Wednesday, April 29, 2015

On Freddie Gray, the Washington Post, and Journalistic Ethics

The Washington Post has published a report based on a leaked document. We don't know who leaked it to them. In it, a prisoner who was placed in the police van some time after Freddie Gray was restrained, claims that he heard banging from Gray's compartment. At no time did this anonymous prisoner see Gray.

That's news. A prisoner heard banging. That ought to get published.

Unfortunately, WaPo decided to go with a reiteration of the prisoner's suppositions.
A prisoner sharing a police transport van with Freddie Gray told investigators that he could hear Gray “banging against the walls” of the vehicle and believed that he “was intentionally trying to injure himself,” according to a police document obtained by The Washington Post.
The prisoner, who is currently in jail, was separated from Gray by a metal partition and could not see him. His statement is contained in an application for a search warrant, which is sealed by the court. The Post was given the document under the condition that the prisoner not be named because the person who provided it feared for the inmate’s safety.
The document, written by a Baltimore police investigator, offers the first glimpse of what might have happened inside the van. It is not clear whether any additional evidence backs up the prisoner’s version, which is just one piece of a much larger probe.
I just wrote about questioning narratives. Here's another case where the narrative must be taken apart.

First, notice all the hypotheticals and room for doubt: "might have" "not clear" no "additional evidence" "written by a police investigator"  "could not see him" - there is literally no evidence here except that Prisoner A heard banging.

But instead, we get in the lede, the headline, and crawling across cable news channels, the message that Freddie Gray broke his own spine. It's not going to persuade many, but it will introduce enough doubt to keep pro-law individuals and policy-makers from vigorously pursuing justice for Gray.

Moreover, imagine this prisoner, now caught up in the Freddie Gray story. The police interrogate him about what he heard. I can imagine a scenario in which the investigator says, "You heard banging?" "Yes." "Like he was trying to hurt himself?" "Yes." And then writes down, "Prisoner A says Gray was trying to hurt himself."

Did that happen? No idea. And the Washington Post also has no idea either.

There is a good story to write about this leaked document, a necessary story even. Banging could mean an attempt to self-injure in an effort to get a big settlement (the implication here), but also could be the last pleas of a dying man for help, unable to call out anymore. Banging could be a lot of things. All we know is Prisoner A heard sounds.

The people who wrote this piece are journalist pros in a way I will never be, sludging through the day-job of it all for one of the great papers in America. But I believe the way this piece was written reflects poorly on the ethical decisions made by the writers and the editors. It serves the agenda of the leaker and those who want to introduce doubt to the investigation of the death of Freddie Gray.

Because when there is doubt, time and time again, in front of juries, the media, and the public, law enforcement officials receive the benefit of that doubt. And the Washington Post has made it easier for Gray's killers to escape justice.

UPDATE: Let's imagine that the BPD had reliable evidence beyond this one prisoner that Gray's injuries were self-inflicted. They would have released that within 24 hours of his death as an attempt to forestall unrest, rather than letting the investigation play out. This leak is a sign of the weakness of the investigation to exonerate the police, rather than a sign of Gray's culpability.

The Shooting of Jeremy Hutton and Law Enforcement Narratives

In 2010, Jeremy Hutton, a 17 year-old-boy with Down syndrome, was shot by a police officer who claimed Hutton was driving right at him. That claim held up in the post-incident review.

Here's a video showing that's untrue (original source), the officer was safely to the side.

A video of police shooting a car driven by a boy with Down Syndrome. The video contradicts police narratives that the boy was deliberately driving straight at the deputy.
Posted by David M. Perry on Wednesday, April 29, 2015
We cannot trust police narratives, even if 99% of them are true, because the other 1% involves life and death. Moreover, all video must be made accessible to all parties in a case.

