TASERs are Not Mental Health Care. Disability is Not a Crime.

In response to the recent shooting of Quintonio Legrier and Bettie Jones, embattled mayor Rahm Emanuel has made a decision – give all cops Tasers.

Chicago’s mayor and police superintendent will announce Wednesday afternoon that every police officer who responds to service calls will be equipped with a Taser and properly trained to use it by June 1, the mayor’s deputy director of communications said. The announcement, to be made at 2 p.m. CT, will be part of a major overhaul in Chicago Police Department policy on how officers respond to incidents and the use of physical and lethal force, mayor’s spokesman Adam Collins said.

Tasers are a fine tool for policing, when used correctly. Too often, they reinforce the cult of compliance, giving police an easy (and approved) way to inflict pain on non-compliant, but non-threatening, individuals. Overall, though, I have been convinced that law enforcement officers (LEOs) should be provided with Tasers in most contexts, so long as abusers are held accountable.

What we’re seeing, though, with Emanuel’s response to Legrier/Jones and Philip Coleman is a continued focus on teaching police to manage crisis better. Such training and tools may be required, but the real solutions require focusing before the crisis and investing in public health, pushing back against stigma, funding community mental care teams, and more.

Instead, we’re giving cops TASERs and closing community mental health care facilities.

Year in Review: Blogging 2015 and A Few Recommended Pieces

Yesterday I wrote about my year of published writing. Here’s my review of a year of blogging. 

I wrote 312 blog posts in 2015. They vary in length and topic and I have no means to search them and organized a word cloud or tag cloud. Help? 2015 also featured the great migration to Wix, aka total disaster, and the return here. The consequences are still playing out behind the scenes, as my search function has never really worked well again.
While the blog exists to house my scraps and opening thoughts when then unfold into formal essays other publications, some posts have found audiences beyond my expectations.
I like all these blog posts and am glad they did well. Here are a just two pieces, though, that you might have overlooked, both about adjunctification of higher education.
  1. I believe in academic conferences. They need to be both affordable and meaningful for the people for whom they are the most expensiveI talk about costs and hierarchies, and how to erode both.
  2. Free community college is great. But these new students need to be taught by full-time, salaried, faculty.
Thanks for reading. 

Year of Writing in Review: 2015 Published Writing

Last December, I published a year-in-review for my “published writing” and “blogging” in review. I’ve decided to make it a tradition, in part just to keep track, and maybe to suggest a few pieces that didn’t get the readership I feel they deserved.

I had 61 pieces published in 2015 (unless I forgot to note one). I was fortunate to publish in many new venues – Vice, New York Times, Salon, Washington Post, Pacific Standard, The Mary Sue, Yahoo! Parenting, Tor.com, and Belt. I started doing regular cultural criticism, focusing on fantasy and science fiction TV and movies and gave lots of talks. CNN, The Chronicle, Al Jazeera, and Vice were my mainstays.

Here are a few pieces that you might read:

Online community and the Fear of Down Syndrome (CNN.com, 2/18/15) – Resources are everywhere. Networks can change lives.

At about 7 a.m. one day last November, Claudia sent me a Facebook message about her best friend, Jane. (All names have been altered.) Jane was pregnant with twins, one of whom had been diagnosed with both Down syndrome and a heart defect. Jane and her spouse were stuck in that toxic panic and didn’t know what to do. Claudia wrote, “They told me it’s super easy to find adoptive parents because lots of people want kids with special needs. Right now, their plan is to leave the baby at the hospital, and failing that the fire station.”

I was startled by the message, but not shocked. I’m the father of a boy with Down syndrome and had at least an inkling of what Jane was going through. On the other hand, although safe haven laws make leaving a child at the hospital legal, and American children with Down syndrome do often get adopted, this clearly wasn’t the right way to go about it. So I told Claudia I’d be back shortly to help, got my own children safely off on the bus to school, and returned to my computer 40 minutes later.

Soon, I was talking to Amy Allison, the executive director of the Down Syndrome Guild of Greater Kansas City. Fifteen minutes later, Amy had connected me to Stephanie Thompson, the co-director of the National Down Syndrome Adoption Network. Stephanie reached out to Claudia and from there to Jane.

Making Academic Conferences Accessible (Chronicle Vitae, 7/8/15) – Conferences matter. Our disabled colleagues need access. There are scholars working to make that possible, and I interviewed them.

