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Audrey Watters

Federal Money Bought Me This...

2 min read

Cross-posted from Facebook

Tressie McMillan Cottom wrote on Twitter about how she'd benefited from the various federal education programs that Trump wants to cut. The responses are amazing (and her observation, of course, that by cutting these programs the Trump Administration absolutely hopes to target brilliant Black folks like her is dead on).

I can't even begin to write about all the ways in which I've benefited from federal dollars for my education. I mean, I grew up in Wyoming where I had an amazing public education because of the ways in which the state benefits from federal mineral rights payments.

I bet there were a ton of programs that I didn't even realize growing up that I benefited from that received federal dollars -- band, foreign language class, the Wyoming State Reading Council, my school and public libraries...

I know I learned the alphabet from Sesame Street. I learned compassion from Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. I learned science from 3-2-1-Contact. I learned some Spanish from Villa Allegre. Thank you, PBS.

I learn daily to this day from NPR.

As a college student, I was the recipient of a Pell Grant, federal work study, and a Stafford student loan. I paid off all my loans even though the Department of Education turned me over to a collection agency. My tax dollars at work. Thanks, Dept of Ed. I still don't want to see you defunded, even if you fucked me over.

My family has benefited from the free and reduced lunch program, from SNAP, and from WIC. My son attended a Title I school. (And thanks to SSI and Social Security benefits, I was able to barely scrape by as a parent of a young student while my husband was sick and after he died. The Social Security Admin claims they overpaid me, and that I owe them money. My tax dollars at work once again. But I'd never wish that any of us had no social safety net. Only callous assholes say such things. And even worse, those who move to enact it.)

Audrey Watters

Distraction Shaming

1 min read

Cross-posted from Facebook

I grow weary of all this talk that certain things are "distractions" from "the real story."

I believe you can hold many ideas, multiple agitations and angers in your head all at once. You can pay attention to many stories. Really. You can.

See, I was widowed on August 29, 2005. And I was able to deal with the grief and horror of losing a husband on that day AND witness the grief and horror of Hurricane Katrina.

Human suffering knows no bounds. But nor should human compassion.

If you're worried about "distraction," maybe work on your own capacity, on your own empathy. Don't scold others who are attending to the world.

Audrey Watters

Rage and Disappointment

1 min read

Cross-posted from Facebook

I'm from a red state, from a red family, tho I know my politics deviated early. So I'm used to different politics and visions for the future.

But right now I am so angry and so disappointed and so disgusted in every single person I know -- including many I love -- for voting for 🍊👹 I don't even know how to proceed with you.

(Most of you have blocked me on FB. That's how *you* proceed.)

I see the white nationalist hatred that 🍊👹 has unleashed and that you've sanctioned, and I'm not sure how I will ever forgive you. How can I ever sit with you and not talk about this? How can I ever break bread with you if I'm supposed to be silent?

This I know:

I will be here for your children -- your queer kids and your trans kids and your immigrant kids and your brown kids and your alter-abled kids and your adopted kids and your daughters and and all those whose worlds you want to foreclose because *they're* curious and *you're* a small-minded, fearful asshole...

Audrey Watters

DeVos' Higher Ed Agenda

2 min read

Cross-posted to Facebook

I don’t think DeVos is going to get much done when it comes to any K–12 policy agenda that involves vouchers.

But this administration is going to come hard for higher ed. Our President, after all, ran a scam college. One of his closer education advisors is Jerry Falwell Jr, the head of Liberty University. Trump tweeted recently he wanted to withhold funding for UC Berkeley because there were protests against a white nationalist speaker.

The regulations that the Obama Administration put in place to curb the exploitative behaviors of for-profits will likely be rolled back. Coding bootcamps and MOOCs, the new for-profit higher ed, will become eligible for federal financial aid.

It wouldn’t surprise me if there were attempts to privatize student loans. (DeVos was an investor in SoFi. Peter Thiel is an investor in SoFi and in several other student loan startups. Let’s just note here that Edsurge – that dangerous piece of trash – refuses to discuss these startups because "they’re not ed-tech.)

