hard on a lot of good, talented, folks.

I can't imagine EVER saying, "let the death spiral whirl," when watching newsroom layoffs. The
URL (no idea whether Weissmann gets to make his own URLs) reads: "small_private_colleges_are_in_crisis_the_rest_of_us_should_celebrate."

No one should celebrate job loss, economic hardship, or this kind of industry disruption. Even if the results are positive for students. In this case, I think the results will be more online, more adjuncts, and less opportunity.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Inclusion and Work: A mini-manifesto

Yesterday I wrote about ending the abuses of sheltered workshops and received push-back from a reader and online-friend. Her son is finding his pathway into employment through a Goodwill sheltered workshop. I really appreciate her voice. I want to see change, but would hate for that change to limit options for her son or for anyone.

That said, the abuses and exploitation of people with disabilities in the sheltered workshop environment have got to stop. The challenge is to craft new systems that preserve possibilities for all people of all ability levels.

Beyond the laws, I argue that the emphasis on sheltered workshops pushes segregation over inclusion. Segregation is easier. Inclusion is hard. Inclusion takes creativity, more resources, and the willingness to push at a culture that too often wants to isolate people with disabilities or render them mere objects of inspiration, rather than full-blown members of society.

There's no one pathway forward. The key is, as always, inclusion; not same-ness. For some people, a segregated controlled environment is absolutely essential for making progress in education or work or anything. My son is one of those people. In First Grade, he spends about half the day in a special needs room and half the day with his class. Although philosophically I am deeply committed to full inclusion, it's not the right thing for Nico right now. He needs the social interaction of a full class, but he also needs the quiet, controlled environment in order to work on his math, spelling, reading, and writing.

And it's working. Nico can read. The key to the Individualized Education Plan is that first word - individual. Frankly, all children of all abilities need IEPs, but we lack the resources. It's not a perfect model, but the approach can carry forward into the working world.

I dream of a day in which all people with disabilities can take advantage of well-supported infrastructure to guide them in transition from high-school into adulthood.

Where whatever degree of independence, inclusion, protection, isolation, etc. that is best for them is available and economically feasible.

Where the word "shelter" in "sheltered workshop" is not a euphemism but a true description of a gentle, educative, environment that helps people with disabilities find meaningful work, build skills, and move out of the shelter if and when they can handle the turbulence of a more inclusive environment.

All of this will take government money, and lots of it. 

It cannot be done by charities alone. It cannot be done by commerce (buying stuff at Goodwill, for example. Or a bake-sale). It cannot only be available for people with means and contacts (Nico is likely going to be fine assuming all goes well; he's 7 and my wife and I are already making plans). In many cases, we will need to pay two salaries or stipends to do one job - a job coach + compensation for work.

The costs are high; but oh, the potential payoffs. Right now, there are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people currently cut off from the workforce, isolated in workshops, stuck at home watching TV, their hard-won skills deteriorating. They already impose costs on society, government, family, and themselves. Brought into a more inclusive working environment, some of those costs ease; more importantly, as with all inclusion, the whole society and culture benefits when we open the doors to difference.

So as I head into the world of work and disability, a topic on which I have much more to say, including revealing more about a pilot program that I helped start at my university - and which is scale-able to every university in the nation  - this is my trajectory.

End the laws that allow for abuses while maintaining choices and possibilities that take into account the full range of human ability and potential.

Inclusion; not same-ness. Shelter as a choice; not a default.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Ending the Abuses of Sheltered Workshops

This summer I hope to write several longer essays about social justice topics: police and disability, rape culture (men need to talk to men about rape), eugenics and Down syndrome, and adult-life with developmental disability. I know, sounds more fun than a barrel full of very squished and depressed monkeys, am I right?

Here's the first of many posts bringing out resources relevant to these essays.

Thanks to Section 14 of the Fair Labor Standards Act, people with disabilities can be paid below minimum wage, even down to pennies an hour, if they can't work up to an adequate "standard." Plenty of people with disabilities are exploited in the workplace, but this is legal exploitation, based on the sheltered workshop exception.

The National Council on Disability has a useful overview report on the practice.

In the last year, Goodwill has received some bad publicity for the practice (especially the high pressure testing they do to see how close to "normal" their workshop employees can work). It's pretty grim and just didn't hit at moments when I was ready to write about it. The stories are so painful though.

So it was with pleasure that I read about the Rhode Island reached an agreement with the Federal Government on ending this kind of work segregation. Here's the ADA fact sheet (.docx), here's the Providence Journal, and the NY Times.

