Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Five Questions for NDSS

  1. What is the NDSS position on using vouchers to privatize special education.
  2. Has NDSS taken money from Devos or anyone connected to DeVos? 
  3. NDSS has a new emphasis on human rights, but every employee on your website presents as white. What is your diversity plan?
  4. What is the NDSS position on the Affordable Care Act and block grants for Medicaid?
  5. Did NDSS sign off on Avonte's Law even though funding for RFID chips in disabled kids was being taken from community-police relations programs in minority communities? (I'll catch readers up on this law when it gets re-introduced in Congress)

Yesterday at Pacific Standard I have a piece on the dilemma presented to advocacy orgs (I focus on disability, but I think it's a general problem) by the Trump administration. From a PR perspective, they are completely toxic to any organization that is at all concerned about justice, social or otherwise. But from an influence perspective, you need access to do your job.
In the disability world, DeVos’ position that enforcement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) should be left up to the states emerged as particularly dangerous — and would also violate federal law.
Shortly after the hearings, the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS), one of the more visible Washington-based Down syndrome advocacy groups, published a post on Facebook showing DeVos meeting with them and posing for pictures. The headline: “National Down Syndrome Society Meets with DeVos. Applauds her commitment to special need families.” The world of disability rights activists, including many parents of kids with disabilities, reacted in fury; this was, after all, a cabinet nominee who seems to find disability rights expendable. There ensued hundreds of negative comments, widespread denunciations on social media, accusations leveled at the pro-Trump chairman of NDSS’ board, quick clarifications from NDSS, secret phone conferences with their backers, and so on. The National Down Syndrome Congress (NDSC), a rival organization, released a statement requesting that the Senate delay voting on DeVos’ nomination. The consequences of that poorly worded photo op are going to linger, possibly for years, in this particular community.
I have a history - —all positive - —with NDSS. I signed on as an ambassador during the run up to the ABLE act, a bill designed to make it possible for some people with disabilities to save money for education and housing without losing their government benefits. There were rumors that the NDSS was telling the GOP they were willing to exclude adults diagnosed with disabilities in exchange for kids - —i.e., protect people with Down syndrome and ignore the needs of others, —but I thought the law overall was worth fighting for. Last March, NDSS included a Trump “MAGA” hat in a charity auction. I was sitting in a pub in D.C. late that night, as it happened, with a gathering of other disability -rights activist (and a stray medievalist or two), when my phone blew up with the controversy. I stepped outside, and personally called Sara Weir on her cellphone to make sure she knew what was going on. She emailed me a statement, and removed the hat from the auction, and I distributed her words across advocacy networks to calm the controversy.

But right now, NDSS isn’t talking. I’ve repeatedly emailed them, called all the numbers I know, and asked these four questions. They are not responding, hence I've had to go more public. I say this not just as a journalist, but as a father of a boy with Down syndrome.


To my mind, NDSS is just doing what it's always done, seeking access and supporting laws help kids and adults with Down syndrome, even if the law ignores or actively hurts other marginalized communities. It seems to be increasingly a Down Syndrome First, organization, not a Human Rights organization.

The DeVos debacle is a case in point. NDSS thought it was business as usual. They have a rich right-winger running their board, the head of the DS Guild of Michigan works/worked for the running mate of Betsy DeVos' husband when he ran for governor. They used those contacts to get access, to get a photo op, to demonstrate that they are in the room where it happens. Then the community blew up, and liberal backers of NDSS quickly rallied to argue that the access was worth the bad optics, that it was just poor messaging rather than a sign of ill intent.

I've never taken part in the non-profit wars within the Down syndrome community. There are a lot of hurt feelings and divisions, competition for donations and publicity, and some personality clashes (I'm told).

But someday Trump will be out of office, and if NDSS wants to maintain credibility as a "Human rights org," rather than a right-wing Down syndrome organization that doesn't care about disability rights more generally, they are going to have to change course, and do so quickly.

It might already be too late for this current crop of leadership, but I hope not.

