Monday, August 31, 2015

How I Spent My Sabbatical

Last December, I finished teaching and went on sabbatical. Tomorrow, I go back in the classroom again. I worked very hard, and these last nine months mark a major career transition for me. I suspect I produced well over 100,000 words, and it could be a LOT more if you count each blog post, talk, the book proposal, and more. I woke, I addressed the needs of my kids, then I wrote.

Today, I'm back in the classroom, and thrilled to be there. I'll be running undergraduate research at Dominican University, teaching a class on the Silk Road, and teaching the senior history seminar.

Here's what I produced:

BOOK:. I worked very hard developing a book proposal. I sold it to Beacon Press and am thrilled to be working with them on Disability Is Not A Crime. I hope to deliver the manuscript in a little less than a year. Had I sold it faster, then that's all I would have done during my sabbatical. As it was ...

MEDIEVAL/ACADEMIC:  I wrote and gave a medieval conference presentation based on my book, Sacred Plunder. I also gave a talk on shifting registers as a public medievalist, a version of which was published by postmedieval. I did some work on the Fourth Lateran Council, celebrating its 800th anniversary in November. I have a final thing to say about the Fourth Crusade and Fourth Lateran, which I shall deliver at a conference in Rome just after Thanksgiving. I'm also just finishing edits on a 5000ish-word book review on a sampling of recent higher education books.

BLOG: I wrote a couple hundred blog posts. Some of them were read by thousands of people. Some of them weren't. Some were mostly just links and others rambling, disorganized, essays 2000-3000 words long. Thank you for reading all the thoughts and links and everything I share here.

GOOGLE: I was hired by Google to write and help edit their awesome site commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the ADA. Really proud of the biographies here. Also this project ate much of June and July. I traveled a bunch, met some outstanding people, read books about the disability rights movement I've been meaning to read for years, and learned a ton. The best projects are those where you both learn and teach.

ARTICLES: Mostly what I did, though, was chase my journalism. More interviews, more in-depth pieces, new venues, longer pieces. Disability writing on all sorts of topics, lots on state violence, TV criticism, and of course higher education. I've published 40 pieces or so since the beginning of the year. I wrote some hot takes, some TV criticism, but also many pieces that took me weeks of research and hours of interviews.  Those latter are harder to accomplish during the semester.

There's going to be fewer articles in the next 12 months or so as I work on my book and go back into the classroom. Some though. Upcoming topics include: Disability and politics, Westworld and other sci-fi/fantasy shows for Vice, and some pieces on academics turned journalists.

In the meantime, here's all the pieces from 2015 so far.
  1. A "Bechdel-Wallace" Test for the Disability Community (Al Jazeera America, 8/30/15)
  2. Westworld: The Robots Are Coming! (, 8/25/15)
  3. Stop Politicizing Down Syndrome and Abortion (, 8/24/15)
  4. The Surprisingly Simple Future of Assistive Technology (Al Jazeera America, 8/17/15)
  5. The Outrage of Handcuffing Children in Schools (, 8/5/15)
  6. I am a Working Dad (Father's Day 2015) (Al Jazeera America, 6/21/15)
  7. US schools must stop excluding children with disabilities (Al Jazeera America, 6/16/15)
  8. The Controversies and Success of Season 5 of Game of Thrones (, 6/12/15)
  9. What Kids Learn When Adults Aren't Inclusive (Washington Post, 6/11/15)
  10. Where Have All the Good Bad Guys Gone? (, 6/10/15)
  11. Speaking Out Against Autism Speaks (, 6/4/15)
  12. Inspiration Porn Disables the Disabled (Al Jazeera America, 6/3/15)
  13. Jon Snow: The Only Hero of Game of Thrones? (, 6/1/15)
  14. The World's Reserves of Game of Thrones are Running Dangerously Low (, 5/28/15)
  15. Low Cost College Isn't Enough (, 5/20/15)
  16. 'Mad Max: Fury Road' Is the Feminist Action Flick You've Been Waiting For (, 5/13/15)
  17. Zoo Camp for All (Belt Magazine, 5/12/15)
  18. A Medievalist on Savage Love (Chronicle of Higher Education, 5/12/15)
  19. Save Academic Conferences! (, 5/6/2015)
  20. DC Super Hero Girls - My Daughter Wants Heroes That Look Like Her (, 5/1/2015)
  21. The Corrosive Cult of Compliance in Our Schools (Al Jazeera America, 4/22/15)
  22. Daredevil and Scenes of Ordinary Disability (, 4/20/15)
  23. "The Net is the Meat:" Bruce Holsinger's Medieval Fiction (, 4/20/15)
  24. RFK Jr. owes a lot of people an apology for his comments on autism (, 4/16/15)
  25. The Telescoping History of Game of Thrones (, 4/14/15)
  26. Sheehan vs SF: A Chance to Reduce Police Killings of People with Disabilities (Al Jazeera America, 3/22/15)
  27. Bruce Rauner: Picking on Society's Most Vulnerable (, 3/18/15)
  28. "Daddy, What's Down Syndrome?" (Yahoo! Parenting, 3/17/15)
  29. Dear Student? How about Dear Provost? (Chronicle Vitae, 3/11/15)
  30. Why Write a Book? (Chronicle Vitae, 3/3/15)
  31. To assess LAPD shooting, look past the moment of gunfire. (, 3/2/15)
  32. Information, Not Inspiration: How to work against the fear of Down syndrome (, 2/18/15)
  33. From Grad School to the Atlantic (, 2/11/15)
  34. Conservatives want to rewrite the history of the Crusades (The Guardian, 2/7/15)
  35. Kristiana Coignard Did Not Have to Die (, 2/2/15)
  36. Airlines Break Too Many Wheelchairs - But We can Fix It (Al Jazeera America, 1/31/15)
  37. Associate Dean of What? (, 1/26/15)
  38. Anti-Choice Legislators Try to Force Wedge Between Reproductive, Disability Rights Activists(Reproductive Health Reality Check, 1/16/15)
  39. Who Will Teach All the Free Community College Students? (, 1/15/15)
  40. Harsh Critics in Public Spaces, Judging Only What They See (, 1/12/15)

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sunday Roundup: Disability and TV/Movies. What I Left Out

I have a new piece up at Al Jazeera America today on disability and upcoming television shows that have, in the past, done a good job with disability issues. None are perfect shows, but it's ok to admire the good even while criticizing the bad:
Since the emergence of the newly renamed Bechdel-Wallace Test, which is used to judge women’s representation in Hollywood films, other groups that feel marginalized in the media — sadly, everyone except white men — have searched for a similar short-hand as a means to communicate what they would like to see change. In the disability community, these efforts have coalesced around two basic principles: Cast disabled actors whenever possible and tell better stories.
Too often, disability only appears as an obstacle to be overcome or a tragedy to which a non-disabled character can react, both forms of inspiration porn.
“How many times must we be subjected to the same kinds of hackneyed, overwrought and, let’s face it, lazy storytelling?” Lawrence Carter-Long, an expert on disability and film, asked during a recent email interview. “The best writing about disability focuses on character. Not a rehash of the same two-dimensional tragic or heroic movie-of-the-week stillness we’ve all seen a hundred times before.”
Here’s the good news: in the past year, a number of TV shows did a much better job telling stories about disability. I will focus on four of them, which are slated to return this year: “Empire,” “Daredevil,” “Game of Thrones” and “Switched at Birth.” Despite the flaws in each show, their depictions of disability offer successes worth celebrating.
The biggest issue I cut from the piece was about behind the scenes work. I understand that disabled actors can't always be cast, for one reason or another, but I think we focus a little too much on the on-screen talent anyway. I'd like to see Hollywood and TV work on developing a cadre of highly-skilled, disabled, directors, producers, camera operators, writers, casting directors, agents, and so forth, all the way down to Key Grip Operator and Best Boy. To me, that's at least as important as the actors (my disabled actor friends may disagree).