If you know any disabled academics, then you almost certainly know someone who has encountered obstacles at conferences. In the last month or so, I’ve communicated with dozens of academics with all types of disabilities – including wheelchair users, people with hearing or vision loss, and people with intellectual disabilities like Autism and psychiatric disabilities such as bipolar disorder. They all had many bad stories to tell about accessibility at scholarly meetings, and those stories are especially worth telling as we approach the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Some conference organizers just don’t think about disability. Others are outright prejudicial, dismissing these needs as imaginary or trivial. Fortunately, there are people trying to make a difference by demonstrating ways to make conferences accessible to all.

“The Net is the Meat:” Bruce Holsinger’s Medieval Fiction (Tor.com, 4/20/15) – 2015 was the year I started publishing criticism. Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Switched at Birth, and more. But this is my favorite essay about the Middle Ages and the historical imagination. You should read Holsinger’s novels.

At the end of The Invention of Fire, the second John Gower mystery by Bruce Holsinger, the aging poet ponders possible outcomes for a pair of fugitives making their way across England. He muses that his friend, Geoffrey Chaucer, would no doubt come up with some cheerful ending in which they live happily ever after, but not Gower, who likes darker tales.

Gower says, “A poet should not be some sweet-singing bird in a trap, feasting on the meat while blind to the net. The net is the meat, all those entanglements and snares and iron claws that hobble us and prevent our escape from the limits of our weak and fallen flesh.”

Holsinger’s novels are about the net.

2016: I’m focusing on my book now and a major white paper that will come out in the first quarter of next year, so I expect the rate of publication to slow. I’ve said that before and kept writing short pieces, so who knows. Much of that depends on the news. When stories need to be told, I’ll try to tell them.

It’s been a fun year, despite the grim subject of so many essays, and thanks to all for reading.

