Inventing Illegality

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Image Credit: May Day March

A new week, a new round of policies that endanger more than than they assist.

Through the debates that will rightly follow Trump’s latest round of immigration directives, notice who chooses to employ the term illegal vs. undocumented. And if that distinction doesn’t yet set your ears aflame, here’s one of the many reasons it should.

Earlier this fall, Emmy Award-winning journalist Maria Hinojosa explained that you can identify an individual as having broken a law, but “what you cannot do is to label the person illegal.” Hinojosa continued,

“The reason why I say this, is not because I learned it from some radical Latino or Latina studies professor when I was a college student. I learned it from Elie Wiesel, who survived the Holocaust, who said, ‘You know what? The first thing they did was that they declared the Jews to be an illegal people.’ And that’s what we’re talking about at this point.” Continue reading

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The But/And Politics of “Moving Forward”

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Image credit: Ben Wikler

I deeply admire you, Senator Elizabeth Warren, which is why I was looking to you for answers last week.

“Donald Trump ran a campaign that started with racial attacks and then rode the escalator down. Millions of Americans – African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, LGBT Americans, women – have every right to be deeply worried. But there are many millions of people who did not vote for Donald Trump because of the bigotry and hate that fueled his campaign rallies…. They voted for him out of frustration and anger—and also out of hope that he would bring change to an economy and a government that doesn’t work for them.”

What you said is true. We know all Trump supporters aren’t necessarily hateful. We also know that many other voters are rightfully afraid. However, it was your use of one word that makes this such a disappointment.

You said “but.”

Yes, Senator Warren, millions of Americans—particularly minoritized populations—do have every right to be deeply worried.

Full stop.

It’s just that you didn’t stop there. You didn’t legitimize that truth by letting it stand.

You said “but.”

The word “but” is used to pivot a sentence away from one idea and onto another. The word functions to contradict, qualify, or lessen the clause that precedes it. 

So your sentence took the focus off of the fear, worry, and physical danger that faces so many right now, and put it elsewhere.

That focus, Senator Warren, needed to stay right where it was.

Now is not the time for the word “but.” It’s time to realize we can hold two ideas in our head at the same time.

It’s a time for the word AND. Continue reading

When Public Money Goes Private: Charter Schools, Privatization, & Pipelines

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Image Credit: Rob Pongsajapan

In a few weeks, Massachusetts will vote on lifting the cap on its number of charter schools. Naturally, this has led to a feud rivaling Shakespeare’s Montagues and Capulets—minus the star crossed lovers who will admit to liking someone from the other side.

Wherever you live, you’ve likely come across charter school debates. You’ve probably even heard phrases like corporate interests, privatization, and for-profit schools thrown around. And if you’re anything like me, you’ve scratched your head as to what these phrases actually mean.

Recently, a friend of mine asked, Does anyone actually understand the model behind the “for profit” charter schools? Aren’t publicly funded schools non-profit by nature? How are charter schools creating a revenue stream?

My questions exactly….

Charter schools don’t charge tuition, so it’s easy to think they wouldn’t create any “profit” system anyone would be interested in.

But that’s where we’d be wrong.

When Public Money Goes Private

Before anyone gets excited, I’m not going to talk about whether individual charter schools are good/bad/amazing/evil/etc. For that argument, please see every other article about charter schools ever. Here, I hope to explore the relationship of charter schools to profit, land, and privatization.  Continue reading

Political Correctness and the “War on Free Speech”

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Image Credit: Rebecca Barray, via Flickr

Political Diatribe. Trigger warnings. Microaggressions. Victimhood culture.

Being politically correct, or “PC,” has been all over the media this year. Some say this is the mark of a more conscientious and inclusive society, while others say we’ve gotten “too sensitive.” According to one recent presidential candidate, political correctness is literally “killing people.”

But what does being PC even mean? Merriam-Webster will tell you it’s about avoiding language “perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against,” which all sounds well and good. So why the dramatic outcry over a basic politeness virtue we teach kindergarteners every day?