I deliberately chose shows that deal with all kinds of disabilities, but left plenty out. What are your favorite shows?

Here's the roundup from a very busy week of writing.

Other Published Pieces

Blog Posts:

Friday, August 28, 2015

Katrina and Disability - The Work of Claudia Gordon

One of the great pleasures of my summer was meeting and interviewing Claudia Gordon. She works for the labor department now, but ten years ago she was at the Office of Homeland Security, her attention focused on people with disabilities in the aftermath of Katrina.

Her video, shared below, talks about her development in the wake of the ADA in developing a cross-disability identity and consciousness. It's a fantastic video.

My piece that I wrote about her focused on Katrina. You can find the full bio here, by clicking over to "Claudia Gordon." If you do, pause and read the others, as the people they profile are all amazing. I write against inspiration porn, in which we claim that disabled people doing everyday things (eating, breathing, tying shoes) are inspirational. But it's ok to be inspired by people doing transformational work. If you can't be inspired by Ed Roberts, as I said to Judy Heumann (who also inspires me!), something is wrong with you.

Here's some of what I wrote about Gordon, Katrina, and disability after disaster.
It’s three weeks after Hurricane Katrina has hit New Orleans and Claudia Gordon is worried. From her perch at the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, she and her colleagues are working frantically to coordinate the emergency response for people with disabilities who were in the path of the brutal hurricane. But on the ground in Louisiana, there’s just too much one-size-fits-all thinking. People with disabilities are being abandoned, forgotten, or isolated from their families.
So Gordon -- who is Deaf -- and her sign-language interpreter, is deployed to Baton Rouge to spend approximately the next three months working with the response and recovery team out of the Joint Field Office. For Gordon, it’s all about making sure that people with disabilities have access to the same services as everyone else. She insists that contractors, NGOs, and local officials understand that people with disabilities “aren’t asking for favors, they’re asking for the same thing as people without disabilities.”
The problems she encounters are many. For example, Deaf people in the shelters can’t hear announcements, such as those telling them where to go to register for disaster-relief benefits. The travel trailers being transported in aren’t physically accessible for individuals who use wheelchairs or who might use walkers. For example, some are being installed on gravel, or are too narrow for someone in a wheelchair to turn around in, or have steps that are not wide enough for someone who uses a walker. They need ramps, larger mobile homes instead of the compact trailers, accessible sites on level ground, visual smoke alarms for Deaf individuals and audio alarms for the blind, and so much more.
Homed matter. No one with a disability should have to stay in a shelter or nursing home longer than those without disabilities. Alas, people without disabilities just don't tend to think about these kinds of issues when planning for disasters. Or didn't, anyway.
So Gordon gets to work. If a contractor promises to work 24/7 to build accessible mobile home sites, she makes a surprise visit to the work-site at 1 am. She explains the need for key accommodations. She uses diplomacy, data, reason, and, most of all, personal anecdotes to explain what has to happen and why. It’s the stories of specific families, rather than the abstract discussions of disabilities and needs, that persuades and motivates the relief workers.
The effort required for those 1 am visits to the job sites and the ruffling of feathers pays off. Gordon watches as the first five families in need leave the shelters for newly accessible mobile homes. A little girl in a wheelchair rolls up to an accessible sink, turns on the water, and smiles. Remembering that day, Gordon says, “We celebrated small victories as an indicator of progress.”
Gordon won an award for her service and, perhaps most importantly, participated in a process developing a set of regular procedures for how to serve people with disabilities in the face of disasters. In fact, that process began after 9/11, but wasn't installed yet by the time of Katrina. It is now. Emergency management must include disability in their plans, and Gordon's a big part of why the Federal government is doing better today, though surely there's more work to be done.

Here's her video.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Rape Culture and Down Syndrome

Content Note: This post does not describe rape, but does describe the way our justice system embodies rape culture. 

In March, 2013 - I wrote about a rape case involving a woman with Down syndrome. Her rapist was convicted, but the judge threw out the case because "she didn't act enough like a victim." The Down syndrome community reacted as if this was an attack on disability rights, which it was, but it's also a standard manifestation of rape culture in our society.

Her rapist was re-convicted yesterday. This time the conviction was upheld.

Here's my piece. I'm going to quote it at length. But you can just click over.
The Georgia appeals court judge, Christopher McFadden, argued that the verdict went "strongly against the weight of the evidence" because, in his judgment, the woman in question -- I'll join other writers in calling her Jane -- didn't act like a victim and the man didn't act like a rapist.
Jane has Down syndrome and the growing national outrage to this case has focused, with reason, on her disability. But Down syndrome is only part of the story.
The outrage is not only because this judge didn't understand Down syndrome, but that judges frequently impose their perceptions on cases of sexual assault, reducing sentences even for convicted rapists on the grounds that the victim didn't act "correctly." Jane's troubling case reveals the intersections between rape culture and the way we strip agency from people with disabilities.
So in the first place the judge didn't think Jane acted correctly. He doesn't know anything about Down syndrome. But the problem is so much bigger.
Down syndrome may be a reason this judge decided that Jane's words carried less weight when measured against his perception, but many nondisabled women, women of all social classes, races, sexual orientations, and levels of ability, have experienced precisely the same kind of dismissal.

Here are a few examples that do not involve disability.
Last year in Montana, a judge reduced a former teacher's rape conviction to 31 days because the victim, a 14-year-old girl, was "as much in control of the situation" as her rapist and, in his opinion, "older than her chronological age."
In California, a judge reduced a sentence of a convicted rapist because the woman didn't fight hard enough. The judge said, "If someone doesn't want to have sexual intercourse, the body shuts down. The body will not permit that to happen unless a lot of damage is inflicted, and we heard nothing about that in this case. That tells me that the victim in this case, although she wasn't necessarily willing, she didn't put up a fight."
In Arizona, a judge reduced a sentence of a police officer convicted of sexual abuse to community service and probation, instead blaming the victim for being in a bar. The judge said, "If you wouldn't have been there that night, none of this would have happened to you. ... When you blame others, you give up your power to change."
In Alabama, a judge structured a 40-year sentence for rape so the rapist would serve two years in a community program for nonviolent criminals and three years of probation at home. The judge, much like McFadden, argued that the victim just didn't behave correctly. He said, "You didn't hear the evidence. The original allegation was that both of these crimes were forcible. But then you have to believe that although she was forcibly raped twice, she continued to come back and have a social relationship (with the rapist)."
Other women have been prosecuted for false reporting of rape because they didn't "act traumatized." Rape convictions have been vacated entirely because the victim didn't fight back, such as in Connecticut, when the state supreme court freed a rapist because his victim, a woman with cerebral palsy and a mental age of 3, with no ability to speak, didn't bite, kick, or scratch her attacker.
As disability blogger Sarah Levis has commented, all of these stories should push our attention to this aspect of rape culture in the courtroom. Rape culture creates the myth that victims of rape must react within a predictable set of norms or raise doubts about the legitimacy of the rape. All of these women, including Jane, behaved in a way that judges didn't understand, so they overturned convictions or reduced sentences.
And here is where disability comes back into play. Because of her Down syndrome, Jane is relatively immune to the kinds of victim-blaming endured by other women who are assaulted or abused...All of the myths about false reporting of rape don't apply to Jane because of her disability, and for that at least we can be thankful. Jane's experience points to the offensive way women's behaviors are interrogated when they seek justice.
Finally, I said:
Do not focus on Jane because she is a woman with Down syndrome. Focus on Jane because she is a woman who says that she was raped. Focus on Jane because she's joined the ranks of other women, women of all races, classes, sexual orientations, and levels of ability who have said that they were raped and then had their testimony disregarded by a judge on the basis of not acting enough like a victim.
There is no one correct way to respond to being violated, but there are so many ways that our justice system can make it worse.
I'm glad Dumas is convicted. But there's so much more work to do on our justice system and to fight rape culture.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Power and the Limitations of Public Medievalism