Distribution, I think:
  • 12 CNN 
  • 12 Al Jazeera
  • 13 Vice
  • 9 Chronicle
  • 2 NYT
  • 2 Salon
  • 2 Pacific Standard
  • 2 WaPo
  • 2 The Mary Sue
  • 1 Yahoo
  • 1 Belt
  • 1 RHRC
  • 1 Tor.com
And here’s the lot: 
  1. When Traveling with Children, there Are No Special Needs (12/22/15)
  2. Reality TV Takes on Down Syndrome (Al Jazeera America, 12/21/15)
  3. Star Wars and the Fan-Fictionalization of American Pop Culture (Vice.com, 12/18/2015)
  4. Beyond the Crisis: Philip Coleman, the Chicago PD, and Mental Illness Response (CNN.com, 12/17/2015)
  5. When Police Abuse Disabled Children (Pacific Standard, 12/17/2015)
  6. Paul Ryan Blames Mass Shootings on Mental Illness (Al Jazeera America, 12/5/15)
  7. The San Bernardino Massacre (CNN.com, 12/3/15) 
  8. The New Game of Thrones Trailer is Talking to Us. (Vice.com. 12/3/15) 
  9. Three Rules of Academic Blogging (Chronicle.com, 11/12/15) 
  10. Welders and Philosophy Majors Unite! (CNN.com, 11/11/15) 
  11. Politicians are Ignoring Americans with Disabilities (Al Jazeera America, 11/10/15) 
  12. Halloween and the Social Model of Disability (Pacific Standard Magazine, 10/27/15) 
  13. Switched at Birth and ABC Family’s “New Kind of Family” Hits Home (The Mary Sue, 10/26/15) 
  14. Fix “Autism Speaks.” (Al Jazeera America, 10/9/15) 
  15. No, Carly Fiorina, a degree in medieval history doesn’t qualify you to fight Isis (The Guardian, 10/6/15) 
  16. The Martian is Pure, Pleasurable, Competence Porn (Vice.com, 10/2/15) 
  17. Professor’s Killing Highlights Our Vulnerability (CNN.com, 9/15/15) 
  18. Guess Who Might Not Be Dead – Hint: Kit Harington Still Has Long Hair (Vice.com, 9/11/15) 
  19. What Switched at Birth gets Right and Wrong about Families Like Mine (Salon.com, 9/8/15) 
  20. Down Syndrome, Prenatal Testing, and a Teenage Soap Opera? The Importance of Switched At Birth (The Mary Sue, 9/02/15) 
  21. A “Bechdel-Wallace” Test for the Disability Community (Al Jazeera America, 8/30/15) 
  22. Westworld: The Robots Are Coming! (Vice.com, 8/25/15) 
  23. Stop Politicizing Down Syndrome and Abortion (CNN.com, 8/24/15) 
  24. The Surprisingly Simple Future of Assistive Technology (Al Jazeera America, 8/17/15) 
  25. The Outrage of Handcuffing Children in Schools (CNN.com, 8/5/15) 
  26. Making Academic Conferences Accessible (Chronicle Vitae, 7/8/15) 
  27. I am a Working Dad (Father’s Day 2015) (Al Jazeera America, 6/21/15) 
  28. US schools must stop excluding children with disabilities (Al Jazeera America, 6/16/15) 
  29. The Controversies and Success of Season 5 of Game of Thrones (Vice.com, 6/12/15) 
  30. What Kids Learn When Adults Aren’t Inclusive (Washington Post, 6/11/15) 
  31. Where Have All the Good Bad Guys Gone? (Vice.com, 6/10/15) 
  32. Speaking Out Against Autism Speaks (NYTimes.com, 6/4/15) 
  33. Inspiration Porn Disables the Disabled (Al Jazeera America, 6/3/15) 
  34. Jon Snow: The Only Hero of Game of Thrones? (Vice.com, 6/1/15) 
  35. The World’s Reserves of Game of Thrones are Running Dangerously Low(Vice.com, 5/28/15) 
  36. Low Cost College Isn’t Enough (CNN.com, 5/20/15) 
  37. Mad Max: Fury Road’ Is the Feminist Action Flick You’ve Been Waiting For(Vice.com, 5/13/15) 
  38. Zoo Camp for All (Belt Magazine, 5/12/15) 
  39. A Medievalist on Savage Love (Chronicle of Higher Education, 5/12/15) 
  40. Save Academic Conferences! (Chronicle.com, 5/6/2015) 
  41. DC Super Hero Girls – My Daughter Wants Heroes That Look Like Her(Salon.com, 5/1/2015) 
  42. The Corrosive Cult of Compliance in Our Schools (Al Jazeera America, 4/22/15) 
  43. Daredevil and Scenes of Ordinary Disability (Vice.com, 4/20/15) 
  44. “The Net is the Meat:” Bruce Holsinger’s Medieval Fiction (Tor.com, 4/20/15) 
  45. RFK Jr. owes a lot of people an apology for his comments on autism (CNN.com, 4/16/15) 
  46. The Telescoping History of Game of Thrones (Vice.com, 4/14/15) 
  47. Sheehan vs SF: A Chance to Reduce Police Killings of People with Disabilities(Al Jazeera America, 3/22/15) 
  48. Bruce Rauner: Picking on Society’s Most Vulnerable (CNN.com, 3/18/15) 
  49. “Daddy, What’s Down Syndrome?” (Yahoo! Parenting, 3/17/15) 
  50. Dear Student? How about Dear Provost? (Chronicle Vitae, 3/11/15) 
  51. Why Write a Book? (Chronicle Vitae, 3/3/15) 
  52. To assess LAPD shooting, look past the moment of gunfire. (CNN.com, 3/2/15) 
  53. Information, Not Inspiration: How to work against the fear of Down syndrome (CNN.com, 2/18/15) 
  54. From Grad School to the Atlantic (Chronicle.com, 2/11/15) 
  55. Conservatives want to rewrite the history of the Crusades (The Guardian, 2/7/15) 
  56. Kristiana Coignard Did Not Have to Die (CNN.com, 2/2/15) 
  57. Airlines Break Too Many Wheelchairs – But We can Fix It (Al Jazeera America, 1/31/15) 
  58. Associate Dean of What? (Chronicle.com, 1/26/15) 
  59. Anti-Choice Legislators Try to Force Wedge Between Reproductive, Disability Rights Activists (Reproductive Health Reality Check, 1/16/15) 
  60. Who Will Teach All the Free Community College Students? (Chronicle.com, 1/15/15) 
  61. Harsh Critics in Public Spaces, Judging Only What They See (NYTimes.com, 1/12/15)

Restraint for Safety vs Restraint for Punishment (And Freddie DeBoer)

I wrote a piece for Pacific Standard that many people seem to have read (it was their most popular story on the site for 5 days or so. I gather that must mean something) on the systematic abuse of disabled children by teachers and other staff in schools and institutions across America. In the piece, I took three reports by three separate groups – Pro Public, the Center for Public Integrity, and the Disability Law Center of Massachusetts – and discussed the common pattern: restraint and seclusion being used to punish students for basic non-compliance.

