Academic Rejection and the Confidence Gap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now that was a bad week.


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

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

“Best Dressed” and Writing Online

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adjuncts, Admin, and Gender – The Sunday Roundup

I had two published essays this week:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Almost a year ago, I wrote a piece on how to talk about feminism if you’re a guy (especially a straight white married guy).  It was a somewhat light response to a serious discourse problem – it’s complicated if you want to talk about problems experienced by others, especially if you are of the group that has all the power and privilege. It’s complicated, but it’s also necessary. The four core rules are:

  1. It’s not about you (don’t make stories about the discrimination faced by women about how you, the man, feel about it).
  2. It’s sometimes about you (men need to talk to men about rape, for example).
  3. It’s always about them (don’t erase women’s voices from the conversation. Cite, link back, use privilege to amplify the voices of others and hopefully erode one’s own privilege).
  4. Don’t expect gratitude (A lot of male feminists want women to like them more, or to exempt them from critiques – the “not all men” defense – or otherwise, once again, making it about the wrong topic).
This week I wrote about adjuncts – the contingent labor force of academia. I think all these rules apply
I’m a tenured professor living in a nice house in a suburb of Chicago. My wife and I have two professional incomes. I’ve also been given a big platforms on CNN, the Chronicle, and beyond. I’m a straight white married man. My university is a great place to work. If adjuncts resent these facts, that is reasonable. I can’t expect gratitude for noticing their difficulties. And most of all, I cannot make the stories about me.
Rule #2 applies too, though, as it’s going to take tenure-stream faculty being part of the movement to achieve any kind of change. I  have some ideas of how that can happen; I have a criticism of the attempt to use hyperbolic metaphors to evoke sympathy. I think we need SHARED identification, not to use analogies to marginalized groups. I might be wrong though.
For the rest of the blog, I want to offer an example of how NOT to talk about adjuncts from a position of privilege, then give a critic my space to critique me. 

Matt Reed, aka @DeanDad on Twitter, wrote a blogpost on Inside Higher Ed in which he asked for ideas to get adjuncts to come to workshops. He wrote, among other things:

In a perfect world, of course, we’d have enough money that this wouldn’t be a problem. But this isn’t a perfect world. So within the fiscal parameters that actually exist, we’re trying to find a more effective way to reach significant numbers of adjunct faculty.

In my piece for the Chronicle, I talked about specifically this kind of language, saying, “We tut-tut and say it’s too bad, but then throw up our hands, blame the budgets, and let the system continue.” Reed’s heart is in the right place I guess. Most people’s hearts are in the right place. But then when attacked on Twitter, he got defensive. He makes a huge amount of money overseeing a system in which adjuncts are exploited, but he wants to be the good guy.

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

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

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

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

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

I’m letting Gordon Haber have the last word from his blog post, in which he writes.

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

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Saints and Memory

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

I wrote:

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

I’d like to know what you think.

What really makes me happy, though, are these paragraphs:

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

Canonization provides an opportunity to shape memory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My opening anecdote is true. A friend, just about to finish his PhD and finishing a great 1-year, offered me a lift to JFK from Fordham’s Lincoln-Center campus. I paid for parking and tolls, glad to skip the taxi or the train. In the car, he asked me what I thought about adjunct rights as civil rights. I gave him a response then and this essay is the longer form version once I actually read the work to which he was alluding.

Over the past few years, an increasing number of voices have argued that adjunctification is best understood as something especially terrible rather than an all-too-typical example of the rise of contingency across the North American workforce. Why do advocates need to go to such rhetorical lengths to gain our sympathy? 

In the piece, which I hope you will read and share (thus increasing my chances of having more columns published there),  I do two things. One, I argue that adjuncts are not slaves, migrant workers, or sharecroppers. Two, I argue that people use this language because we’re not listening, or if we are listening, we don’t act.

The issue here is not that writers are loosely deploying hyperbolic metaphors. The real problem is that adjuncts and their advocates believe the rest of us aren’t on their side.

We tut-tut and say it’s too bad, but then throw up our hands, blame the budgets, and let the system continue. Civil rights, slavery, sharecropping, migrant laborers—these are terms that evoke sympathy and demand action within the neoliberal world of higher education in ways that just calling adjuncts “temps” does not.

The solution is not to see adjuncts as labor – the solution is to see yourself as labor.

 More to come.

Priorities in Higher Ed – Admin Bloat By the Numbers

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

I posted this tweet:

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

Here’s the context from the blog:

In this past week’s issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, there is a very revealing graph representing the changes in employment in colleges and universities from 1976 to 2011. The graph is based on an analysis of IPEDs data by AAUP’s John Curtis.

I’ve talked about this before when discussing the rise of the administration (aka the “Fall of the Faculty“). I wrote:

“I was called out for using the phrase, “administrative bloat.” It’s pejorative and I think I will drop it. [spoiler alert: I haven’t dropped it] There certainly has been a rise in the number of administrators. This has both cultural and financial costs. A recent piece from the Chronicle notes that the faculty:admin ratio declined from 2000-12 by 40%, now at 2.5:1. Thus the savings from shifting to the adjunct model have largely been spent on hiring new admin. But at least some of this has happened because of new regulatory models (assessment assessment assessment), and “bloat” suggests that the university did this on purpose, rather than having no choice. It’s an issue to consider.”