Richard Utz has a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the ways that medievalist can more intentionally link what they do to popular expressions of ideas about the Middle Ages.
There is now a manifest discrepancy between the large number of students who request that we address their love of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and medieval-themed video and computer games on the one hand, and the decreasing number of medievalists hired to replace retiring colleagues on the other. We are no longer protected by our involvement in preserving European heritages, an involvement often joined up with primordialist, jingoist, and colonialist mentalities discredited in the Western world by the 1970s. And we are as endangered as the rest of our humanities colleagues by the advent of new areas of scholarship, the intimidating popularity of the STEM disciplines, and politically motivated cuts to the liberal arts.
What can we do?
Perhaps we should begin by admitting that in enjoying the splendid isolation that allowed us to learn a lot about medieval culture, we have failed to share that knowledge with the public. As a result, a single 178-minute movie, Braveheart, could wipe out what 150 years of scholarship had established about the Right of the Lord’s First Night (a feudal lord’s rumored right to take the virginity of his serfs’ newlywed daughters). Meticulous source study since the Enlightenment about the horrific crimes committed during the medieval crusades hasn’t stopped schools from naming their teams Crusaders. And tens of thousands of learned books and articles about medieval knighthood have had no influence on white supremacists’ appropriation of allegedly chivalric virtues. It is clearly time to lower the drawbridge from the ivory tower and reconnect with the public.
I'm all for this. I don't believe there is an ivory tower (and there probably never was), but I like what he's saying here and am glad it's being so widely shared. I've obviously, I hope, tried to model just this kind of engagement in my public writing about history. I also do it in my classroom. I am the choir. If Utz is preaching to me, I am ready to sing. Go read the piece and think about it, please.

Here's my problem: Implicit in the article is an idea that if (medieval) professors take these steps to more intentionally engage with popular culture, we'll be in better shape as a profession. 

I think that's basically not true.

The Middle Ages is popular. Our classes tend to enroll well. It's vastly easier to fill a "medieval" class than one on the "long 18th century" or even the "early modern" era (though Shakespeare still beats Chaucer, and the Renaissance is doing fine). Medieval conjures images in our students' minds and we must, and I think we largely are, capitalize on that. In fact, everyone should capitalize on these kinds of things. Do 17th-century historians get pressured to invoke the Three Musketeers?
Disney's Cinderella Castle

The problem is that the profession is being restructured in ways that, legitimately, de-emphasize period-based and geography-based fields; and, less legitimately, propose a false dichotomy between skills education and liberal education, with the money and attention going heavily towards the skills side. These attacks on the nature of higher education are not enrollment-dependent, but structural, designed to steer students away from courses in the humanities and arts. We can embrace modern medievalist expressions all we want, but our power is limited. Change has to come from deep structural work, not individual bootstrapping.

What we can do is this: Have fun, write for bigger audiences, make new connections with our students, sometimes get paid, and perhaps use those connections to guide our students from their entry point - King Arthur, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, Renn Faires, the SCA, whatever - to our actual goals in a given class or curriculum.

And that's enough for me.

Still not re-watching Braveheart.

Impact Post: CNN Piece on Down Syndrome Ban in Ohio

I wrote a piece for CNN opposing the Ohio Down Syndrome Abortion Ban. Read it here

It's been picked up and quoted by some interesting folks. I like to track impact of my writing on other journalists.

I gave this quote to Mic directly:
"But beliefs in abortion rights and disability rights are not mutually exclusive. David Perry, a journalist in Chicago who has a child with Down syndrome, says he can't stand to see pro-lifers co opt the cause. "As a father of a boy with Down syndrome, I do not want my son being used as a wedge issue in the abortion wars," he told Mic. "Politicizing births just helps the radical anti-choice fanatics play divide and conquer with the disability rights movement."
Here's one from Reason:
David Perry, a freelance writer and father of a son with Down Syndrome, accused Ohio Republicans of using children like his son as "a wedge issue." A "blanket ban isn't going to help at all, but even if it's enforced somehow, it could just lead women to lie about the reasons they aborted, or make Down syndrome code for poverty, when only poor people are forced to give birth after a diagnosis," writes Perry. He argues that "the best way to get people to choose to carry a fetus with Down syndrome to term is to make the words 'Down syndrome' less scary" and "get to work building a more inclusive society." But, "that's hard. It's not politically useful. So instead, we've got bills like HB 131 in Ohio."
Here's The Daily Beast. Allen followed the links back to my previous writing:
Other parents of children with Down syndrome, like journalist David Perry, think of the proposed ban as a “wedge issue” and a disingenuous attempt on the part of the pro-life movement to “garner sympathy from moderates.”
If you want to help people with Down syndrome, don't politicize their births,” Perry wrote for CNN. “Instead, get to work building a more inclusive society.”
Advocates like Perry prefer a strictly “pro-information” approach, in which women receive updated and less stigmatizing data about Down syndrome in the event of a prenatal diagnosis. The Ohio legislature unanimously passed a pro-information law in 2014, the seventh such law passed since 2012.
But, as Perry noted in a January RH Reality Check op-ed, pro-information laws have also become politicized by anti-abortion groups. Passed in 2014, Louisiana’spro-information law requires that any information given to women “does not engage in discrimination based on disability or genetic variation by explicitly or implicitly presenting pregnancy termination as a neutral or acceptable option.”
In other words, instead of presenting women with all options and allowing them to choose, the Louisiana law mandates that abortion cannot be discussed at all in the event of a diagnosis unless it is presented as unacceptable.
I love the close of the Daily Beast piece:
As for the Ohio bill, Democrats and other abortion rights supporters are questioning the stated intent behind the bill. Ohio Democrats attempted to attach several amendments to H.B. 135 that would increase special education funding, paid parental leave, and sick leave—amendments that were ruled as not being germane to the bill, and probably appropriately so, legally speaking.
But still, the bluff has been called: Do abortion opponents care about Down syndrome or does the debate merely suit their purposes?
Also, anti-choice Down syndrome groups are mad at me. As a loving father, I undermine their whole narrative. I can live with their anger.

Update: Aggregation failure here. Read the first paragraph.