And you can start by answering questions.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Disability and The Murder of Emmett Till

Emmett Till was a disabled black boy murdered for allegedly whistling at a white woman. An author has found the white woman, interviewed her, and in a widely shared Vanity Fair piece, told a reporter that the woman admitted she lied. This is not a shock that she lied, it is useful that she admits it, and there's been a lot of good commentary from other folks, especially black writers, about the pressure to forgive. It's important.

I just wanted to highlight this twitter thread (with permission), which makes many of those arguments, but also emphasizes a key fact - Emmett Till was disabled.

Many of the victims of racist violence in our nation's history turn out to also have been disabled, because oppressions magnify and multiply.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Month One: Pacific Standard

I'm contracted to write 6 columns a month for Pacific Standard Magazine. I might actually write more or less depending on how long they are, what news cycles require response, or whatever. But for January, I have now published 6 pieces. They are, in reverse order:

Maria Town was the disability community liaison over the last 18 months or so under Obama. I interviewed her.
Betsy DeVos didn't even demonstrate a wikipedia-level understanding of IDEA at her hearing.
I made J.K. Rowling cry with this story. So that's fun. Breaking the tweet thread for this one.

I went to Obama's Farewell. Remember the Enlightenment  took place amidst chaos. Obama thinks we might need a new one.
All the Trigger Warnings for this one. Graphic. Awful. Necessary to witness.

 I didn't think I'd be writing much about the Middle Ages when I took this gig. Instead, I am seeing medieval analogues everywhere. I wrote The New Blood Libel about anti-Jewish hate then and now.
Thanks for reading! I tend to be pretty extrospective about my writing, as writing about writing helps me write.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

King Trump and Tocqueville - #NewVersailles

I know it's all been King Trump stuff lately, but I find it endlessly riveting/completely terrifying. Under the hashtag #NewVersailles, I've been watching the various ways in which Trump operates within a court culture, rather than a bureaucratic culture. I intend to write up about the classic "problem of counsel" this will create when things go wrong.

Here's the latest:
Courts can, I guess, be a reasonable way to organize government function in theory, assuming the right monarch at the core. But this core, here, is rotten.

Teen Vogue, aka the voice of the Resistance, published a good piece on the Women's March and Tocqueville, the 19th-century French writer on America. Tocqueville was interested in the American avoidance of tyranny, even as Andrew Jackson took the presidency. Williamson, the author of the article, writes:
Autocrats see social mobilization — regardless of content — as a threat, and individual rebukes as tolerable. As Tocqueville notes, “A despot easily forgives his subjects for not loving him, provided they do not love one another.”

If the protests this weekend are to be effective, we will have to do more than demonstrate opposition to Trump. We will have to demonstrate an ongoing commitment to one another through organized political action.
Onward. We are the majority.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

In Praise of Nero: Trump and the Claque

Good piece in the New York Times: "For Trump, everything is a rating." He, like many celebrities, has a long history of lying. Celebrity culture is also filled with paid PR folks maintaining bubbles of celebration.
Celebrities have support staff dedicated to maintaining their bubbles. (Even Mr. Trump’s bringing staff members to cheer him at events — like his first postelection news conference — is familiar from the critics association panels. Journalists are professionally forbidden from applauding the celebrities they cover, so network staffers whoop it up to massage their stars’ egos.)
Which means it's time to talk about the Emperor Nero, who decided to play the lyre, and wasn't very good at it. But he really wanted people to cheer. What to do?
3 He [Nero] was greatly taken too with the rhythmic applause of some Alexandrians, who had flocked to Naples from a fleet that had lately arrived, and summoned more men from Alexandria. Not content with that, he selected some young men of the order of knights and more than five thousand sturdy young commoners, to be divided into groups and learn the Alexandrian styles of applause (they called them "the bees," "the roof-tiles," and "the bricks"),57 and to ply them vigorously whenever he sang. These men were noticeable for their thick hair and fine apparel; their left hands were bare and without rings, and the leaders were paid four hundred thousand sesterces each. (Suetonius, The Life of Nero, 20.3)
Here's what we know about the Augustiani, from Actors in the Audience: Theatricality and Doublespeak from Nero to Hadrian (Harvard University Press, 1994), by Shadi Bartsch.  Bartsch writes (click for accessible version):

Page 8.