For regular readers of this blog, you’ll know this is the kind of thing I coordinate under the phrase the “cult of compliance” (search the tags for many more posts).

A few days ago, the well-known writer Freddie DeBoer responded on Twitter by asking me to read a piece he wrote that criticized the Pro Publica essay as “sensationalist and damaging.” He calls it “Difficult Problems After the Death of Nuance.” In the essay, DeBoer describes his experience as a caregiver in an public school with a segregated section for children with emotional disabilities, experiences that included restraint. With children who are likely to harm themselves or others, he asked, what are you supposed to do?

This is an entirely reasonable question. There are many situations in which restraint is a reasonable and appropriate response to specific behaviors. For example – if a child is about to run into the street, you should hold them. If a child, as DeBoer describes, is trying to throw a chair at your head or another student’s head, you should stop them. These things happen.

But what the experts (for example Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports or Trauma Informed Practices) tell us is that such behavior have an instigating point, a cause, and that the correct response to such behaviors is to investigate those causes and try to work at the root issues, rather than try and solve the problem by treating the symptoms, the acting out in some way, with force. There is no amount of force that can make someone less disabled. All you end up doing is intensifying trauma.

Many IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) and similar documents contain provisions about the use of restraint. They are ideally crafted in collaboration with parents, other caregivers, as especially as possible the disabled person themselves. Restraint and seclusion may be necessary, but only as a holding action while you work on root issues.

In the cases I discuss, however, restraint and seclusion are being used to punish and to force compliance. Again and again, we see staff and teachers – who are surely under great pressure themselves, and drastically under-resourced – resort to fear, pain, and isolation to teach disabled students that if they act as themselves, in non-typical ways, they will suffer for it. People strapped to beds for throwing food, thrown into a closet with the lights off for not following orders, given electric shocks. That’s the abuse. That’s the practice we need to stop. That’s the cult of compliance.

So overall, my response to DeBoer’s entirely reasonable question is this: Restraint may be part of a safety plan, but it’s not a teaching tool. It doesn’t really change behaviors. Moreover, there are usually positive ways to change behaviors, but they take time, resources, and creativity. I think the restraint as safety vs restraint as punishment is a useful dialectic along which to assess a given situation.

Now a brief aside: I’m a little nervous about responding to Freddie DeBoer because my introduction to him was really through his back and forth with Angus Johnston (@studentactivism), who once wrote: “It’s become clear that Freddie is the kind of person who says “Give me an answer!” when he means “Admit that there are no answers!”

He has asked me for an answer, and I’ve given him one above, and my brief interaction on Twitter suggests he’s open to the dialectic I propose. Again, I think he asks a useful question, and I’m pleased he sought me out.

The problem with his essay is this “death of nuance” framing. DeBoer believes that reactions to this type of outrage journalism, “Demonstrate the ways in which the world of sharing and likes and shallow understanding destroys nuance and creates a bogus conception of a black-and-white world.”

He is furthermore:

Reminded of a few sad realities: that American liberalism culture is now synonymous with a juvenile Manicheanism that imagines some perfect world we could achieve if people just weren’t so selfish and evil; that getting showily, publicly angry about problems is more popular than actually attempting to solve them; that there is no issue of such emotional and moral complexity that many people can’t reduce it to a black-and-white caricature; and that we have created a media which has made its financial best interest inextricable from destroying depth, nuance, and complexity. I genuinely don’t know if people believe in difficult choices and intractable problems anymore.

I hope DeBoer doesn’t really believe this. I suspect it’s rhetorical rather than, as he says, “genuine.” It’s a way for him to continue his long-running diatribes against PC culture and kids these days, which is fine. I’m not going to get into it, except for these two points:

First, it’s ahistorical. Getting outraged about outrageous things is normal. The press has always published outraged journalism intended to evoke sympathy, rage, donations, voting, direct action, and, most of all, more sales of media products. Before there were media products to sell, the sharing of outrage traveled through different kinds of information culture, but travel they did. Speed, scale, and means have changed. Local outrages can become national or international in ways never before likely (consider police abuses). Outrage can feed on itself in new ways too, because we can communicate our upset more effectively and quickly. But getting outraged about outrageous things is an appropriate and rational response.