Update 8/28: Jessica Valenti at The Guardian
But these aren’t policies that help marginalized communities. Instead, they’re part of a larger effort to chip away at abortion rights by making the procedure more difficult to obtain by putting up hurdles like waiting periods and mandating ultrasounds. They are also perverting causes around the very real issues of racism, sexism and ableism.
David Perry, a freelance journalist whose son has Down syndrome, wrote in CNNthat bills like the one in Ohio run counter to the work that disability rights advocates have been doing.
“Around the country, we’ve been making real progress in attacking the misconceptions built within the prenatal testing regime. When people receive a prenatal diagnosis, they are often told things that aren’t true, and this misinformation can naturally shape their choice of whether to terminate a pregnancy.”
Perry says instead of trying to force women to carry pregnancies, we need to focus on a “pro-information” movement that ensures women who undergo genetic testing while pregnant have access to all of the facts they need to make their own decision. But to the anti-choice movement, women aren’t capable of making decisions - they need the government to do that for them - and available information should be limited or just plain false.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Robots vs Zombies

I have a new piece on Vice about Westworld. It's a new show coming from HBO and could be pretty awesome. Or, it could just re-tread the "robots become sentient" stuff from Battlestar Galactica and Humans and Ex Machina and whatever.

Here's my hope:
Because Westworld is set in an amusement park, the movie deliberately invokes clichés. You might roll your eyes if a show presented a duel at high noon or a tavern brawl replete with a body sliding down the bar, but that's precisely the point here. The tourists want to participate within those clichés: stabbing Caesar, playing poker with Wild Bill Hickok, or commanding armies in a great medieval siege. HBO, via Rome, Deadwood, and Game of Thrones has been providing its own takes on these archetypal events and settings, so Westworld has the chance to get very meta.
My fear is that it'll drag into endless repetitions of other stories about robots. That's not actually what's interesting about the film. What I liked so much is the commentary on genre, then the twists on genre when the robots don't play their parts "correctly" anymore.

Then again, I'm a genre nerd, go figure.

I also started watching Humans as I begin my own particular robot revolution television binge. Zombies are fine, I guess, but in Zombie shows, the interesting protagonists are all humans dealing with the collapse of their world. In Robot shows, on the other hand, you have the potential for more interesting interaction on both sides of the human-nonhuman line (rather than an implacable hungry deadite).

I am Legend (the book and one of the alternate movie endings) is interesting precisely because the "zombie/vampire/things" clearly are developing culture and identity, rendering them not identity, and turning the protagonist into the "monster." Just as a counter example.

Also, in any battle between robots vs zombies, robots win.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Resources: Down Syndrome and the Abortion Wars

Over the weekend, the New York Times had a front-page story on the Ohio GOP's plan to pass a ban on abortions based on prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. It got a ton of social media play and was the top story on Huffington Post for some hours yesterday, in part because John Kasich, Ohio's governor, is the "moderate" running for the GOP nomination.

I wrote a piece for CNN on the issue. I would appreciate you sharing it within your social media networks. 

As a parent of a child with Down syndrome and a pro-choice man, I have this to say.

1) The Forced Birth movement does not actually care about disability rights.
2) The right-wing is very good at playing divide and conquer with disability rights.
3) We have a lot of actual work to do. This isn't helping.

Some excerpts.
I'm the father of a boy with Down syndrome. I spend much of my life trying to make the world a better place for him. In doing so, I find common cause with liberals and conservatives from around the country, as we focus on issues like education, employment, and fighting stigma.
I'd like to be able to continue to find common cause. But ...
Here's the most frustrating thing for me: There is so much to complain about regarding our prenatal testing regime, the way we talk about Down syndrome, stigma against all kinds of people with disabilities, the lack of educational and employment opportunities for people with disabilities, and more. There's lots of work to do. The best way to get people to choose to carry a fetus with Down syndrome to term is to make the words "Down syndrome" less scary. That's hard. It's not politically useful. So instead, we've got bills like HB 131 in Ohio.
Right now, people with Down syndrome are shattering our biases. It's not just high-profile feel-good stories about models, or superficial inspirational stories about prom queens and athletes "allowed" to score goals. Every day, I'm seeing people with Down syndrome learn, work, form relationships, perform service to others, set goals and surpass them, and generally accomplish things that 20 years ago would have seemed impossible.
That's where our energy should be going. If you want to help people with Down syndrome, don't politicize their births. Instead, get to work building a more inclusive society.
A few resources I link to in the piece.
Last January I wrote a piece about these right-wing efforts to force a wedge between Reproductive Rights and Disability Rights Activists. We can't let them succeed.

Thanks for reading and sharing.

Brief Book Review: Reading The Martian during The Hugos

From Damien Walter at The Guardian on The Hugos:
A snapshot of today’s sci-fi publishing industry – as opposed to the fandom that ultimately underwrites the industry’s business – does not show a diverse picture. Both bookshelves and cinema screens are currently dominated by the Matt Damon/Andy Weir vehicle The Martian and its archaically old-fashioned (and vastly overrated) SF.
I am less celebratory than Walter and many others about the victory of No Award and the sarcastic use of the asterisk. I feel that everyone's biases have been confirmed. The Puppies believed that they were being discriminated against and so forced the issue. The issue, forced, confirmed to them that they cannot win even when literally they are the only things on the ballot. I don't especially care how they feel, but I'm also not kidding myself that this is a victory.

On the other hand, I am pleased to see those folks committed to more diverse stories get organized, the E Pluribus Hugo proposal passing, and the decision to refuse to let a group of bigoted fans - and yes they are fans, despite being bigoted - hijack the awards. The No Award binge was the best of a bad situation. It's not, to me, a victory.

So I don't know that it's necessary to trash The Martian (and similar books). If you like it, you like it. But fandom depends on the assertion of taste against counter-assertions, so it's not a surprise or a big deal to see Walter slam it as archaic and overrated. Except that on Saturday, I started listening to The Martian as an audiobook on the way home from DC, got engrossed, got home, bought an e-book, and read the rest of it that night before going to bed (during the Hugo ceremony). Clearly, I liked it.

As others have said, The Martian is basically an entire book that works like this scene (which Weir even references in the text at one point). The good news, for me, is that this was one of my favorite scenes of the movie, so I was pretty happy with the book. Over the course of some large number of pages, square pegs get fit into round holes repeatedly. Despite being pretty sure the protagonist would survive, it being that kind of book, it still kept me in suspense and engrossed as I sped through it.

At the very end, it kind of fell apart for me. Without spoiling anything, the situation requires complex decision-making within a few minutes. The pace of the book - predicated on spending days thinking hard about problems - accelerates in ways I found non-credible. People assess situations and come up with split-second innovative decisions to try and save the day. Then there's some treacly waffling about how great humans are. Meh.

But over all, square pegs, round holes, people being clever, some diversity in terms of gender and ethnicity, and eminently readable.


On Facebook, Brilliant Reader Nicole says:
I enjoyed *The Martian* too! We don't have to choose between *The Martian* and *Ancillary Sword* and The Kingdoms Trilogy; I can read Andy Weir and Ann Leckie and N K Jemison all in the same year. The Puppies don't seem to get that; I'm surprised to see this writer falling into the same mistake from the other side, as it were.
I agree. I liked The Martian. I didn't like it as much as Three Body Problem, Seveneves, Aurora, or End of All Things, which was the last batch of novels I read before And I expect to like the Ancillary Justice series - my next pleasure read - more. But I also didn't consume those previous books all in one night, like a big bag of potato chips which you decide to eat all of, as a special crunchy treat. Crunch crunch. Mmm, The Martian.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sunday Round-ups

Still blogging. But mostly - I am writing a book: Disability Is Not A Crime

I'm home from DC. Amazing time at the NARPA Conference: Beyond CIT Training session I helped run, but mostly honored to meet so many advocates and experts doing the work in the trenches. Special thanks to the folks at Bazelon who co-presented with me (and for everything else they do).

