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ABV #44: School-to-prison pipeline, precision + “the people who run it”

“The Rebirth of Cool: Trust, Tech, and Dystopias” by Tressie McMillan Cottom.

“I kid Justin about calling me the guest pessimist. He had me visit because I’ve talked a bit about the course’s theme for the day: dystopian futures of online education.

The students made some pretty amazing multimedia interpretations of their version of education dystopias. A few stopped me in my tracks.

As I shared with the student-learners, one person’s dystopia is another person’s utopia. The trick is that often both are happening at the same time. One student’s short film imagined a future where “second half” college is slang for the millions of college students who complete half their educational lives in prison. I shuddered because I know the school-to-prison pipeline makes that a very real present for thousands of students.

Justin made the point that his dystopian future is one where its utopia for the few and and hell for the rest. As one student put it, the only thing worse than the dystopia s/he imagines is the present state of public education.


“End of Secrets” by Ryan Quinn.

““I couldn’t do it anymore. I’ve made too much money to claim to have a conscience, but that’s the closest thing to it. Can you turn that off?” They both stared for a moment at her phone on the table between them . After she’d switched off the mic and dropped the phone back into her bag, he spoke quickly. She didn’t have to ask him many questions to keep him talking. The gist of his intelligence was this: ONE had hired the bankers to develop sophisticated algorithms that could mine huge amounts of data and deliver precise predictions about consumer behavior.

“So what?” Kera said. “Don’t all smart companies do that, or at least try to? I search for something online, the search engine uses all of my recent web activity to get me the best results. I buy music or a book, the retailer tells me what other titles I’d like. How is what you’re talking about different from that?”

“Those are very two-dimensional examples. What ONE is actually able to do is more like this: ONE gathers up a record of all the entertainment you consume, and the entertainment your friends consume, and how close you are to each of those friends. Most of that stuff is trivial, of course, and consumers are just giving it away anyway. But ONE also is gathering up data on the jobs you’ve held, and your educational background, and your medical history, and the medical history of your relatives, and your driving record, and most of your financial transactions, and a thousand other factors you’d never even think about.”

“But how could ONE get all of that?”

“You mean, how is the data collected?” He shook his head. “I knew better than to ask that.”

“You think they’re getting it illegally?”

“Would there be a legal way?”

“I hope not. But then why? ONE is a media company. Why do they even want data like that, especially if they have to break laws to get it?”

“They’re not just a media company. Not anymore. Their ultimate objective— the arrogance of it— is staggering. It would have been laughable to me before I got to ONE, especially coming from the Street, where I thought arrogance had been perfected. But I’ve seen these models work, and—”

He hesitated, and she sensed he was holding something back.

“And what?”

“With data on this scale, yes, they can tell you what book you might want to read next. But they can also tell an insurance company your likely medical future, including the age and cause of your death. Or they could tell an employer whether you are the best candidate for a job you’ve applied to. Or supply a university’s admissions committee with a report that details not just whether you’re a qualified candidate, but what you’re likely to do with the degree they give you, and how much you’ll be making ten years from now.”

“It’s hard to believe it could be that precisely predictive.”

“Believe it.”

“And this data is for sale?”

He nodded. She saw his eyes scan to the door.”

Mario Savio‘s “Sit-in Address on the Steps of Sproul Hall”, via Brian Baker.

Weekend Links, 17/11/14: Possibilities + proclamations

“Notes for a cultural politics and a political culture – 25 subversive ideas” by Michael Rosen.

“Under testing and examining the lie is maintained that ‘anyone can succeed’. While it looks as if that’s true, ‘anyone’ is not the same as ‘everyone’, as all school and national exams are rigged so that a given percentage will get top marks, a given percentage will get medium marks and a given percentage will fail. (Compare that to the driving test, say, where you succeed if you can do the test.) So ‘anyone’ can pass a school exam but it will so happen that ‘everyone’ won’t. However, saying that ‘anyone’ can pass is what wins the allegiance to the system. We all try to pass the exam. As we do that, we can’t question the validity of the system which ranks and grades according to the narrow criteria of the test itself. The test must be ‘right’ to test us in these things because…well…it’s the test! It’s the test that they’ve devised to find out our ‘true’ worth. And ‘anyone’ can pass! If however, it looks as if I can’t pass or am not going to pass, it must be ‘my’ fault! It can’t possibly be ‘social’. I can’t possibly be failing because a percentage of us are already designated to fail. It can’t possibly be because my kind of abilities are not rated as good. It can’t possibly be because it’s crazy to call people who don’t pass exams ‘failures’ when it might all be about different kind of ‘abilities’ and ‘capabilities’.