More to come on this case.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

How Apologies Work - Phil Plait Apologizes for Transphobic Comments

Remember my lessons for apology:
Lesson 1: When you screw up, and you will screw up, own it. Apologize. Try not to do it again.
Lesson 2: No one is entitled to have their apology accepted.
Lesson 3: On the other hand, one mistake (rather than a pattern of repeated bad behavior) can become an opportunity for dialogue and strengthening community, rather than sundering it.
Over the weekend, Phil Plait, the Slate columnist and well known public intellectual (as an astronomer), said something transphobic. Then he apologized. Here's a key bit from the piece.
In one part of the episode, I’m talking about how Venus is really pretty when you look at it from Earth, but up close, it’s an awful place. As I spoke about Venus being pretty, we put up a cute animation of Botticelli’s famous The Birth of Venus. But then, when I say Venus up close is awful (and say, "Yikes!"), we zoom in on the drawing and it turns out Venus has my face on it.

I thought this was pretty funny, a bit of humor poking fun at me. So we OK'd it.
Well, it turns out that wasn’t so OK and funny with a lot of viewers. We got some comments that the joke was transphobic, making fun of transgender people.
 That’s why my editor had texted me. I called her, and she told me what had happened. As soon as she told me, I had a forehead-slapping moment. Of course this could be seen as transphobic. In retrospect it was obvious. The good news is that the team felt the same way and had already re-edited the video to remove that part, and had re-uploaded it before I had even called.
Let me be clear: I apologize for myself and on behalf of the team to anyone offended by the joke. None of us would knowingly make a joke at the expense of a group of people, especially one already marginalized and so often mocked in society. That wasn’t at all the intent, and it didn't occur to us it could be seen that way when we put it together. I hope you forgive us, and we’ll try to do better in the future.
So to clarify, the episode had a picture of Botticelli's Venus, they zoomed in and said, "Oh no, it looks like Phil" (so like a man).

This is a pretty good apology. He doesn't put the blame on people for feeling offended, but on himself for doing the wrong thing. He fixes it. He apologizes clearly. He does acknowledge intent - and I think intent matters. It's not an excuse, but offensive speech by accident is NOT THE SAME as intentionally offensive speech.

In the disability community, for example, calling someone with Down syndome by the r-word is different than saying, "that TV show is so r......" Right? Intent matters. It's not an excuse, but it is a sign of whether lesson 3 is appropriate, whether there's a pathway towards restoring community. I've spoken to a few people in the trans community, they are good with Phil Plait, while clearly not speaking for everyone.

But the piece continues:
Unfortunately, there’s more. In the comments to the (re-uploaded) video, some people are complaining that we are under the thumb of the PC crowd, and the phrase “social justice warrior” is used derisively. Let me address those commenters now:

You’re wrong. First, it’s not up to you to decide what offends or does not offend a group of people you are not a part of. You may feel that this was not an offensive joke, and you are welcome to that opinion; certainly the joke wasn’t intended that way.

But what you don’t get to decide is what offends others, especially in a group you’re not a part of. You may think that offense is undeserved, or that they are overreacting. You have the right to think that, but you cannot dictate it to those others.
I love the "You're wrong." I write about this too - that you don't get to decide what is or isn't offensive, only if you care.

So good for Plait and Slate and everyone who has learned from this mistake. It's good to have models of what apologies can look like and how they can work.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Crowdsource: Adjunct Hiring - Best Practices?

Dear Adjunct, Part-Time, and/or Contingent Faculty,

I'd like to know how you were hired. Was there a public call for positions or were you just contacted by someone in your network - a friend, a patron, a colleague, a mentor? You can let me know through comments here, on social media, or via email.

I'm writing a piece on this issue for the Chronicle and so please email me and offer me a pseudonym or ask for anonymity if you don't want to disclose your identity.

I'm writing in the context of a new book that links the mistreatment of adjuncts to informal hiring practices, and argues that we need to re-professionalize systems of hiring. It's a good book and more on that later, but for now I'd like to hear from adjuncts about their thoughts.

My questions are:

1. How were you hired for your last adjunct job? Was there any formal process? Was the job announced and open?
2. How would you like adjunct hiring to work?
3. Do you think there is a relationship between the informal hiring of adjuncts and their mistreatment?

Thank you!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sunday Roundup: School to Prison, Dan Savage, Starbucks

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 24, 2015

Stagger - I would like to sell you a CD!