One other key post  - I wrote a long post on How Not To Advocate. Too often disability rights folks - especially white, upper class ones, advocate by saying, "what about my issue!" instead of "here's how our issues overlap and intersect." It doesn't work.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

NARPA Conference: Beyond CIT Training

I am flying to DC today for the annual NARPA - National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy - Conference.

I'll be speaking about police violence and disability, along with two people from the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. They will focus on policy and law. I'm going to tell stories about deaths, discuss the cult of compliance, and suggest some ways to reframe how we think about the problem.

Here's the session writeup.
With increased national attention on violent encounters between law enforcement and people with mental, intellectual, or psychiatric disabilities, as exemplified by the tragic deaths of Ethan Saylor, Ezell Ford, Tanisha Anderson, and many others, as well as the City and County of San Francisco v. Sheehan case, there are many opportunities and directions for legal advocacy and social justice activism. An ideal policy strategy to reduce lethal outcomes is two-pronged: advocacy for improved crisis response, as well as for increasing the availability and accessibility of community-based crisis prevention and recovery services. While increasing funding for Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) for police is the most commonly cited policy recommendation, the evidence remains unclear as to whether CIT training actually changes law enforcement officers' behavior and there are additional significant drawbacks to a CIT-only policy approach. Mobile crisis teams (MCTs) are a promising alternative to help reduce the need for involvement of law enforcement in crisis situations, but there are other drawbacks in terms of variable availability and accessibility of MCTs depending on locale. Panelists will discuss the root causes of increased law enforcement encounters with people with psychiatric and other disabilities -- underfunded, under-resourced, community-based systems, and a lack of a social safety net -- underlining advocacy strategies to address the problem upstream.
Learning Goals and Objectives:
1. Attain familiarity with the current cases and legal debates regarding law enforcement and persons with disabilities.
2. Understand the limitations of Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) and CIT-only policy responses.
3. Learn about a range of strategies to address crisis and alternatives to prevent and reduce the need for encounters between law enforcement and persons with disabilities.
4. Describe an ideal policy response to prevent violent and tragic encounters between law enforcement and persons with disabilities.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Police Violence and Media Coverage - How Not To Advocate

Thesis: If you genuinely want to increase coverage of an issue, start with your own community and work outward. Anything else is just an attempt to play one group off another.

This will be a little rambling, as I'm working through my ideas. That's why this is on my blog and not formalized and submitted somewhere. Also, I need to get back to other work (syllabus, presentation at NARPA on police violence and disability, an essay on higher ed, an essay on TV, and my book. It's gonna be a 5000 word day). 

The other day, two photos of a 7 and 9 year old having killed lions went viral. Here's what the Dad said:
Tarpley deleted the images and deleted his Twitter account, but defended the hunt to the Daily Mail, saying critics "don't understand it."
"They don't care about human beings and babies being slaughtered and body parts being sold for Planned Parenthood but they care about one animal," he told the website. "There was no media hype about Planned Parenthood selling baby parts but one lion gets killed and everyone goes crazy."
He also said that his family has given up hunting as they can no longer afford it.
There was no media hype about Planned Parenthood? On what planet was there no media hype? It was one of the most hyped stories of the month, like it or not. Tarpley is not actually interested in media coverage, but in deflecting and de-emphasizing.

I'm opening with this story to talk about a piece that Matt Hennessey wrote for the National Review. Hennessey, in his essay, is complaining that there isn't enough coverage about discrimination against people with Down Syndrome. Here is a DoNotLink to the essay. The author and his wife, on Twitter, were mad that I used a DoNotLink, but if one writes for a partisan publication like NRO, that's the price you pay.

They are parents of a child with Down syndrome and like me, I think they just want to make the world better for their kids. But instead of working on that, Matt wrote to complain about the culture wars. His essay, summarized, says: Why are people worried about gay and black people, and not about (white) kids with Down syndrome?

Here's some excerpts:
Have you heard about the Christian bakers who refused to make wedding cakes for gay couples? Of course you have. But I’ll bet you didn’t hear about the dance studio that refused service to a little girl with Down syndrome.
I have actually heard about the dance studio. It was all over the news, including in Cosmo, which has a pretty vast readership.  In fact, the news media loves stories of discrimination against cute kids with Down syndrome. They eat it up, publish pieces that generate clicks through outrage, and then nothing happens. There's no action item that follows, there's no attempt to engage in the systemic problem of a lack of inclusive recreation opportunities for children (something I've written about), but rather a kind of Outrage Porn. You're supposed to say - "Oh my god, it's so awful," and click share/tweet, to increase clicks for the publication. This dance studio story is right center in the meaningless outrage pornographic news media wheelhouse.

So first problem with this NRO piece: It complains that a viral story isn't viral enough. As evidence, the author cites a lack of coverage at the NYT and CNN.

Then he turns to Ethan Saylor. I've written 5 or 6 articles about Ethan over the last few years, so suffice it to say that I agree Saylor's story needs more coverage.
You’ve heard of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Both died after interactions with law enforcement went tragically wrong. You’ve probably never heard of Robert Ethan Saylor.
The second problem with the NRO piece is that he claims a lack of coverage for Saylor, but either doesn't know or doesn't care that reforms are underway.  Maryland passed Ethan's law. It took a lot of work to get attention for his story and 18 months ago there was good cause to fight for basic media coverage. Now, though, it's worth pausing to consider the overview. Ethan's death was unusual. For all that police killings of people with disabilities are common, deaths of people with Down syndrome are are. There's no clearly defined cultural pattern in which people could talk about his death (my work has been focused on changing that), as opposed to the quotidian killings of black Americans by police, for which the cultural pattern goes back centuries.

But once we - mostly Patti Saylor and her close allies - got attention for Ethan's death, they also effected real change. Ethan's Law is really important. The new trainings they are doing actually include people with developmental disabilities interacting with law enforcement, rather than actors (also providing jobs for people with DD). It's powerful stuff. So yes, it didn't get the national attention it deserved (other than my articles for CNN, The Nation, The Atlantic, and Al Jazeera - all of which are pretty national), but it also didn't go unanswered. Structural reforms are on their way.

Hennessy concludes with a lament that the news story on the dance studio didn't name the offending studio, while anti-gay bakeries and pizzerias did.
I don’t mean to single out News4, WIVB. I really know nothing about it. But in refusing to broadcast the name of the dance studio that turned away a little girl with Down syndrome, it is not being journalistically neutral, it is playing the same old liberal media game of granting special privileges to preferred classes. All lives matter, but some evidently matter more than others.
So if the parents wanted the dance studio named, that could happen. I feel the author should respect the parents' wishes, though I share his frustration at the discrimination. There's a bigger issue here though - The third problem is that Hennessy evidently feels that in order to get attention for his issues he has to complain about attention that other issues are receiving. That's not the way to do it. Last year, I wrote about the intersections between race and disability, to show that when we talk about Eric Garner, we need to think about him as a disabled man and as a black man, and that there are links between Saylor's death and Garner's, even if they are not the same thing.

I don't know Hennessy's real motives. He didn't seem inclined to engage on Twitter (I didn't link to him or @mention him when tweeting yesterday, but he jumped in, angry at the criticism). But here's the thing - If he really cared about coverage of discrimination against people with disabilities, the best thing an NRO author could do was not complain about NYT/CNN, but about Fox News, which also didn't cover the dance studio story. We are at our most powerful not when screaming across the partisan void, but when helping people within our communities see connections, see why issues matter, and think about how to act beyond the outrage-of-the week.