That was me being nice. I know so many brilliant, dedicated, administrators who do amazing work to make their institutions of higher ed better. I feel exceptionally fortunate in the administrators with whom I work at Dominican. But the numbers are kind of bleak. Moreover, as I’ll discuss below, there are choice here being made by administrators that lead to bloat, even if it’s not deliberate, even if many of the choices are defensible.

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

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

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

Academe Blog has this useful take after running the numbers [my emphasis]:

It is as if higher education has borrowed very selectively and poorly from the corporate model. Although we now have much the same ever-widening gap in compensation between upper management and the bulk of the employees, we also have the sort of burgeoning middle management that was more typical of American corporations in the third quarter of the 20th century and increasing eliminated from our corporations in the last quarter of the 20th century. If our colleges and universities were truly operating as efficiently as the best corporations, the increase in administrative staff would be among the lowest numbers on this chart and not the highest number.

That rings true to me. It’s not just that the universities have corporatized, but that we’ve DONE IT BADLY.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you want gender norming with that?

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

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

I am a feminist because when I go to McDonald’s (and yes, I know I shouldn’t go to McDonald’s), and order a Happy Meal, they ask me whether I want a “boy’s toy or a girl’s toy.” The boys’ toys are active, with moving parts, and often violent: cars, giants, aliens, catapults, action figures, heroes, and heroic paraphernalia. Girls’ toys come in pink, purple, yellow, and orange. They are passive—at most, they sparkle. Dolls, plastic versions of clothing, and animals—but not animals that might climb or hunt, but cute little things you can snuggle. Right now, boys get Hot Wheels ™. Girls get Sparkle shoes (little plastic keychain shoes, covered in hearts and flowers) from Sketchers ™. The people at the counter are supposed to say—do you want the shoe or the car? But they never do. What am I supposed to do if my son wants the shoe and my daughter the car? Of course, having heard the gender norming question, they just go with what’s expected. 

I discovered that the daughter of a friend of mine got angry when she was a child about this, so wrote McDonald’s and received a nice corporate letter saying it wasn’t their policy. She used to wave it at people who asked if she wanted the girl or boy toy. This has been on my mind for awhile.

And it turns out on other minds as well.

On Medium, Elly Vila Dominicis wrote, “I’m a girl and I want the boy’s toy.”

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

The piece goes on to show the toys and their gender split.

Meanwhile, in Slate, a 14-year-old girl named Antonia Ayres-Brown wrote about her campaign to really change the language. Like my friend’s daughter, she too got that letter from corporate HQ, but noted it didn’t change anything. She contacted the CEO, and:

Instead of filing another complaint, I tried a more conciliatory approach. I again wrote to the CEO of McDonald’s, now Donald Thompson, sharing the results of our recent study and expressing my continued concern with the harmful effects of gender-classified toys. On Dec. 17, I received an amazing letter back from McDonald’s chief diversity officer, Patricia Harris, saying, “It is McDonald’s intention and goal that each customer who desires a Happy Meal toy be provided the toy of his or her choice, without any classification of the toy as a ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ toy and without any reference to the customer’s gender. We have recently reexamined our internal guidelines, communications and practices and are making improvements to better ensure that our toys are distributed consistent with our policy.”

Even more heartening, DoSomething.org just posted a photo of a manager’s notice on the wall of an actual McDonald’s store instructing employees: “When a customer orders a happy meal you must ask ‘will that be a My Little Pony toy? Or a Skylanders toy?’. We will no longer refer to them as ‘boy or girl toys.’ ”

 So that’s nice. I suspect the toys will still emerge in pink and passive vs colorful and active. Why can’t we have a pink ninja robot? A bright blue lipstick with lightning bolts? There’s room for variety here.

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

Cult of Compliance – Georgia School Edition

Most of my writing on the cult of compliance focuses on police violence. It’s where the deification of compliance is most visible and most dangerous. Schools, however, are another site for such practices, especially as they turn into bunkers. Sometimes such moments turn violent, but there are more subtle forms, such as this story out of Georgia.

MARIETTA — The parents of two West Side Elementary students say they do not want their children taking the CRCT, a standardized test given in Georgia, but the city’s school system told them their children would be trespassing if they came to school and didn’t take the exam.

The context for this story is the right-wing myth that standardized tests “collect data” on the kids to be used in nefarious government plots. Myths aside, the problems with the testing regime abound:  For example – Teaching to the test erodes critical thinking skills, many tests are designed with inherent biases, they take away lots and lots of time from actual teaching.

What interests me in this case, though, is this part of the response from the school (emphasis mine):

The Finneys worked out a meeting with school administrators early Wednesday morning to talk things over. But when they arrived, they were confronted by a police officer instead of the principal.

According to Tracey Finney, the officer was extremely nice and professional, but told them being on school property while actively opposed to the test was “kind of a trespassing thing” and that their kids weren’t allowed on the property either if they weren’t going to take the test. The officer’s report confirms the parents were told they and their students would be trespassing if they stayed on the property.

Now there’s a whole context of missing emails, canceled meetings, and a reasonable question as to whether the parents were being deliberately provocative. I don’t especially care. What’s important to me here is the quick recourse to the language of criminalization and criminal penalties.

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

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