From the Department of Shameless Commerce:

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for all your support.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Medieval (Dan) Savage

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Love Song for a Neoliberal University: StarbucksU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Writing: 59 Weeks, 64 Essays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Monday, April 20, 2015

    Daredevil is Blind

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

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

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

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

    He uses a refreshable Braille display.

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

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

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

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

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

    Previous item: Comics, Disability, and Race.

    Edit: Updated to correct assistive tech terminology.

    Sunday, April 19, 2015

    Sunday Roundup: Writing Life. Restraint and Death.

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

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

    Thursday, April 16, 2015

    History and Memory: Action T4

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

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

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

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

    Daredevil: Intersections of Disability and Race in Comics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Tuesday, April 14, 2015

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

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

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

    History and Myth in Game of Thrones

    Last year, a reporter at the Chicago Tribune called me to ask, "Was medieval life really the way it's Game of Thrones?" I said yes, of course, nearly everyone had a dragon, was a zombie, or carried around ancient swords made of semi-magical iron.
    Screenshot: A dragon looms over a
    cowering shepherd. 
    depicted during

    Ok, I didn't say that. I very calmly and reasonably talked about the way that life for most people was reasonably dull, without major events, and that Martin knew this. His initial idea for GoT was taken from readings on the War of the Roses in late medieval England, and he was interested in the ways that civil war devastated a civilian population. So there are some loose analogies. And there are better analogies to medieval literature, as noted by Brantley Bryant. The Chicago Tribune piece was never published. I wasn't interesting enough for her, but I find the whole way that Martin uses history and legend, and the effect it has in terms of building a massive fanbase, to be fascinating. There's plenty of history and literature infusing Game of Thrones, but to me it's not what makes the world so compelling to so many people.

    My friend, and literary scholar Rob Barrett, offered me a clue, and I detailed his and my subsequent ideas over at Vice. Please read the original piece and share it if you like it, as freelancers like me depend on people sharing my work in order to get future gigs. I wrote:

    Rob Barrett, who teaches medieval literature at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, referred me back to the Hyborian Age of Conan the Barbarian and writer G. K. Chesterton's loose mixture of history and fiction in The Ballad of the White Horse.

    In the introduction to the The Ballad of the White Horse, the poet, theologian, and philosopher wrote, "It is the chief value of a legend to mix up the centuries while preserving the sentiment. That is the use of tradition: It telescopes history." Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan, read Chesterton's White Horse and set his own stories in a world pulling from legends and history. Note that Chesterson speaks of value. This kind of storytelling has the power to spark the imagination in ways that faithful historical recreation or adopting a specific historical setting for fantasy might not. When history is telescoped, an author takes interesting things from wherever and whenever they want and puts them in service of a new story that still feels familiar. We recognize the archetypes, then follow the plot forward.
    The power of telescoping history fuels Game of Thrones. In past seasons, the civil war of Westeros drew from the War of the Roses (from the 14th century) in late medieval England as Martin's vehicle to show the disaster of civil war for civilian populations. The Ironborn invoke the Viking raiders of the ninth and tenth centuries, hundreds of years before the War of the Roses. Like the Vikings, the Ironborn aren't really just raiders but would-be conquerors of the mainland. The Dothraki, now largely out of the story (but perhaps returning later), present a potential existential menace on the scale of the Mongols (13th century). Vaes Dothrak, their city, is not unlike Karakorum, a city that combined the values of nomadic life—tents, open spaces, herds—with the mercantile role of a capital city of a major political power. Vikings, Mongols, and War of the Roses: These elements come from thousands of miles and hundreds of years apart, here telescoped in mythic form to Westeros and Essos. And it works.
    I really like this notion of Telescoping History. I'm especially excited, as a Venetianist, for Braavos, which draws on Venetian myth and anti-myth (more the latter, but tweaked to a positive in this fantasy world).

    Do you watch? What do you think of the season so far?

    Monday, April 13, 2015

    Cult of Compliance - Fully Restrained Woman Tased to Death

    This is pretty much as bad as it gets. It's like a scene from a dystopian novel, as bio-hazard suit clad officers take a schizophrenic woman, one who they have already handcuffed, and tase her to death, killing her as she screams in horror.