Here are some of our tweets:

Disability Is Not A Crime - Beating in SF, Trial in NM, Murder in Prison

This is just news from yesterday.

SFPD were filmed abusing a man with a prosthetic leg and crutches. Initially, the claim was that he was "waving sticks around like weapons" outside Twitter's hq. Since that claim has been debunked (notice a lack of sticks in the video), they are now claiming they were "helping" him through his mental health crisis.

In New Mexico, the killers of James Boyd will go to trial. A trial is a good and unusual outcome. I wish I were more optimistic that these men would be held accountable, even with incontrovertible video evidence. The police will say, "I felt threatened," and that statement of fear is both unprovable and usually enough to acquit.

And in New York, prison guards allegedly murdered a black, bipolar, prisoner. So far, there have been no arrests or internal disciplines for the guards.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Disabled Parents Have Parental Rights

Yesterday I announced that I am writing a book about the criminalization of disability in American society. Disability is not a crime, but it's treated like a crime throughout our society. I'm going to talk about policing, but also the way this mentality emerges in other aspects of society.

Here's one: Parenting while disabled.

Disabled parents are often discriminated against in all kinds of formal (i.e. state attacks on their rights) and informal (attitudes) ways. Here's a National Council on Disability report on parenting while disabled, with lots more information.

Sometimes, though, it's more useful to look at a single story. Imagine being in a custody battle, and your partner claims, in court, that your disability makes you unfit to be a parent. That's happening to Mike. Here's his IndieGoGo fundraiser, and it's been vouched for by people I trust. I don't know the details of his marriage, of course, but I do know that his fitness as a parent is not predicated on not having a disability. It's a kind of language we need to fight. 
As the case now goes to trial it is becoming clear that Mike's former partner will be using his disability against him in an effort to prevent him from gaining access and any custody. A number of her court filings contain factual inaccuracies and gross misrepresentations, including her statement that Mike is too disabled to parent his son without full-time assistance, and that his disability limits his son's life.
Parenting while disabled is not a crime.

Monday, August 17, 2015

I am writing a book: Disability Is Not A Crime

John Williams was deaf and never heard the policeman who was ordering him to stop. He was shot in the back four times. Ethan Saylor had Down syndrome and didn’t obey orders to get out of a movie seat he hadn’t paid for. He died on the floor, asphyxiated. Kajieme Powell was standing alone in a courtyard, holding a knife, deep in a mental health crisis. Police closed in on him and shot him to death.

As many as half of all the people killed by police have disabilities. For the last few years, I’ve been asking two simple questions – why are there so many killings and what can we do? I’ve asked these questions through my journalism for major news outlets, by reading expert scholarship and important studies, in meetings with the disability community and researchers, and in interviews with people in law enforcement from the White House to the beat cop on my block.

I am writing a book on the ways that diverse forces within American society criminalize and punish disability. It's a grim topic, but once we understand the problem, we can also start working on real solutions.

Here's my central argument: While we must empower reformers who are thinking a lot mental health and policing, that's the first step, but we also have to help American culture really understand disability in all its diversity. Disability is routinely criminalized throughout our society, from the explicit - in court or by law enforcement - to the more subtle punishments meted out in schools, homes, workplaces, and in the media.

My book, Disability Is Not A Crime, will be the first book-length study of the criminalization of disability in American society. The book will be published by Beacon Press, probably in Spring 2017.

If you notice me blogging less and publishing many fewer essays, that's why. I'm still here and still want to hear your stories, your links, and to stay in touch over social media and email. Your support and feedback over the last few years has made this book possible. Thank you.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Cruelty of "Fiscal Conservatism" in Illinois

This is an absolute must-read. It's a powerful description of the complexities of being a caregiver for an adult with developmental disability. It also demonstrates the cruelty of the austerian (who probably think of themselves as pro-life, for that matter).
I wrote an op-ed in Thursday’s Chicago’s Sun Times about the impact of Illinois’s budget crisis on services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. A gentleman with initials “J.K.” read it, and sent me the below email.

My wife Veronica happened to see it, and composed the below response, which I am posting below.
The letter then describes their life. It's complicated, difficult, and not lacrimose. Just a pragmatic discussion of what it in fact takes to care for adults with ID/DD.

Here's the thing - They are willing to do this work, but they need a certain bit of help with respite care. That's what the state can do.

Last spring I wrote a CNN piece on Bruce Rauner's plan to pick on the most vulnerable members of our society. It's got to be stopped.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Trigger Warnings: The Real Threat

More on trigger warnings. Here's a good piece from The New Republic.
If you take away the media hysteria surrounding trigger warnings, you’re left with a mode of conversational priming that we all use: “You might want to sit down for this”; “I’m not sure how to say this, but…” It’s hardly anti-intellectual or emotionally damaging to anticipate that other people may react to traumatic material with negative emotions, particularly if they suffer from PTSD; it’s human to engage others with empathy. It’s also human to have emotional responses to life and literature, responses that may come before, but in no way preclude, a dispassionate analysis of a text or situation.
What's so impressive about the hype is that it's found homes in the bastions of the status quo; high profile, mostly white, male-dominated, traditional publications. One got an Atlantic cover story. Another a New York Times Sunday op-ed. Chait, in NYMag, has wide readership. They function as a kind of bias confirmation for white liberals, especially, telling us that we're the good ones and the guardians of free speech in society, never mind that by asking for trigger warnings, students are exercising speech. And for conservatives, of course, PC culture is what's wrong with America, so they too are thrilled with the "liberal media" makes their argument for them.

All of which is to say: Trigger warnings sell clicks.

Here's the real threat that I haven't seen anyone articulate. I'm not worried about students asking for trigger warnings. Students ask for many things and, handled well, they provide a chance for dialogue, teaching, and learning (for all of us!). Here are some tweets about the real danger:

When Phyllis Wise explained the firing of Steven Salaita, she said that a student might feel uncomfortable if they couldn't be sure Salaita would speak respectfully and with civility at all times.

The important thing to remember is that she was lying.

If you are concerned about about trigger warnings, about PC culture run amok, about coddling minds, about all these issues - focus on fighting craven or corrupt administrators, the politicians and their appointed cronies who both enable and threaten them. Fight for academic freedom and whatever slivers of governance we still maintain or might be able to restore.

And dear hugely popular high status high prestige media - STOP PUBLISHING TRIGGER WARNING ARTICLES. We get it. You'd like the kids to get off your porch. If you hate having to think about the impact of language on people, maybe you should take up a career other than writing?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Daily Caller - America's Worst Professors (on Twitter)

So the right-wing blog The Daily Caller has published a list of America's worst professors (here is a donotlink cached version). I'm naturally friends with many of the folks it singles out, but I'm not going to engage with that right now.

What's fascinating about the list is that it's generated by, basically, twitter and email bloopers or gaffes, rather than actual content.

The right-wing, in an organized way, has been policing left-wing professors for a long time, but I think something has shifted. In the 90s and early last decade, the worry was that a right-wing student would report on your class content to David Horowitz or some other right-wing outfit. Alternatively, the right-wing media might read your published scholarship (or perhaps popular writing), find lefty ideas, and highlight them to the conservative hordes.