Second, DeBoer here draws his meta conclusion about the “death of nuance” based on lack of knowledge of both disability and disability-related pedagogy. His lived experiences matter, but he confesses that these were confusing times for him in his life. When he writes, “Mental illness is powerful and terrible and that’s the world we live in,” he places himself in a casually ableist epistemology that informs everything else he writes (I fear he rejects the concept of ableism, but that’s a bigger conversation).

What’s powerful and terrible is when people with psychiatric disabilities are denied the resources they need, and when stigma and fear make it harder for people with such conditions to come out as disabled, to ask for help, and so self-treat and self-medicate.

What’s powerful and terrible are the intersections of mental-illness-stigma with racism and poverty. Marginalizing forces multiply dangerously. It’s not a coincidence that the people in these institutions of the sort DeBoer describes tend to be poor and non-white. The nuanced liberal response to such conditions is not to decry outrage, but to identify root cultural, social, economic, and political causes and get to work.

With that said, I’m going to get back to work.

ISIL and the Murder of Disabled Children

This Facebook post from Mosul Eye, a source that I’m told has some track record of reliability, shows a video of disabled children (just hanging out, really), then claims the following:

Through monitoring and following the death incidents of children with Down’s Syndrome and congenital deformities, we were able to learn that the Shar’i Board of ISIL issued an “Oral Fatwa” to its members authorizing them to “kill newborn babies with Down’s Syndrome and congenital deformities and disabled children”. The Fatwa was issued by one of ISIL’s Shar’i judges, a Saudi judge named ” Abu Said Aljazrawi”.
The information indicate that most of the children born with Down’s Syndrome are those of foreign fighters who married Iraqi, Syrian and Asian women. We recorded more than 38 confirmed cases of killing babies with congenital deformities and Down’s Syndrome, aged between one week to three months. They were killed by either lethel injection or suffocation. Some of those killings took place in Syria and Mosul.
This displaced child from Mosul, ISIL issues a Fatwa to kill him.
As if it is not enough for ISIL to kill men, women and the elderly, and now, they kill children

Coverage in the West has linked this to Aktion T4 (Breitbart, here, is typical), the systematic Nazi murder of disabled people at the beginning of the Holocaust. Sarah Palin has weighed in, too, with her usual pure-ID politics: “Over my dead body,” she says. Lots of coverage followed.

I think it’s a mistake to compare ISIL to the Nazis. The murder of 38 disabled children is terrible. The murder of 200 Syrian children, as alleged in this video, is also monstrous (this story also compares ISIL to the Nazis). In the West, though, we like to compare everyone we hate to Nazis, but 20th-century western fascism is just one kind of evil, among many, and when we misunderstand our enemy it makes it harder to defeat them.

From the disability perspective, moreover, my community tends to parse everything through the western tradition of eugenics. Eugenics is both a historical and contemporary problem that emerged directly out of the western scientific tradition. I see it as a byproduct of the Enlightenment, although that’s a post for another day (or, rather, just a long list of citations of pieces by smarter folks than I). It is possible that ISIL, with its European connections, is drawing from that eugenic tradition. But I don’t think so.

This is not, unlike the video of the Syrian massacre, or the specific slaughter of wheelchair users in the Bataclan theater in paris, an explicit act of terror. There’s no video of murdering disabled infants. This is not about exterminating the outsider or spreading fear + hate in the world. Rather, it’s enabling ISIL fighters to murder their own disabled children, eliminating the perceived “unfit” from society.

That, sadly, is an ancient tradition. The infanticide of disabled children is fairly routine throughout history and continues around the world today. I just read that 98% of all abandoned children in China have disabilities, for example, but I’m not picking on China. Ableisms, often murderous ones, infuse all cultures in their own way.

None of this excuses ISIL’s fighters who are murdering their children. I’m not even sure if the distinctions matter. But traditions of infanticide do vary, and I’m already seeing pro-forced birth Americans using this fact to support anti-abortion laws in the US while also promoting ground war in Syria.