    Except that it happened.
    A mentally ill woman who died after a stun gun was used on her at the Fairfax County jail in February was restrained with handcuffs behind her back, leg shackles and a mask when a sheriff’s deputy shocked her four times, incident reports obtained by The Washington Post show.
    Natasha McKenna initially cooperated with deputies, placed her hands through her cell door food slot and agreed to be handcuffed, the reports show. But McKenna, whose deteriorating mental state had caused Fairfax to seek help for her, then began trying to fight her way out of the cuffs, repeatedly screaming, “You promised you wouldn’t hurt me!” the reports show.
    Then, six members of the Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team, dressed in white full-body biohazard suits and gas masks, arrived and placed a wildly struggling 130-pound McKenna into full restraints, their reports state. But when McKenna wouldn’t bend her knees so she could be placed into a wheeled restraint chair, a lieutenant delivered four 50,000-volt shocks from the Taser, enabling the other deputies to strap her into the chair, the reports show.
    And here's the defense:
    Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey Kincaid declined to comment on the case but defended the use of a stun gun on a restrained prisoner, saying it was “a means that is often useful to ensure the safety of a person” rather than using physical force to gain compliance. She said stun guns were used “occasionally” on prisoners who are already restrained.
    I know there are cases in which this is true. However, I'd like to know how often these officers try de-escalation and patience before tasing restrained prisoners into compliance. My guess - almost never.

    And experts agree.
    Numerous experts said the use of a stun gun on a fully restrained prisoner was an unreasonable use of force, particularly in a jail setting where a person is unlikely to flee. They also said Tasers are not recommended for use on the mentally ill, that even the Taser manufacturer warns against using them on people in a state of “excited delirium,” and that using a stun gun more than three times is thought to be above the threshold for use on a single person.
    The piece continues to describe a very troubling series of events that, undoubtedly, presented the officers with many difficult choices. They made the wrong ones.

    And here's the meta story - we need a mental heath system that does not place people like McKenna in prisons.

    Sunday, April 12, 2015

    Sunday Review: Game of Thrones Edition

    I am sick. I am sick with that all over body ache and low fever that is not quite bad enough to send
    me back to bed, but is bad enough to suck all the joy from life.

    Which is to say, I'm in a fine frame to talk about the upcoming season of Game of Thrones. I've seen the first four episodes and they are pretty good. I may have a preview coming out from Vice later today looking at the big picture, but here are non-spoilery additional thoughts about seven major plotlines in the new season.

    1. Major plot: Cersei vs Margaery. Kings' Landing focuses on the conflict between these two women. It's less misogynistic than I feared (so far), as these things go, in that it's clearly cast as a power battle not, say, jealousy over Tommen. Tommen is a tool and a pawn (poor kid) as both Cersei and Margaery lose allies one by one.

    2. Buddy movie: Bronn and Jamie on the Road to Dorne. Not as much singing and dancing as one might expect from a "Road to ..." movie, but it brings in a kind of witty banter that I've come to expect from Bronn. Without Tyrion as a foil, Jamie works well. Also this is not in the books, so we don't really know where the plot will go, which is always interesting.

    3. Speaking of Tyrion - We follow him on his way down the coast of Essos and the Free Cities, learn his destination, and re-encounter an old friend. First four episodes are really not so great for Tyrion, despite a few good drunken quips, and that's not unexpected given the books. I found "Tyrion goes east" to be interminable in the books, so I hope they cut most of it. We may well see the Stone Men though, as we get a few explicit references to them in various scenes.

    4. One place we hear about the Stone Men is in regards to Shireen, daughter of Stannis Baretheon. Stannis reveals a few soft moments which I like, as it makes the character more interesting. Meanwhile, I'm happy to tell you, Jon Snow still knows nothing.

    5. Sansa Stark, on the other hand, knows a lot. I'm enjoying the slow emergence of Sansa, although I also know there's going to be significant ick up ahead for her. We see the shape of that ick emerging clearly by episode 4. I think it's ok to say that Brienne is going to be involved in Sansa's story in ways that do not track with the books. I'm very curious to see how that goes.