Now, though, like so many journalists, they troll viral twitter, looking for noise they can amplify. A Hitler comparison. A mistaken identification of an international magazine. The implication that white people might be problematic. Sending an email with pornography to your students. It's just clickbait, and while it's clickbait that can cause enormous problems for the target of the right-wing noise machine, it's still different than being challenged for one's core ideas, rather than for a quick tweet. And even when it is related to scholarship, it's the twitter-version of the scholarship that they highlight, rather than the actual content.

I'm not sure what this means, other than the fact that the DC is as interested in clickbait and noise as any other internet publication, and again I'm not minimizing the consequences for the individuals so targeted, which can be brutal.

And I'm sure someday my turn will come.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

postmedieval reactions: Does Format Matter?

Continue my series on I am continuing to work through the postmedieval forum about the public Middle Ages. Previous installments here, here and here. Today, Matt Gabriele on "There is no public Middle Ages."

In this piece, Gabriele argues provocatively that context matters less than we think. He writes:
As academics, as specialists, we perhaps ought consider that the fundamental nature of our job is to be ghost-hunters. We drag out restless, oftentimes invisible spirits and make them visible. The focus, rightly, should be on the ghosts themselves — who they were in their lifetimes but also how they’ve passed through time and reemerged into ours — rather than where those ghosts manifest themselves. That matters but only secondarily. In other words, the nature of that activity isn’t changed by where we do it.
I more or less agree. There are all kinds of consequences that follow depending on where we practice history, but the core activity is the same.

I do think though that those consequences - the rhetorics we use, the ways we authorize ourselves, the choices we are forced to make (I talk about that in my piece - the difficulty of appeasing multiple audiences in 800 words or less), and so forth - have more impact than Gabriele suggests here.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The UIUC Boycott - What's Next?

There has been a lot of movement in the Steven Salaita story in the past few weeks, timed perfectly for the anniversary of the un-hiring. I want to talk about Phyllis Wise's parachute and the future of the UIUC boycott.

The news:

First - the emails that Phyllis Wise tried to hide on a private server were released via FOIA. Kudos to IL Open Records laws (if I understand it right) for saying that public records are public records, regardless of what email account was used. Here's a good piece on what the letters say - from the AAUP blog.

Second - federal court has allowed Salaita's suit against UIUC to go ahead. The judge dismissed the claim that Salaita wasn't really hired. Yes, the BoT hadn't approved it, but he'd been given classes, an office, invited to look at housing, filled out all his paperwork, and otherwise performed all the activities associated with being hired. To pretend he wasn't would go against decades of standard practice in academic hiring, and the judge isn't interested in playing pretend. Second, the judge finds the free speech claims plausible, because clearly Salaita was fired for speaking publicly via Twitter, which goes to the heart of free speech.  David Palumbo-Liu has more, at The Nation.


Meanwhile, Wise has abruptly resigned, and is set to get a year sabbatical, a $400,000 golden parachute, and a tenured position in the biology department. Like all other right-thinking humans, I am appalled at the notion that Wise will be so well rewarded (and perhaps the 400K bonus will not be paid, and then she'll sue, etc.).

I've been thinking, though, that it's vital that administrators, who are often fired or pushed to resign, to have some kind of faculty position waiting for them. Otherwise, even fewer faculty would take administrative positions and we would cede governance of our university to even more corporate managers. The faculty fallback allows someone to take a provost job somewhere and to push an agenda. What do you think?

And then there's the boycott. The boycott has been an effective tool for registering dissent, but not for effecting change. It's hurt precisely the UIUC departments most hurt by the un-hiring. Is it time to let that tool go?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

postmedieval reactions: The Digital Middle Ages

I am continuing to work through the postmedieval forum about the public Middle Ages. Previous installments here and here. Today, Kathleen Kennedy on "The Digital Middle Ages."

Kennedy (note: one of my closest friends) plays with notions of open and closed information in medieval information culture and today. To me, what's interesting is not the lament of the loss of the commons (though that matters), but her perceptive analysis of the ways that openness  persists despite the best efforts to change it. She writes:
Computers, the Internet, and medieval manuscript culture function today and functioned in the past thanks to a profound commonness. On a screen you are reading active pixels that reproduce a copy of my text, saved as a copy on a server, that is derived from a copy on my own computer’s hard drive. Thanks to their instantaneous multiplication, electronic copies proliferate even more promiscuously than manuscript copies. In digital culture like manuscript culture, copies are common. Copies are one of the ways in which texts function. Unlike digital copies, medieval texts both proliferated and changed with every copy. When medieval authorities tried to curb textual multiplication they failed spectacularly, and in those instances translators in particular defended copying as a common action. Today, when we make digital copying difficult (through DRM for example) we are actually making it harder for our machines to function. Our digital machines are so medieval that forced modernity harms them.
Later, she adds:
Thanks to the commonness of medieval texts, works moved freely in their original forms, and due to their openness, they also traveled freely in forms wildly different than their originals. Given the copying at the center of computing culture, digital copies also tend to circulate freely, unless they are checked by limiting software. Nevertheless, the free circulation of digital texts continues to be a norm, if not the norm. Social media makes sharing any text as fast as the click of a button. The notion of “shares” as a noun describing a number highlights how freely texts can still circulate, and at speeds not imaginable in the Middle Ages.
I'm interested in the hyperlexic and hyperscribal nature of modern society, in which people are reading, writing, and sharing (as Kennedy says) at a scale hitherto unimaginable.

So Kennedy, to my reading, is suggesting that medievalists can, by looking at the information culture of our period, function as futurists. Which is good, as the whole futurism industry has a lot of problems (white, male, relentlessly optimistic).

Read it! Read them all!

And afterwards, you can download Kennedy's free ebook, Medieval Hackers (Punctum, 2015). It expands on these themes brilliantly.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Being an Ally

Not long ago, I wrote down my Golden Rules to being an ally.
  1. Listen.
  2. Remember it’s not about you.
  3. Remember it’s sometimes about you.
  4. Mostly, though, it's not about you, so center the conversation where it belongs.
  5. Don’t expect gratitude; instead, accept criticism graciously.
Here's another, similar, piece - from Jamia Wilson - How to Show Up without Getting in the Way
I recently asked a close white friend why they hadn’t taken a public stand when I’d heard them privately express concerns about police accountability and racism. I said, “I need you to be an ally.” The response I got was a sincere question: “I want to but it seems so big, and I don’t know where to start. What do you want me to do?”
After taking a deep breath and explaining that racism is so big, and that it feels so big to those of us who have to experience it, I talked them through some guidelines for being an ally. These suggestions apply to almost any situation in which you want to support a cause that does not directly affect you or your identity, and I learned them through my years of being an activist (sometimes the hard way).
She says:

Own your privilege, Be vulnerable, Listen Up, Find your community, Don't try to save anyone, Face your fears, show up, do your homework, watch your language, and give credit where credit is due.

It's a fine list with good discussions for each item.

Friday, August 7, 2015

postmedieval Reactions: Brantley Bryant's Seven Theses

As promised, I'm working through the fascinating postmedieval forum about the public Middle Ages, starting with Brantley Bryant's Seven Theses for "A Social Media Strategy."