Privatization – through ed-tech – will be heavily, heavily pushed.

It’s going to be a disaster.

The bright side: screwing over college students is not a smart plan – for governing, for re-election. And I don’t just mean those young folks age 18–24-ish who stereotypically do not vote. I mean all of us with student loan debt. I mean vets. I mean parents. I mean exactly the people who flooded the Senate with calls and faxes and letters. People are drowning in student loan debt, and these rich assholes have made it clear they want us to drown.

Resist.

Audrey Watters

Education Secretaries and a Progressive Path Forward

2 min read

Cross-posted to Facebook

Even if Democrats lose this vote – and it’s likely they will – I hope that they have learned a lesson with Betsy DeVos: people care about education. It doesn’t always figure into debates. It doesn’t always poll as well as “the economy” or “national security.” But people care. Public education matters. It matters on a personal level that white, middle class folks in particular relate to. (This, to my mind, explains why people are so enraged about DeVos’s nomination but not about other possible Cabinet members.)

The Democrats have not done much to distinguish themselves from Republicans when it comes to education policy in recent years. Obama’s education legacy is much the same as Bush’s which was much the same as Clinton’s. (Perhaps going after for-profit higher education – a centerpiece of the Obama higher ed policy – was a notable exception.)

Can Democrats recenter themselves so that they are committed to communities, to equity, to justice, to democratic education? That’s their path forward to win. Not some embrace of punitive charter school education or surveillance-oriented ed-tech.

Audrey Watters

Mutually Assured Destruction Again

3 min read

Cross-posed to Facebook

I grew up in Wyoming in the 1970s and 1980s. I grew up fearing that nuclear war was bound to happen. I felt the word “assured” in that phrase “mutually assured destruction” meant our destruction was inevitable. Nuclear war was inevitable.

I also knew that Wyoming had been selected to house the US’s nuclear arsenal because of its small and dispersed population. We residents of Wyoming were expendable (in case of war, in case of accident).

The first nuclear missiles came to Wyoming before I was born. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming was chosen to house the Atlas ballistic missile squadrons in 1960. The Titan squadrons were in neighboring Colorado. The Atlas missiles were replaced by the Minutemen missiles in the 1970s.

That name – a nod to the Minutemen of the Revolutionary War – meant that they could be launched almost instantaneously.

Nuclear holocaust could occur any minute. The world would be destroyed in an instant.

And Wyoming would be a target.

I lived about 180 miles away from the Warren Air Force Base. So I wouldn’t die instantly. I imagined my death would be like those in The Day After who witnessed the mushroom cloud, then suffered from radiation sickness and nuclear fallout and died slowly and painfully. I’d die like Jason Robards’ character. I just knew it.

In 1982, the year before The Day After was broadcast, President Reagan announced 100 new Minutemen missiles would be deployed in Wyoming. Each one of these missiles had ten nuclear warheads; each warhead carried about a third of a megaton of explosive power. (For comparison, the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima had approximately 15 kilotons of explosive power.)

Reagan called the weapon the “Peacekeeper.”

But this wasn’t about peace keeping at all. It was a mad race towards destruction, one that humans have worked hard in the last forty years or so to move away from.

There are still missiles in Wyoming (about 150 Minutemen), contrary to Nate Silver’s droll little map here. There are no winners in nuclear war. There are certainly no winners in my home state. There never were supposed to be.

Audrey Watters

Adding Your Name to a List

2 min read

A comment, left on Facebook, to a post urging professors to add their name to a Watchlist, created by a conservative website, of liberal professors to keep an eye on.

I feel like this is a terrible and dangerous idea, one that reflects a privilege that many scholars do not have.

Having your name and your work pointed out by conservative lists or stories means being doxxed. It means being threatened. Repeatedly. It means having your family threatened. Your parents threatened. Your children threatened. It means having your students threatened. It means having you school threatened. It means having your livelihood threatened. You are emailed constantly with death and rape threats. The phone rings off the hook. Your mailbox is filled with hate-filled letters and postcards.

I realize that the AAUP is supposed to stand up for faculty in these situations. But what really has it done? What has it done to protect adjuncts?