Two Ethical Futures for The Mighty

The Mighty is a well-funded website that publishes personal essays about disability. Narratives tend to be parent-driven or illness-driven, but they throw a huge amount of content out at the internet without much editorial oversight. The editors search through the vibrant disability-related blogosphere and ask to republish essays for free as well as publishing essays written directly for their site. As far as I know, they pay no one but the editors, but have substantial venture capital backing and of course are trying to build ad revenue.

There are lots of good pieces on the site, many of them published by authors whose work I adore. Most of it, though, falls into either the positive or negative categories of inspiration porn: feel-good or cathartic tragedy.

On 12/20 they published, “Meltdown Bingo” (cached link), a disability-shaming piece. People reacted negatively, and the editors took it down and issued this apology.

Our goal on The Mighty is to give people a platform to share their stories. It’s a simple objective that’s proven challenging for everyone on our staff because we host thousands of perspectives and opinions, from both disabled and able-bodied writers. We don’t expect everyone to agree on every post. In fact, we like when our contributors’ stories start important, respectful conversations. What we don’t want is to cause harm. Here is where I missed the mark when deciding to publish this submission.

That’s on me. I personally apologize to anyone we hurt with this post. It was not our intention, but we need to take responsibility for our actions. Our community called us on this post almost immediately. Thank you.

This isn’t the first time The Mighty has been rightfully accused of ableism.

And to deny that we’ve been ableist would be, well, ableist.

I don’t actually think “give people a platform to share their stories.” It’s to make money while feeling good about themselves.

In their apology, the editor asked three questions:

  • What improvements do you want to see made on The Mighty?
  • Which websites and writers are covering this space the right way?
  • What are we doing right? If we know this, we can do more of it.

If you follow the hashtag #CrippingTheMighty (started by Alice Wong), you’ll see lots and lots of answers to all three questions, but especially the second one. Here’s my response.

WOULDN’T THIS HAVE BEEN A GOOD QUESTION TO ASK BEFORE LAUNCHING YOUR WEBSITE COVERING DISABILITY ISSUES?

If you read the “why we created The Mighty” page, the editors discuss their process:

Over the last several months, I’ve bought a lot of drinks and dinners for friends and colleagues. I wanted to pick their brains. These are talented people I respect and trust who do amazing work for the likes of ABC News, NBC News, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Yahoo, Forbes, Esquire, MTV, Disney, Google and more.

We kicked around ideas that all came back to a central question: Could we build a media company that actually helps people?

Those are an impressive list of media companies, but notice how none of those include anyone with disabilities, any disability rights organizations, or anyone from the community they are allegedly serving.

Now I know something about being relatively neurotypical and able-bodied and writing about disability. The process starts, and ends, with accountability. My mentors are Rebecca Cokley, Lawrence Carter-Long, Ari Ne’eman, Alice Wong, and so many hundreds more. I reach out to them, I talk to them. I elevate their voices in my pieces for mainstream media. I mess up. They call me on it. I try to do better. I hold myself accountable to the community I serve as a journalist.

I’ve never had the sense that such accountability was part of The Mighty’s plan. In fact, such accountability would get in the way of publishing inspirational/tragic pieces that drive traffic. The Mighty is happy to publish good pieces about identity and lived experience, but those aren’t the money makers.

I see two ethical futures for The Mighty.

One: Support the community. If the editors really want to serve the disability community, they have to center disabled voices, use their platform to signal boost in both directions, and be accountable for what they do. If you read their social media feeds, 100% of their promotions are internal – no sharing of other people’s work, no using their platform to say – hey, go check out this great blog post from Non-Famous Writer, etc. It’s all internal promotion.

You asked who the good writers are, you got comments on Twitter. Now go talk to those writers and get to work learning from them.

Two: Be professional. Hire disabled editors. Pay your writers a fair wage. Take editorial responsibility for every word on your site, just like a real publication. Do whatever you want, but be transparent about your professionalism and stop exploiting disabled and non-disabled bloggers alike.

Because what you’re doing now is causing damage to the community you allegedly are here to support, and you can’t paper those wounds over with apologies.

Book(s) Review – Higher Education Doomsaying

I have a book review out with postemedieval on a collection of recent books about the state and future of higher education.

Where are we going? Why are we in this handbasket?” is open access.