    6. Arya, in the meantime, is in Braavos, learning to become A Faceless Man (Girl? Woman? I sort of have the sense Martin just uses "Man" as a neutral, because of course he does). I loved this plotline in the book and hope it gets a lot of screen time. A lot of it takes place internally within Arya's mind, though, rather than action, so I'm afraid it may be just bits and pieces here and there.

    7. Finally, there's Daenerys in Meereen. My problem with the "education of Daenerys" plot is that Martin is not the ideal writer of the interior journey of a young woman. And then there's the orientalism built into the plot, as the white woman tells the brown people that they are decadent, that slavery is bad, and that justice is good. Also, and I think this is really important, I don't care if you are unsullied, spears are really bad weapons for urban combat in close quarters and I feel like elite badass warriors ought to know that.

    Some things I wrote this week:
    More published pieces next week.

    Friday, April 10, 2015

    Cult of Compliance - You Need To Calm Down Before I Tase You

    Yesterday, I talked about Donald Ivy, a man with psychiatric disability, who was tased to death in Albany. Today, it's Elijah Roberts. He wasn't tased, but the threats used against him reveal a lot about why Donald Ivy is dead. Here's the story, also from Albany. My emphasis.
    When she called police because her 22-year-old son, Elijah, had become agitated during a holiday dinner, Neketa Roberts of Albany explained that he suffered from mental illness.
    Despite the advance notice, police didn't handle the situation well, according to her account.
    "One of the officers told my son, 'You need to calm down before I Tase you,' " Roberts said, referring to the use of a Taser, a brand of stun gun.
    Roberts and her family told the cop he was out of line. Luckily, her son — who is 5 feet 9, 215 pounds, strong and sometimes difficult to control — was able to regain his composure. But the police officer's approach may well have exacerbated the young man's anxiety instead. The officer later told Roberts that he used the Taser threat "as a scare tactic" to get her son to obey him.
    So we have an officer facing a man in mental health crisis, a man with known psychological and developmental disabilities. The officer's plan - verbally threaten to tase him until he calmed down.

    And if he didn't calm down, what then? Does he tase him? If that enrages rather than sedates him (as is often the case with people in mental health crisis, as they process stimuli in distinct ways), what then?

    This is how police encounters with people with disabilities so quickly escalate - there's the demand for compliance for someone who may well not be able to comply, or not comply quickly or in a typical fashion, and violence follows. Roberts, luckily, escaped that fate for now. But what about next time?

    "Calm down before I Tase you."

    It's a step on the way to Donald Ivy, Lavall Hall, and so many others.


    Louis Hayes, police use-of-force trainer and frequent commentator here, on Twitter, and someone I go to for his expertise, submits this comment. Note, he's not saying that the threat was necessarily positive in this way, only that devoid of context, we don't know. Here's what he wrote:

    For a moment, consider the following monologue:
    ....Hey buddy. How you doin'? My name is Lou. I'm with the police department. Your mom called us because she's worried about you. I'm worried too. I'm a crisis cop...which means I help people who are mad, angry, sad, upset. I have a lot of experience with what you're feeling today. I see you're awfully upset and worked up. We need to make sure everyone stays safe here, OK? I don't want your passion and emotion to be confused as a threat or danger. Some policemen might take your loud tone as being aggressive....not me. I'm here to listen and let you vent your feelings. It's unfortunate that the police had to be called. We have a lot of tools here to keep us safe, so we can help you. We need to be calm and talk through this. Maybe you see a lot of videos on television. That's not me. They're not you. But if you get aggressive towards us here, I'll be forced to tackle you or use my Taser. That would not be good. You need to calm down before I Tase you. In the meantime, you stay there and I'll stay back here. We talk. We find out together how we can get you help. I really like helping people. I'm going to give you a lot of my time today.....
    What does family hear? I'm going to Tase you. At which point, an officer might think...."geez I should have rephrased that."
    The context, tone, volume, body language, proximity is completely missing when a single quote is used to formulate or propagate one's agenda. 