I believe that all this kind of thinking is a great motor for passivity. Many people take with them from school a sense that ‘I’ am a failure, because ‘I’ couldn’t pass. So, when in the outside world, people appeal to our capabilities, our ability or willingness to ‘do’, to ‘make’, to ‘take action’, it’s difficult. Our first assumption is that ‘I’ am not good enough.”

“The Same Grim Boat: some more thoughts about my ‘proper’ job” by Neil Kulkarni.

“Crucially, it’s that whole deeper idea here that Morgan perpetuates that’s dangerous – that art and science can’t learn from each other, aren’t already massively enmeshed, aren’t BOTH creative acts. Suggests just how little Morgan, and her cohorts, understand about both. Tremendously irresponsible and insensitive for an education secretary to basically be saying to tons of kids – hey, you’re not good at maths/science? You’re fucked. Appalling thing to say, to science kids and arts kids. I wonder also if she’s actually spoken to any maths/science graduates recently? If she thinks they’re all doing jobs closely related to what they studied or specialised in she’s fucking deluded, they’re in the same grim boat as most school-leavers and graduates alike. Working slave labour for slave wages. Suits the Tories to divide us all. Much as they have made the working poor hate the workless poor, the native hate the auslander, they want to place science at odds with art, force upon all of us categories of acceptability whereby arts disciplines can be portrayed as mickey-mouse undisciplined navel-gazing wasteful passes to a life of unemployability, whereas maths/science pursuits can ONLY be engaged in in order to improve your future income prospects. Utterly ignores the way that the creative arts work. I worked for 20 odd years in a creative role and was never asked my qualifications. Was about confidence and ability, not bits of paper. Also utterly denigrates and ignores the wide complexity of reasons why people study maths and science. Never met a mathematician whose aesthetic sense wasn’t just as important in what they did as anything else, never met a scientist or mathematician who didn’t have deep utterly unfinancial reasons of curiosity and wonder and enjoyment behind what they decided to study. The likes of Morgan, Cameron, could never understand that. And we should all make it plain that their attempts to divide us between the can-dos and the cant-be-arsed isn’t fooling anyone. They would seek to reduce every single mental endeavour in life down to that which can be proved fiscally productive and profitable. That’s as dangerous to science as it is to art, and reveals a thickheaded obliviousness to the purpose and possibilities of life that’s staggering. Only a cabinet composed of corporate lawyers, business bullies and PR men could endorse such an attitude. Unfortunately that’s exactly what we’ve got.”

“The Top 10 (%) Tech Rules” by Leslie Miley.

“The more I research and talk to people about this, the more I realize that this is the most insidious form of discrimination. It limits wealth, knowledge, and access to power to a very small group. It perpetuates this by restricting access to students and working professionals by creating a system they cannot hope to compete in.

This is usually where the ethos of tech comes in, and I give concrete examples on what could be done, suggestions and data showing how diverse teams perform better. Instead I will turn this back on the leaders in tech who have assembled (by their own proclamations) the smartest workforce on the planet to actually solve this. The solutions themselves are not difficult. What is difficult is the humility, self reflection, and understanding that hardship is not getting an A in Combinatorics and Discrete Probability, but actually getting a CS degree from San Jose State while living at home and taking care of your younger siblings.

At one time, employers in the United States valued that work ethic and overcoming odds. Now, we hold it against people by maintaining a ‘high bar’.”

“From “Open” to Justice #OpenCon2014″ by Audrey Watters.

“I’ve actually come to believe, in the two plus years since I tweeted my critique of “openwashing,” that the answer here isn’t actually a clearer definition of “open”; the answer isn’t more fights for a more rigid adherence to a particular license, good grief no.

I think the answer is more transparency about our politics. I think, in fact, the answer is politics.