We have seen in recent years, conservatives targeting faculty of color. Particularly women of color. Many of these scholars' departments and schools have failed to back them loudly in public. People have lost their jobs. Most schools have absolutely no plan of how they'll respond to this. Most faculty have zero notion of solidarity.

Instead of adding yourself to a list in some feel-good gesture, gather your department together and come up with concrete steps of how to protect one another -- the most vulnerable among you, including grad students -- when a conservative site targets you. What will the department head or the president say to the media? How will school security respond? How will classes be handled? Who will answer your email? Are there options for counseling? Will academic freedom and research actually be protected?

This is no joking matter. It isn't a badge of honor to be on a list like this. It's a fucking nightmare.

Audrey Watters

Revoking Citizenship

2 min read

Cross-posted to Facebook

I don’t believe Trump’s tweets – even when they seem unhinged – are a “distraction.” And that’s even if he very much hopes you talk about the tweet rather than whatever latest scandal is making headlines. I do believe that we can pay attention to more than one thing and be horrified about more than one thing and take action against more than one thing at once.

Take today’s flag-burning tweet, for example.

It’s important – and horrific – because of his obvious disregard for the First Amendment.

But it’s important too because of Trump’s threat to revoke citizenship for those who burn flags. As it stands, citizenship is guaranteed to all who are born in the US under the 14th Amendment. There is no clause therein for the revocation of citizenship.

“The 14th Amendment guarantees he can’t do this,” I’ve seen several people say today in response to Trump’s flag-burning tweet.

But the 14th Amendment is under attack already by Trump. He, along with many on the right, want to get rid of birthright citizenship, something that, as a matter of practice, the government believes is granted by that very amendment. This is one of many policies the right has sought to adopt, they claim, in order to curb illegal immigration. Trump believes that to change this practice would not require a constitutional amendment – just a law that clarified who was actually eligible for citizenship.

When Trump talks about revoking citizenship, we shouldn’t scoff. He has already expressed interest in pursuing precisely this idea…

Audrey Watters

Feeding Facebook

2 min read

Cross-posted on Facebook, and I can't even believe I have to tell grown-ass people this.

Facebook has become a key vehicle for spreading misinformation. Please do not contribute to this. If nothing else, as we’ve seen this week, misinformation serves to undermine democracy.

BEFORE YOU CLICK “SHARE,” READ THE ARTICLE. Facebook doesn’t want you to leave its site. It gives you a headline and a pretty picture. But click and read the article. Does the article content match the headline? Do you need to share the article with a bit of clarification or explanation? What’s the date on the article? (Friends don’t let friends let Chinua Achebe die again. Let’s have that be a goal for 2017.)

BEFORE YOU CLICK “SHARE,” NOTICE THE SOURCE. Look at the domain name. We’re pretty good at identifying well-known media companies, and we think we understand their biases. I’m not saying “don’t share biased information.” My complaint here isn’t about liberal news sites or conservative ones. It’s about fake news. It’s about propaganda. (RT, remember, is funded by the Russian government.) Many new news sites, created specifically for Facebook-sharing, specialize in misinformation. (See this recent Buzzfeed story, for starters: https://www.buzzfeed.com/craigsilverman/partisan-fb-pages-analysis.) Facebook fuels this. It spreads it. It does so algorithmically. And every time you share one of these stories, you’re fueling this misinformation too. What sorts of other stories does this site have? If there are more than two stories about the Illuminati or aliens, maybe you should think twice about sharing an article from that site. Maybe? If nothing else, find another more reliable site and share an article from there instead.

BEFORE YOU CLICK “SHARE,” DO A CURSORY SEARCH TO SEE IF, INDEED, THE CLAIMS ARE VERIFIABLE. What sorts of expertise is being claimed? By whom? Snopes.com is a start. There’s also Factcheck.org. You might want to consider also checking the Southern Poverty Law Center to see if what you’re sharing is connected to a hate group (https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/groups). I can’t even believe I have to tell you this. Jesus, people. Pull your shit together.