    Thanks Lou. We need to question narratives, whether journalistic or official police ones (as I said yesterday). This is a good reminder.

    Thursday, April 9, 2015

    Narratives: The Latest Victims of the Cult of Compliance

    Walter Scott's killing has made national news, propelled by a cell phone video that allegedly shows the officer dropping a TASER by the body, trying to make the death look justified. When Scott died, I expected to hear defenders of the killing blame Scott for running, but there's been relatively little of that. Instead, Officer Slager is being rendered a bad apple, rather than the sign of a systemic problem.

    But absent video, there's little question in my mind that Slager would have gotten away with this. That tells me two important things.

    1. Body cams are necessary. They must be deployed with appropriate mandatory activation policies. They will cause some new problems and need to be carefully monitored in terms of storage and use of video, but they are quite simply needed. The failure to turn on one's body camera must function as a gross violation of policy and perhaps indication of wrongdoing. There is no other way to regain trust than to have the verification of video.

    2. Police testimony generally has a powerful evidentiary status, a fact that Slager tried to exploit in his alleged crime. For example, Justus Howell was killed in Chicago just a few hours after Scott. He was allegedly in the midst of a deal to buy a handgun when the cops got involved, and ran away with the gun. Running with a firearm is likely justified legally (although I have not heard any evidence that Howell was in fact trying to use the firearm, so any threat remained speculative). The police have told a very clear and consistent story about the incident. Do we believe them? How can we, when this story about the death of Walter Scott, told before the video was out, also is very clear and tells the story of a justified shooting.  I am not saying I in fact think the Zion police are lying. In fact, I think that it's almost certain that their narrative is accurate. But, Slager's conduct forces us, as responsible citizens, to question police narratives.

    EDIT - The New York Times has a piece about officers being assumed to tell the truth unless there's evidence to the contrary. They suggest that might have to change. I agree.

    Moreover, these are not the only deaths in the news of late.

    I wrote about Lavall Hall, the man in mental health crisis holding a broomstick, who police chased as he ran, and shot as he allegedly turned back to them (fearing the broomstick). Now the lawyers for Hall's family have released video, I suspect trying to link their case to Scott's.

    The police aren't happy.
    As the video played at the news conference, one of the attorneys for the family said Daniels can be heard telling police before the shooting, “Please don’t hurt my child, please.”
    A spokesman for Florida State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle told ABC News that the investigation is ongoing and they have concerns the video may endanger the investigation into the incident, but the office could not stop the family from releasing the video.
    "We investigate every police use of force as a potential criminal case, and that’s why the premature release of this video may well interfere with the investigation," the spokesman told ABC News.
    Maybe the premature release is an issue, but to me, I think it's that the video makes the police narrative more questionable. The narrative is:
    "The officers were faced with a dangerous situation. They have already given statements to investigators indicating Mr. Hall struck them with a weapon and deadly force was used. The reasonableness of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene. The reliable evidence will establish Officers Trimino and Ehrlich acted appropriately.”
    And then there's Donald "Dontay" Ivy - Tasered to death in Albany.
    The family of Donald "Dontay" Ivy, 39, described him as a paranoid schizophrenic they said suffered from heart problems. His relatives waited for answers later in the day about the death of a man they said was quiet and introverted as they gathered outside their Second Street residence, several blocks from where the incident unfolded.
    Police said Ivy fought with the officers, Michael Mahany, Joshua Sears and Charles Skinkle, at Lark and Second streets and led them on a brief foot chase. The officers started performing CPR on Ivy 11 minutes after the confrontation began at 12:36 a.m., according to a police spokesman.
    Police leaders have not said why the officers confronted Ivy or how many times he was struck with a Taser. Ivy was pronounced dead at Albany Medical Center Hospital after he arrived in an ambulance at 1:10 a.m., a spokesman said.
    Details on the case are still pending. But Ivy is remembered as a "good kid." Family members argue that the police knew that Ivy was disabled and should have approached the situation differently.
    Police nationwide have faced scrutiny for their use of deadly force, especially toward the mentally ill. Ivy's family is questioning the fatal actions of Albany police, since they believe Ivy's illness was apparent.
    "They would have known that he was mentally ill," Okwuosa said. "And they would have dealt with it from that perspective. Which they did not, and as a result, I had to see my nephew in the morgue today."
    Meanwhile, the DA has announced an independent investigation.