We act — at our peril — as if “open” is politically neutral, let alone politically good or progressive. Indeed, we sometimes use the word to stand in place of a politics of participatory democracy. We presume that, because something is “open” that it necessarily contains all the conditions for equality or freedom or justice. We use “open” as though it is free of ideology, ignoring how much “openness,” particularly as it’s used by technologists, is closely intertwined with “meritocracy” — this notion, a false one, that “open” wipes away inequalities, institutions, biases, history, that “open” “levels the playing field.”

If we believe in equality, if we believe in participatory democracy and participatory culture, if we believe in people and progressive social change, if we believe in sustainability in all its environmental and economic and psychological manifestations, then we need to do better than slap that adjective “open” onto our projects and act as though that’s sufficient or — and this is hard, I know — even sound.

I want to make an argument here today that we need to be more explicit about these politics. We can’t pretend like “open” is going to do that work for us. In fact, we need to recognize: it might not be doing that work at all.”

Site Spotlight: Leaving Evidence

“Mia Mingus is a writer, community educator and organizer working for disability justice and transformative justice responses to child sexual abuse. She identifies as a queer physically disabled Korean woman transracial and transnational adoptee, born in Korea, raised in the Caribbean, nurtured in the U.S. South, and now living on the west coast. She works for community, interdependency and home for all of us, not just some of us, and longs for a world where disabled children can live free of violence, with dignity and love. As her work for liberation evolves and deepens, her roots remain firmly planted in ending sexual violence.

Mia is a core-member of the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective (BATJC), a local collective working to build and support transformative justice responses to child sexual abuse that do not rely on the state (i.e. police, prisons, the criminal legal system). She believes in prison abolition and urges all activists to critically and creatively think beyond the non-profit industrial complex.

Mia was recognized by the White House as a Champion of Change, an honor bestowed on Americans doing exemplary things to uplift their communities. Along with 14 other women, Mia was recognized as an Asian and Pacific Islander women’s Champion of Change in observance of Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Mia was a 2005 New Voices Fellow, was named one of the Advocate’s 40 Under 40 in 2010, one of the 30 Most Influential Asian Americans Under 30 in 2009 by Angry Asian Man, one of Campus Pride’s Top 25 LGBT Favorite speakers for their 2009, 2010 and 2011 HOT LISTs, and was listed in Go Magazine’s 2013 100 Women We Love. Mia was honored with the 2008 Creating Change Award (below) by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and a community activist award for her “dedication and steadfast activism” in 2007 by ZAMI in Atlanta, GA.

Mia has spoken at countless campuses, conferences, and events some of which include:

The Gender and Sexuality Plenary for the first United States Social Forum; the National Queer Asian and Pacific Islander Alliance conference; NGLTF’s Creating Change Conference; The Empowering Women of Color Conference; the UCLGBTQIA Western Regional Conference; SisterSong’s Let’s Talk About Sex National Conference; the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s Campus Institute; the Midwest Bisexual, Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, and Ally College Conference; the Regional Sexual and Domestic Violence Primary Prevention Conference; and the Femmes of Color Symposium.”

- Mia Mingus at Leaving Evidence

Weeknotes, 09/11/14

So, that. Posted it on Monday’s deadline & received a text on Friday to confirm receipt, which was creepy because I’d forgotten they had my number. I printed “do not call/contact this number” exclamations & unneeded justifications on the last one; obviously not for this.

I watched a “Shame”-“Sleuth” double bill (having seen the first before) which was intense to say the least. Masculinity, sexuality, responsibility, family. There were a few fascinating acting conversations during theatre piece rehearsals so I’ve been reading more about it, and am watching films with fresh eyes.

I have a Skillshare scholarship! They’re massively giving them away atm (all you need to which is be in some kind of education, fairly counterproductively). “Scholarships will be given out based on financial need and potential for making a creative impact on the world. Eligible students will receive a year of Premium Membership with unlimited video access.” Open to the first 5,000 eligible applicants and it’s open until 31st December, so get on it. Massive course range from generative art to making meatballs.

Otherwise, I had a supported employment meeting/assessment then got a bug. Had already tried to see my GP using the new Doctor First system from Monday-Thursday & totally failed so I’m skeptical. Anything with “®” in the bio that the NHS are implementing seems super dodgy anyway, even if done with the best of intentions. It’s a trial so hopefully (?) it’s not just me that it’s been tricky for & will be re-evaluated. Private profiteering from public ill health is beyond gross.