I am persuaded by the general sense that looking at Central Asian dictators and their tacky grandiosity mixed with savage repression is the best analogy to what Trump's doing now, but definitely want to keep track of ways in which historical examinations of kings and emperors help us better understand Trump's court culture.

More to come.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Frankish Racists are ... Anglo-Saxons???

UPDATED with the French and clarifications.

Marine Le Pen made an interesting claim for those of us tracking the use of history to bolster European racism:
France’s presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has told a far-right conference “2016 was the year the Anglo Saxon world woke up”.
The Front National leader was among anti-immigration and populist parties who gathered at a conference dubbed the “European counter-summit” in Koblenz in Germany.
If Le Pen is going to claim heritage with an early modern Germanic tribe, shouldn't it be the Franks? She might just mean the US and the UK though (which has it's own WASPy problems).

I haven't tracked the use of "Anglo-Saxon" to mean "white," but it's a real problem for racists that "white" is a flexible modern concept with no real grounding in history. They address that problem with their own take on medieval history.


Update: I'm told that using Anglo-Saxon to refer to UK/US is common in France, as a way to distinguish it culturally. Here, thanks to a friend, is the quote in French:
Avec les succès surprise du Brexit et de Donald Trump aux Etats-Unis, "2016 a été l’année où le monde anglo-saxon s’est réveillé. 2017 sera, j’en suis sûre, l’année du réveil des peuples de l’Europe continentale", a déclaré Marine Le Pen à la tribune.
It's clear here she means US/UK. Note - the US/UK is NOT Anglo-Saxon. And whatever happened to the Norman conquest?


Will keep an eye on this usage. Matt Gabriele, a medievalist colleague, and  have decided to coin this kind of framing, "nostalgic medievalism." More to come, alas.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Happy Ed Roberts Day!

Google made a Doodle of Ed Roberts, the legendary disability rights activist!

Description: A drawing of Ed Roberts, a man in a wheelchair with red shirt and grey pants, speaking into a microphone, oxygen tube in the corner of his mouth (as was true in so many pictures of him!). He's in a classroom setting, a white board behind him, people listening (represented abstractly as heads of different colors) and GOOGLE on the wall. The second O in GOOGLE is a clock showing 2:00.
If you click on the link - Explore the work of disability rights advocates in America - You get to a virtual exhibit funded by Google.org, organized by AAPD, curated by the amazing Allie Cannington and Amber Melvin, and written by me. It was part of the ADA25 celebrations.

Some things I'm proud of in the exhibit.
  1. It starts by defining Ableism. The history of the disability rights movement is a history of oppression and resistance. It's not some feel-good pablum about overcoming stuff.
  2. It ends with: The disability rights movement has always depended on people with and without disabilities, youth movements, mentors, cross-disability and cross-movement alliances, and lots of hard work. There are so many ways to fight ableism and promote the freedoms and ensure justice for all people with disabilities.
It's an exhibit that tried, in highly constrained spaces, be at once joyous about the victories and real about the struggles.

I also, with Blaise Zerega, interviewed Nora Roberts (Ed's mom) and co-wrote a biography for the ADA25.