The backlash usually arises when someone is called out for not being PC. In general, no one likes to have their language corrected. If someone points out a mistake in grammar or pronunciation (cue Chris discovering there’s no “x” in espresso), we’re briefly embarrassed, but we move past it. But if someone gets called out for being “un-PC,” prepare for words to fly.

So what is it that makes this correction strike so much deeper? Clearly, it’s something that goes beyond the words or “corrections” themselves to tap into dynamics of language and power. Continue reading

‘Refugee’ is a Not a Name; It’s Something Done to You. 

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As thousands risk their lives to flee their homes in what has come to be known as “Europe’s Migrant Crisis” the Al Jazeera News Network announced that it will no longer use the term migrant, stating that,

“The umbrella term migrant is no longer fit for purpose when it comes to describing the horror unfolding in the Mediterranean. It has evolved from its dictionary definitions into a tool that dehumanises and distances….”

Instead, Al Jazeera argues, the term refugee better describes the reality of those who are fleeing unlivable conditions for a chance at – not just a better life – but for many, a chance to live at all.

I’ve argued before that naming is important, and Al Jazeera is right to make this consideration. However, in the midst of the refugee vs. migrant terminology debate, I still wonder if either word captures the reality of the situation. 

Both migrant and refugee refer to states of being. Just like fireman or high-school graduate, these terms indicate something you are. When used in the context of this crisis, both words deceptively imply something permanent, even preexisting – as if some people just are, and always have been refugees

Refugee conjures up images of the  dispossessed, struggling in overpopulated camps or at blocked borders. And while these images are often accurate depictions of the present reality, the term does not conjure up images of the stable lives many of these individuals once had – stable lives that were interrupted. Continue reading

When is a Terrorist Not Called a Terrorist?

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“I just think he was one of these whacked out kids. I don’t think it’s anything broader than that… It’s about a young man who is obviously twisted.”

“This man, in my view, should be designated as a potential enemy combatant and we should be allowed to question him for intelligence gathering purposes to find out about future attacks and terrorist organizations that… he has knowledge of. ”

As Judd Legum of Think Progress pointed out, both quotes come from the same U.S. senator in reaction to the perpetrators of two separate national tragedies.

Both perpetrators were American citizens. Both were barely beyond their teenage years. One, however, is immediately labeled a terrorist. The other, “just one of these whacked out kids.”

One of the quotes refers to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev of the Boston Marathon Bombing, and the other to Dylann Roof, the A.M.E. Church gunman in Charleston. But off course, no one needs to tell you which quote is which. Continue reading

Why Don’t Policymakers Read Research? Actually, They Do: An Interview

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“Why don’t policymakers read educational research?”

This is a question I hear a lot in academic circles. In fact, bemoaning this fact on Twitter led me to a fabulous conversation with Shree Chauhan—who told me that, in her experience working with policymakers, they do read educational research and want to read more, and that we in academia could make that much easier to do.

Chauhan (see full bio below) is an education entrepreneur who also manages education and health policy for a national civil rights organization. She has worked in the federal education policy arena for nearly a decade and was kind enough to answer some questions for me based on her experiences. Our conversation, summarized below, highlighted the need to bridge gaps between the worlds of academia, policy, and advocacy organizations.

1. How do we get policymakers to read academic research?

Chauhan points out that, as well all know, policymakers are busy, busy, busy, so the more concisely we can sum up our work, the better.

“In a congressional office, any staff member is dealing with 7 or 8 issues, with education being one of 10 big things that are weedy and difficult. Research is usually written using jargon-filled language that many people don’t understand. If you bring in a 40 to 50 page paper, most may not be able to consume it. So go deep with your research and know exactly what you’re doing, but be able to break it down in a page… even find a good graphic designer to actually make it visually appealing and easy to understand.”

2. What kind of research do policymakers find most convincing and useful? 

I’d assumed folks on Capitol Hill would prefer something with lots of of numbers, graphs, and data. While Chauhan affirms that numbers are important, she urges us not to forget the human side of politics as well: Continue reading