ABV #43: “Strange friends”, stigma + fantasy

“On Kindness” by Cord Jefferson, via Christian Bowe.

“When I think of my mother’s life up to this point, what I find most revealing is how much of the abuse hurled at her throughout the years came about solely because she showed care and love to the wrong kinds of people. Time and again, it was her openness to others that found her shut off from her friends, her church, her colleagues, even her own family. We seem to reserve a special rage in this world for those whose ability to be unafraid in pursuit of something new extends beyond our own. We begrudge them their strange friends and strange experiences under the guise that we find those things to be dangerous or unclean. But really we resent those people because their courage reminds us of how common and terrified we feel inside. Bravery is a virtue people revere in dead soldiers and then turn to disparage in someone extending her hand to a weirdo.

As a man who’s done it, I can say with certainty that it’s easy to roll down the window and call the person who cut you off on the freeway a “fucking asshole.” It’s easy to revere tradition over people’s feelings. It’s easy to respond to a broken heart with a devastating comment, one that cuts so deeply because you know everything about the person to whom you’re speaking, including the exact thing to say to crush them. It’s easy to be a racist. Tapping into the darker recesses of your lizard brain in order to live a life unencumbered by self-examination or regard for others is simple because it’s reflexive, like throwing a punch, like stealing Monopoly money from the bank when your little sister isn’t looking. Conversely, waking up each day and devoting yourself to being kind, even and especially to people who are not kind to you, is actually incredibly difficult. It is arduous and deliberate work, and the doing of it will at times make you feel small and foolish. What’s more, in the end, it will on its own merits almost never yield a person awards or honors or riches.”

“Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity” by Erving Goffman.

“Persons who have a particular stigma tend to have similar learning experiences regarding their plight, and similar changes in conception of self— a similar “moral career” that is both cause and effect of commitment to a similar sequence of personal adjustments. (The natural history of a category of persons with a stigma must be clearly distinguished from the natural history of the stigma itself— the history of the origins, spread, and decline of the capacity of an attribute to serve as a stigma in a particular society, for example, divorce in American upper middle class society.) One phase of this socialization process is that through which the stigmatized person learns and incorporates the standpoint of the normal, acquiring thereby the identity beliefs of the wider society and a general idea of what it would be like to possess a particular stigma. Another phase is that through which he learns that he possesses a particular stigma and, this time in detail, the consequence of possessing it. The timing and interplay of these two initial phases of the moral career form important patterns, establishing the foundation for later development, and providing a means of distinguishing among the moral careers available to the stigmatized. Four such patterns may be mentioned.

One pattern involves those with an inborn stigma who become socialized into their disadvantageous situation even while they are learning and incorporating the standards against which they fall short. For example, an orphan learns that children naturally and normally have parents, even while he is learning what it means not to have any. After spending the first sixteen years of his life in the institution he can later still feel that he naturally knows how to be a father to his son.

A second pattern derives from the capacity of a family, and to a much lesser extent a local neighborhood, to constitute itself a protective capsule for its young. Within such a capsule a congenitally stigmatized child can be carefully sustained by means of information control. Self-belittling definitions of him are prevented from entering the charmed circle, while broad access is given to other conceptions held in the wider society, ones that lead the encapsulated child to see himself as a fully qualified ordinary human being, of normal identity in terms of such basic matters as age and sex.

The point in the protected individual’s life when the domestic circle can no longer protect him will vary by social class, place of residence, and type of stigma, but in each case will give rise to a moral experience when it occurs. Thus, public school entrance is often reported as the occasion of stigma learning, the experience sometimes coming very precipitously on the first day of school, with taunts, teasing, ostracism, and fights. Interestingly, the more the child is “handicapped” the more likely he is to be sent to a special school for persons of his kind, and the more abruptly he will have to face the view which the public at large takes of him. He will be told that he will have an easier time of it among “his own,” and thus learn that the own he thought he possessed was the wrong one, and that this lesser own is really his. It should be added that where the infantilely stigmatized manages to get through his early school years with some illusions left, the onset of dating or job-getting will often introduce the moment of truth.”

Lewis Mumford on B.F. Skinner from “Towards Tomorrow: A Utopia”, via Adam Curtis.