A station wagon rolled up to Burlingame High School in Burlingame, California at lunchtime. A young man was unloaded from the car by his family, who carefully supported his head, his back, and his legs while doing so. For the past few years he had been so terrified of being stared at that he had not wanted to leave the house. Arriving in the lunch courtyard, where hundreds of students were gathered, he looked up, and his worst fear was realized. Everyone turned to gawk at him. “When I looked up at them, they looked away,” he recalled.
The man was Ed Roberts, who was then in his senior year of high school. As a young boy, he had loved football and baseball, and was the fastest kid on the block. But at age 14, in 1953, polio paralyzed him from the neck down. From then on, he used an iron lung to breathe and a wheelchair to move around. His doctor said he’d be a vegetable.
Though his arrival at the Burlingame High campus was initially terrifying, he would in later interviews return to this moment. It sparked a transition from a boy wallowing in self-pity to the visionary leader he eventually became. “Something remarkable occurred to me,” he said. “The first thing was that it didn’t hurt. For people to stare at me did not hurt me. The second thing was that maybe it wasn't all my problem, because when I looked back, they would look away. As I thought about that, why was I taking all this on as my problem when wasn't the fact they stared also their problem?”
And then he realized something else—that the attention could turn him into a star. “I think that was one of the more important times in my life, that I realized I could enjoy it. I didn't have to feel guilt or anger,” he said. “Actually, I could enjoy being stared at if I thought of myself as a star, not just a helpless cripple.”
A few years later, he started college at U.C. Berkeley and quickly convinced the university to let him take up residence in an old hospital wing. Soon, other disabled students arrived to build on Roberts’ improvised accommodations. They initially called themselves the Rolling Quads—named for quadriplegics in wheelchairs— which he later organized into the Physically Disabled Students Program. The PDSP eventually became the Center for Independent Living, which extended its benefits beyond the confines of the campus and helped make Berkeley into one of the most accessible cities in the world. Later, Roberts became Director of Rehabilitation Service in California, co-founded the World Institute on Disability with Judy Heumann, served as an inspirational leader in the fight for the ADA, and travelled the world to learn and teach wherever he went. He passed away in 1995, having seen the ADA realized five years earlier.
Heumann, a legend of the disability rights movement herself, remembers the power of his dark eyes.”He had a great smile and he could draw you in with his eyes and he totally knew that,” said Heumann. He knew how to work people, really, really well.” He knew that people were going to stare at him, so he’d stare right back. Roberts said, “I became a star. I just assumed that position.”
Alice Wong, of the awesome Disability Visibility Project, made this. STAY PRICKLY.
You can read the image description and sourcing for Alice's image here.

Yesterday I was asked about how best to donate to the Disability Rights movement. I've been asked that a lot lately. I always worry about giving advice, because there are so many awesome ways to work and give and I don't want the specifics of my experience and my friendships skew such things, but I offered some thoughts:
I followed with a shout out to the Protection and Advocacy Network, listed a bunch of orgs that I personally like or have worked with (emphasizing this is just my experience), and suggested that this be our guide: "I really want to emphasize though: Look for your local orgs run by people with disabilities from marginalized communities. Fund them."

Fund them, please.

Happy Ed Roberts Day.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Pruitt, the EPA, and Asthma

Cory Booker (Sen-NJ), after laying out all the lawsuits that Scott Pruitt, now nominated to head the EPA, has participated in on behalf of polluters (against the EPA). Booker asked: Do you know how many kids in Oklahoma have asthma?

Pruitt: I do not Senator.

It turns out about 400,000. 10%. He's never "represented" those kids, just the polluters. Pruitt says he can't sue if there's no injury or standing. Booker responds - clearly there's an air pollution problem, but Pruitt hasn't done anything about it.

Here's the clip.

Booker might talk about this in the context of disability instead of disease, if he asked my advice, but it's a good clip, and he didn't.

Read this The Guardian op-ed: Environmental racism is going to get much worse.

Read this on the intensifying and unified Democratic resistance. In it, the author describes the Booker/Pruitt scene as follows:
Today, Cory Booker questioned Scott Pruitt, Trump’s nominee for E.P.A. administrator, who, as Attorney General of Oklahoma, not only joined a dozen industry lawsuits against the E.P.A. but at times directly copied the language of energy-company lawyers in doing so. Booker asked Pruitt if he knew how many children in Oklahoma had asthma. He didn’t, but the answer turned out be a hundred and eleven thousand, a tenth of the children in the state. “You’ve been writing letters on behalf of polluting industries,” Booker said. “I want to ask you, how many letters did you write to the E.P.A. about this health crisis?” Pruitt tried to explain that lawsuits require an injured party and that, in the case of the E.P.A. litigation, the injured parties were the energy corporations. “Injury?” Booker said, drawing out the word, and then he returned to the matter of all those asthmatic kids in Oklahoma.