You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.– Rahm Emmanuel, Mayor of ChicagoEvery week, another cry of crisis reverberates through the virtual and tangible spaces in which academics congregate. The pundits and publishers who cater to higher education know that crisis narratives find readers, not to mention re-tweeters, re-posters, online sharers and bloggers who will confirm or deny (often deploying their own rhetoric of crisis) a given analysis. In most cases, crisis narratives are claustrophobic. They shine a spotlight on the constraints and urgencies of the present situation in order to push their audience toward one particular course of action.

This review essay takes up and examines some recent cries of crisis (as well as refusals of the term), but it also attends to different imagery for describing the contemporary status of colleges and universities – that of entanglement. Entanglements, knots, mutual entailments, ongoing involvements, co-implications, networks, jumbles, meshes, messes and complex structures can challenge the monologic solutions so often offered in response to crisis. Entanglements can be constraining, but interweaving is just as likely to provide strength and resiliency. One way to understand the purpose of this volume is as an exploration of the entanglements among the arts and liberal arts. Entanglements of various sorts dominate the recent literature on the nature and future of higher education, but in this arena there’s no consensus about what the optimal bundle of entwined ideas, fields, peoples and places might be. For some, we need to build thicker bonds among the various components, making it harder to tear us apart. Others, though, want to slice through the whole mess, scattering the university into its components, claiming that through destruction we’ll all be made whole.

I address:
  • Robert B. Archibald and David H. Feldman – Why Does College Cost So Much? Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011, xii+289pp., $36.95. ISBN: 978-0199744503
  • Kevin Carey – The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere. New York, Penguin, 2015, 288pp., $27.95. ISBN: 978-1594632051
  • Daniel F. Chambliss and Christopher G. Takacs – How College Works. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 2014, 224pp., $29.95. ISBN: 978-0674049024
  • Michael M. Crow and William B. Dabars – Designing the New American University. Baltimore, MD, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015, xiii+344pp., $34.95. ISBN: 978-1421417233
  • Michael Kennedy – Globalizing Knowledge: Intellectuals, Universities, and Publics in Transformation. Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press, 2014, xviii+406pp., $34.95. ISBN: 978-0804793438
I suspect folks in higher education will find the variety of crisis narratives and solutions interesting.

Sunday Roundup: Disability and Abuse .. plus Star Wars

Three published pieces this week. Two on disability and violence, and one on Star Wars.

The CNN piece didn’t get as much readership as the other two, so … you could share it? I think it’s important. I wrote:

The victim was Philip Coleman, who died in custody (reportedly of an adverse reaction to medication) not long after being repeatedly being stunned with a Taser and dragged from his cell. The autopsy found evidence of considerable physical trauma, with more than 50 bruises and abrasions all over his body.

The people responsible for this violence must be held accountable. At the same time, we need to examine the system that put Coleman in the hands of the police in the first place. We must stop focusing all our attention on handling mental health crises and instead devote more resources to keeping people out of crisis altogether.

Too much time and money is being focused on crisis response. Crisis avoidance would be better. And we know how to do it.

Lots of blog posts since the last roundup. What do you like?

Thanks for reading!

Universal Design for T-Shirts

My son, like many children with disabilities, has some acute sensory issues. T-shirt tags bother him incessantly, and the advent of the printed label is wonderful. We try not to buy shirts that have tags, and when we do …

(Image Description: three tags cut off a shirt)

This is trivial, but it’s also annoying and not needed. No one likes tags! No one things a shirt is better because it has multiple tags. Printing labels on the fabric works.

Universal design always makes things better both for the people with specific needs (i.e. my son, for whom shirts with tags are terrible) and, in less acute ways, for everyone else.

Universal design, hooray!

(Image: Two kids, hands up, wearing Minion Christmas Pjs).

Actually, I hate pajama day. But that’s another story.

Crusader Costumes in Europe

An Islamophobic hate-rally was held in Prague  last weekend, featuring Neo-Nazi songs, chants of “Burn down all the mosques,” and, interestingly to me, people in Crusader costumes. Here’s some images:

So this is a rise of crusader imagery being used by racists and hatemongers in response to Islamic fundamentalist appropriation of pan-Arab anti-colonial appropriation of the western European colonial appropriation of the late medieval memory of the Crusades. Or something.