Here's the Journal:
PROVIDENCE, R.I. –- The state and the federal government have reached a groundbreaking settlement that will move disabled Rhode Islanders from segregated settings that isolated them for decades into the work force and the community at large.
The Department of Justice announced the consent agreement and the 10-year plan that arises from it at a news conference this morning at the U.S. Attorney’s office. The plan borrows from other states, but, for the first time, lays the pieces out in a comprehensive manner, officials said.
“Today’s agreement will make Rhode Island a national leader in the movement to bring people with disabilities out of segregated work settings and into typical jobs in the community at a competitive pay,” said acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels for the Civil Rights Division.
The plan aims to gradually move the intellectually and developmentally disabled from meaningless tasks — unwrapping bars of soap and capping lotion bottles for $2.21 an hour — to jobs matched with their interests and abilities, even for the profoundly disabled.
It's not just the pay, though in many cases the pay really matters and is an issue. But the extent to which pay ALWAYS = valued / meaningful is debateable (later this summer I will write a Chronicle piece on a program that does not include minimum wage and another, I hope, on the ABLE act for another site). The real question for me is about whether the work is meaningful, developmental, builds skills, and so forth.

So I like that last line, I like the direction this is going, and I hope RI is a model for other states to follow.

Update: Karen, a reader with a son happily moving through a sheltered workshop system, has raised a powerful dissent (which I really appreciate) below, so here's a qualification.
I am NOT calling for sheltered workshops to be closed unilaterally and neither is Rhode Island. What I want to end is the easy slide into segregation over inclusion. Segregation is always easier - in schools, communities, and workplaces. Inclusion takes resources, creativity, and investment from many different parties. 
Moreover, some Goodwill stores have done a very good job paying fair wages, supporting growth, and building community. Others put their workers through punishing tests and chop wages when they don't succeed (the NBC report is worth watching, I think).
There will be a place for sheltered workshops in the constellation of pathways for people with disabilities to find employment.There are people with disabilities for whom the sheltered workshop is the best option, much as there are children who can learn best in a segregated environment. 
Overall, though, I will continue to push for inclusion, but not same-ness, to the extent appropriate for each individual. 
Thanks for commenting. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sunday Roundup

In case you missed it. I wrote about Jesus' Wife, Academic Fatherhood (and some pre-panel thoughts about a roundtable on parenting in academia. I'll have more to say on this next week, I hope), and two more pieces on gender. One was about women and men getting invited to talk on the television, the other on a blogger reminding me of my essential rule for male feminist discourse: It's not about you.

On Monday I celebrated Chili's backing out of its sponsorship of an anti-vax group by offering the op-ed I would have published on CNN had they not. Jenny McCarthy wrote an op-ed yesterday, though, that has me fuming. Stay tuned (eventually. It's a busy part of the semester) for more thoughts on trying to put a respectable face on the anti-vax movement.

The piece that got the most buzz this week was about Frozen vs Little Mermaid. Sing it with me, LET IT GO! LET IT GO! ... If you scroll down to the bottom of my essay, you'll see my daughter singing, and it will make you happier. There's also an important point about "I want" vs "I am." I'm passing the post around to various parenting sites in case they want it.

Heading out to LAX to fly home in a bit. See you tomorrow.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Jesus and his Wife's Gospel

Here's a very brief Twitter discussion with Julia Baird. She wrote a lovely piece for the NYTimes the other day about Queen Victoria (I blogged here). Twitter is a medium that encourages quick hits, but this is just not correct.

One piece of paper, even dated to the minute after Jesus died, would not "prove" anything. In this case, there's just a debate about the authenticity of the document and its provenance.

But here's the real thing - due to the nature of Christianity as an oppressed religion, pockets of belief were able to develop in isolation from each other and go in radically different directions. Moreover, when groups disagreed about interpretations about, well, about pretty much everything, there was no coercive force that enforced orthodoxy. All Christians were more or less equally persecuted or not (actually mostly not) by the Romans. So while one strand of belief could drive another out of town, ideas proliferated and split and divided and spread.

There are a few major known strands that became dominant into the second and third centuries that provided the major debates of the fourth (once legalized). But in those early centuries, if you can imagine a position on any debate: The nature of the trinity, of Christ's human-divine essences, on marriage and sex, on women in the priesthood, on priesthoods, on the world-spirit dichotomy, on whether to wear matching socks or not ... on anything! There was a group that believed just that.

This scrap of paper might offer us a tiny shred of evidence for the range of how those thoughts worked since it perhaps speaks to a group that did not emerge as dominant. Mostly, though, it's just evidence for itself.

Not as sexy a headline or a tweet - but real. And important.