    Wednesday, April 8, 2015

    Undergraduates Doing Awesome Things

    I am a professor at a small Catholic university on the edge of Chicago. We have an extremely diverse population of students, a teaching-centered institution, a social justice mission, and I go to work feeling extremely lucky in many ways.

    But especially today. Today we are holding our Undergraduate Research, Scholarship, and Creative Investigations (URSCI) expo. I am the Director of URSCI and love the way our students' best work takes center stage through this annual event. Here's a video on the kinds of work students do and a taste of how I'll be spending my day.

    This is American higher ed at its best. Our country is full of small schools with, at best, regional reputations, creating space for students to achieve on wildly new levels. These accomplishments come out of close mentoring relationships, the willingness to say yes to student ideas, and modest internal funding. We graduate a very high rate of students who come from backgrounds that, at other schools, get left behind. Of course, we are tuition driven, so things always feel precarious.

    Lately, I've been reading a lot of debates about big public universities vs community colleges vs elite privates vs the University of Everywhere (MOOC Heaven). My kind of institution - small, private, not elite, tuition driven, not as cheap as a low-end public but still pretty affordable, relationship-centered - doesn't really have a place in these big national debates. Maybe it should, because I think the types of students we serve best get left behind by the big technophilic educational disruptors.

    But enough grim thoughts for today. I'm off to be inspired. See you tomorrow.

    Tuesday, April 7, 2015

    Inadvertant Sexism - The Fix Starts With Listening

    Over the last week, I twice wrote (and tweeted) about Joshua Kim and an essay that I found to be sexist. More importantly, the women he wrote about found it to be sexist, and in the ensuing discussion, Kim spent a lot of time talking about what he thought and he felt, rather than acknowledging the truth of Rab's and Watters' lived experience.

    Kim initially resisted the message that his tone-policing was sexist, but eventually came around (as he really had to, hence the message of my open letter) and wrote a solid response to the issue. Here's the best part of his piece.

    One of the gifts that this whole week has given me is that I’ve had lots of really good conversations with some of my closest female colleagues. They told me story after story about how they have been made to feel when making arguments… “too political, “too emotional, and entirely out-of-line”. (Again quoting from Watters). Over the years I have extensively linked to the writing of Watters, referencing her as an authority in educational technology. (On 4/9/14 I even said that Watters was one of 3 people I know in edtech who should get a McArthur Genius Award, writing - “…who would better use this money/platform more to change our ideas about higher education?”). Given this background, I had assumed (and I think that this was a bad assumption) that my critique of her and her co-author would be understood as part of an ongoing professional interaction within our IHE community. It was my mistake to think that this history would matter in how my critical comments would be received, and to not fully appreciate the way that I wrote would be heard. It is absolutely true that at the time I would have written a similar response if the authors of the Watters/Goldrick-Rab review of Carey’s book had been men. My blindspot is not that I thought about gender when I wrote my critique of their review, it is that I did not.
    He still relies on his intention as a shield, which is understandable. Intention does matter. It's better to be sexist accidentally than intentionally. On the other hand, he actually cannot know whether he would have written a similar response of the authors of the review had been men, because we are not wholly independent actors, and that to me is what is interesting.

    We consume patriarchal (and racist, and classist, and ableist, and homophobic, and ...) culture from birth and it can rear up and shape our perceptions, our speech, our actions without warning. This is why it is vital, in these cases, to make the apology, to listen to the aggrieved (not me, but Rab and Watters and those in a similar situation), and then hope for restored community. Because we will all mess up from time to time.

    Listening is key, and that's what I like about the paragraph above. He set out to listen to his female colleagues, heard what they said, and modified his response. Had he listened from the beginning, he would have realized that inadvertently or no, he was operating in sexist ways, and quickly backtracked and tried to make amends.

    When we really listen to the voices of others, the voices of people experiencing discrimination and prejudice, then so much else follows.