Bryant is a successful user of social media through, as he puts it, "playful experimentation with medieval personae on social media." In this piece, he offers seven different strategies or principles related to medieval use of social media. It's a warm, geeky, funny, smart piece of writing, and I can't comment on everything. Instead, I'll focus on two points: [My emphasis]
IV. SOCIAL MEDIEVALISTS DWELL AT THE SLINGSHOT POINT: Sci-fi ships gain speed by shooting themselves along the curve of a big planet’s gravity. Social medievalists too can slingshot off news events and pop-cultural planets to enhance their visibility and reach. There are obvious slingshot events (Richard III, carpark), as well as not-so-obvious ones. To take best advantage, social medievalists will need to move at the rapid pace of the news cycle, and scholarly organizations will need to plan for this kind of speed alongside the slower timeline of journals and conferences. Importantly, this point applies only to news items that have relatively neutral political valence. The issue of the ethics, methods, and time scale of providing a medievalist perspective on tragedies and conflicts is a much more complicated one. As an academic enterprise, social medievalist outreach must always keep ethical concerns central as we strive for visibility and reach.7
On the morning that Pope Benedict retired, I started a Facebook thread griping about all the things people were getting wrong about the papacy and its history of retiring popes. Urged by my friends, I sent a pitch - before breakfast was over - to a CNN editor for whom I had written once before (I had published a grand total of 3 pieces on 7 years at that point), and had a piece to her by about 2:00 in the afternoon, which now seems painfully slow. The next day, my CNN piece ran, an Atlantic editor emailed me asking questions about the papacy and race (early North African popes), and I responded with an answer and a new pitch. When Francis was announced, I had filed a new piece on "the importance of being Francis" within two hours of hearing his name selection.

Speed matters, and that can be the hardest thing for academics to learn. Speed leads to mistakes (some of which can be corrected). Speed-writing is not something we are trained to cherish.

But in graduate school, my experience was PACKED with speed writing, trying to meet the demands of my professors. We learn how to do it, and many of us continue to apply those skills to conference papers, classroom lectures, blogs, and other kinds of writing.

That said, not all takes have to be instant-hot-takes. When a news event happens, there's a window in which every editor is looking for experts right away, and a first cycle of news will emerge from that. I almost never catch that cycle, unless it's to give a comment, unless it's a predictable event (papal election, anniversary or holiday, etc.). But there's a second cycle, in which editors want essays that add to or (better yet) disagree with the common approach in the first cycle. Academics, with their expertise, can do very well by working in this second cycle of newsworthiness. And if it's a big enough event, there could be third or even fourth cycles of takes, each one valuing a new thought, an expert addendum, a connection between the event and other things, etc.

So don't feel you have to get your essay written within a few hours of the slingshot event. You have a day. Or two. Or maybe even four. That's probably it, though.

Here's the good/bad news: Things repeat. While we might not find another Richard III in a carpark to write about, if you're more interested in trends like the mis-application of medieval to terrorist groups, or bad history being used by politicians, or medieval ideas on public safety laws, or something slightly more abstract - don't stress missing your media hook. There will be another hook.
I. THE SOCIAL MEDIEVAL IS A CLASSROOM: When it comes to public social media, a pedagogical impulse is the best guiding principle for our choices about method and message. Social medievalists can apply Paulo Freire’s “problem posing” education on the widest level possible.5 Think about our readers as an audience of potential learners. Marketing language serves us poorly if unadapted to our goals. “Promotion” (of self, institution, or product) goes with the grain of social media, but “pedagogy” serves us best.
This is true, social media can be a wonderful educative space, but don't overdo it. When a person on the internet starts demanding hours of lecture, of answering spurious accusations, or starts trolling you, hit mute. I've noticed that academics, trained as we are to engage our students and our peers, feel like they have failed when they just turn off annoying/abusive people on line.

Block/mute. Do it early. Do it often. These people are not your students and you owe them nothing.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Handcuffing Children. From Anecdote to Pattern

I wrote a piece for CNN on the handcuffing of a third grader in Kentucky.

The video is horrible. I watched it repeatedly in writing the piece, and I remain very upset by it, and I'm glad it went viral across the news media everywhere.

The video, though, is not the problem. The problem is that this kind of thing happens to children all across America, every day. The children are mostly disabled. The children are mostly of color.

I wrote:
The absolute worst thing about this video is that without it, almost no one would care. The use of violent restraint and seclusion to enforce compliance on children with disabilities, especially children of color with disabilities, is a well-documented problem. In 2009, the Government Accountability Office reported on widespread abuses, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called for action. And yet, if anything, the problem is only getting worse.

Here are some numbers, based on the most recent data (from 2011-12). According to Claudia Center, senior staff attorney of the ACLU's Disability Rights Program, there are more than 52,000 students with disabilities restrained every year, 4,000 of them in "mechanical restraints' (handcuffs and shackles). That's over 20 times the rate that children without disabilities are restrained. Within that population, children of color are far more likely to be restrained than white students with special needs.
It's probably happening in your city, if not specifically your school district.

You should ask your principal, superintendent, school board - what are your policies on the use of mechanical restraints in elementary and middle school?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Public Medievalism and postmedieval forum

postmedieval is hosting an online forum, with essays and room for discussion, about the public Middle Ages. Here's the blurb:
The discussions in FORUM V activate at a time of increasing challenges for humanities scholars operating in the modern university. Funding is scarce and questions of value have begun to emanate from within institutions themselves. At the same time, opportunities for publicising medieval studies are but a few clicks away and there is increasing recognition of audiences whose engagement with the Middle Ages are shaped outside of learned culture.
The contributions featured in the fifth FORUM for postmedieval create a space within this context to think through a burgeoning public Middle Ages. This conversation follows upon panels at Kalamazoo and the International Medieval Congress at Leeds. In her Introduction, Holly Crocker highlights some of the key questions explored by our contributors: “[W]hy, we might ask, are such learned scholars going public with their renderings of the medieval past?… If we’ve lost our institutional public, mightn’t we find or forge new ones?” and yet “… don’t we facilitate the erosion of the humanities if we give up on the university as an intellectual home that provides institutional backing for our study of the Middle Ages?” She also invites readers to confront the difficulty of contemporary scholarship that is “the pressure to be in public in all our academic endeavors: should I blog, tweet, or post? Do I need to write articles, stories, or books that reach a popular audience? Do I become an intellectual or political interventionist? If the answer to any of this is ‘yes,’ is the answer to all of it ‘yes’?”
I wrote an essay on how complicated it was for me to operate in two registers, at once a journalist and a medievalist. It's much easier to be just a journalist, or just a medievalist. I said, in my essay:
When I write about disability and police violence, for example, I am informed by academics in criminology and disability studies (and other fields), but I know I am not a part of either field. I am a journalist, writing to as big an audience as I can muster. I just hope that academics in those fields will deem me a competent interlocutor. When I discuss the Middle Ages in relation to current news, on the other hand, I have to operate in the context of my field. I am deeply aware of the rich citation history I am circumventing with a few choice sentences or links.
Take, for example, the recent flare-up over the National Prayer Breakfast, in which some conservative pundits and academics took issue with President Obama’s mention of the Crusades. I pitched this piece to The Guardian, successfully, as medieval history once again entered a hot news cycle. Then I had to write in such a way as to serve the public audience, conform to strict word limits, and not say anything that would irritate other medievalists. Suffice it to say, I failed.
But for me, this failure is positive. It generates an iterative conversation that flows into the next essay, the next twitter dialogue, the next conversation over coffee. We can't let the limited format of the short essay and all its tensions silence us.

Please read my essay and all the essays. Over the next week or so, depending on breaking news, I plan to post excerpts and comment from each of the outstanding contributions, along with a few thoughts.

Thanks to Holly Crocker for organizing this. More to come.