Audrey Watters

100 Minutes, Part 2

5 min read

What is the future of teaching and learning? Part 2 of my contribution to EDU8213.

I want to respond to something that Liz said about our focus on computers as calculating. She said she preferred to see them as communication machines, and I do think that an emphasis on communication rather than calculation could help us to think about and to really foster those pedagogical practices that recognize and value affect not just those practices that privilege quantification.

But I’m not sure that saying that computers as not merely calculating machines gets us out of the quandary of our “computational culture.” The ideological underpinnings of computers coincide with this longstanding privileging in Western culture of rationality. For a couple of centuries now, modern societies have been built on the belief that more rationality and more technology and more capital are the solutions to all the problems we face.

This makes it challenging, I think, to talk about “the future of teaching and learning” without seeing “teaching and learning” as a problem to be solved. And specifically about a problem to be solved with more data, more machines, more analytics.

This really stands in stark opposition to affect. Reason and rationality versus emotion – we know that story. The former privileged as the realm of men. Men of science. The latter scorned as the realm of women. Weak. Soft.

A sidenote: it’s so ironic that the women who worked in the field of pre- or proto-computing were called “computers” and “calculators.” But once the work became mechanized, computerized, they were largely ousted from the field and their contributions erased.

In all things, all tasks, all jobs, women are expected to perform affective labor – caring, listening, smiling, reassuring, comforting, supporting. This work is not valued; often it is unpaid. But affective labor has become a core part of the teaching profession – even though it is, no doubt, “inefficient.” It is what we expect –stereotypically, perhaps – teachers to do. (We can debate, I think, if it’s what we reward professors for doing. We can interrogate too whether all students receive care and support; some get “no excuses,” depending on race and class.)

What happens to affective teaching labor when it runs up against machines, against robots, against automation? Politically. Economically. Culturally. I think most of us would admit that even the tasks that education technology purports to now be able to automate – tutoring, testing, grading – are shot through with emotion when done by humans, or at least when done by a person who’s supposed to have a caring, supportive relationship with their students. Grading essays isn’t necessarily burdensome because it’s menial, for example; grading essays is burdensome because it is affective labor; it is emotionally and intellectually exhausting.

This is part of our conundrum, and again I think this is a deep cultural conundrum that we cannot just wave away by calling computers “communication machines”: teaching labor is affective not simply intellectual. Affective labor is not valued. Intellectual labor is valued in research. It is viewed as rational and reasonable. But at both the K–12 and college level, teaching is often seen as menial, routine, and as such replaceable by machine. Intelligent machines will soon handle the task of cultivating human intellect, or so we’re told. And because we already privilege a certain kind of intellect as rational and reasonable, I think culturally we are sort of prepped for intelligent machines handling the tasks of research and decision-making.

Artificial intelligence sees the human mind as a computer. This is a powerful metaphor that underscores the whole field. Intelligence is rational, so they say. It is about calculation. It is mechanical. It is replicable. It is measurable. Think of all the words in artificial intelligence language that are drawn from human’s mental capacities: memory. learning. The benefit of artificial intelligence, so we’re told, is that it can surpass the capabilities of humans. It can be faster. It can store more data. It can process more data. It is computational.

What does it mean for the future of teaching and learning if – culturally – we are being told that the future of intelligence is machine intelligence?

Where does affect fit into this?

Rather than finding that machines are become more intelligent, I fear we will find that humans are becoming more machine-like. But if we bury affect, I do wonder – and one only need look at this US Presidential election for an example – what happens when we have these emotional outbursts. Anxiety. Irrationality.

I think I said in the last recording that I often turn to Antonio Gramsci: “I am a pessimist because of intelligence but an optimist because of will.”

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about irrationality and the Internet, about what seems to be an embrace of conspiracy theories, factlessness, a rejection of expertise. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more pessimistic about the Internet’s potential for participatory democracy or for networked learning before. “Don’t read newspapers,” Trump told his supporters recently. “Read the Internet.” As such, the Internet feels like a weapon of war – and war has always relied on calculation, hasn’t it – a weapon of hate – there’s the affect that culturally we seem to be embracing right now.