Politicizing Disability - The How and the Why

I find the New York Times "disability" column on lives and identities, all written by disabled people, important and fascinating. It's created a silo for disability on the page, which is better than no place at all, but still shows a lack of more systematic engagement with disability rights. But the NYT byline is a good one, and every disabled writer should try to place a piece there, if they have the energy.

Yesterday they ran one on politicizing disability. There's a lot of good in it. Like many others, it says don't focus on the Kovaleski incident, but move on to policy. The author then writes:
In addition to greater participation in the public sphere, true progress for citizens with disabilities will require a willingness to confront the issues head-on, even when — especially when — citizens disagree on competing solutions. We must politicize disability — not in the cable-news, grandstanding kind of way, but in the term’s more formal sense.
I think about this a lot. There are lots of disabled folks and their families who voted for Trump - millions of them.  And of course every Trump voter will, if they are lucky, become disabled in time. Disability intersects with other forms of identity, ableism intersects with other forms of oppression, but neither is like the other forms of identity or oppression.

Which is to say rich white Republicans also have to address disability in their lives. Politicizing disability is a good idea.

Where the piece falls down, as many were saying on Twitter yesterday, is the how. I know, as well as anyone, the limitations of the op-ed form. No single essay can do everything. But there are a lot of folks deeply engaged in the how. For me, I focus on "Crip the Vote," because I know the folks running it, but there are lots and lots of others.

So let's get to the how.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

DeVos Hearings and IDEA - Three Clips

When someone says they will be "sensitive" to the needs of people with disabilities, I get nervous. Being sensitive is like "awareness" campaigns. It doesn't do anything.

One: Hassan and DeVos on vouchers and special ed.

Hassan - It's not just ideas, but how they work in practice.

Two: Kaine and DeVos (DeVos - Leave it up to the states)

Three: Hassan and Devos part II

Hassan: What about warehousing?
DeVos: I'll be sensitive to special needs students.
Hassan: No, it's about enforcing the law not sensitivity.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Racism in Historical European Martial Arts

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

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

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

Monday, January 16, 2017

Once Time Boy. Hero.

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

Additional pieces on narrative and my kids:

Friday, January 13, 2017

Anti-Semitic Violence and Jared Kushner

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 12, 2017

IEP at SCOTUS: Endrew F. vs Douglas County

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Awesome! Wow! - My son turns 10

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

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

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

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

I'll have a piece about storytelling coming soon!

Happy birthday to my son.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Disability, Bullying, and Violence - Recent pieces

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

Monday, January 9, 2017

Adventures in Academic Freedom

Four stories.

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

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

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

Friday, January 6, 2017

Pacific Standard Column: New Blood Libel

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 5, 2017

SCOTUS - What's a Free Appropriate Public Education?

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

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

UPDATE: Here's a summary from Wrightslaw.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Dylan Roof: Anti-Semite

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

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

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Column to Follow: Summer Brennan on Language and Power

"On language and power" has been the tagline of How Did We Get Into This Mess? for years, so I'm always excited when other writers focus in on that specific issue. Here's Summer Brennan, with her new twice-monthly column.
I would like to invite readers to join me in doing this. Get a diary or journal and write down as many words as you can that relate to the things that you value. Fascism favors sameness; it represents a desertification of language and thinking. You can fight sameness with diversity. Inside this thought-desert, we must learn to be jungle oases. If you plan to defend nature, write down the names of birds and landscape as a start. Write phoebe, warbler, wren, heron, starling, swift, swallow. Write dale, dell, coppice, coomb, swale, swarth. Let your language soar and spread. Get closer and write root, leaf, stem, stamen, stigma, filament, sepal, pistil, petal. Write down how the world and words around you change.
We all need our hills to defend. As I intend to chronicle in this twice-monthly column, language will be mine. I’ll be here, wielding pen or laptop under the eye of Big Brother, repeating that two plus two equals four.
Lots of new writers out there and newly elevated writers, as publications invest to cover Trump's America. I really like Brennan's, "We all need our hills to defend" line. Find your lane, whatever it is and whatever you can do (which honestly may be - try to survive, which is enough). Then do it.