Entries Tagged 'Education' ↓

Summer 2021 thoughts from North Texas

Note: In 2021, I’m posting a new entry to my blog every weekend or so. This is number 28 of 52; omg, the year’s more than halfway done.

The color photo shows a tray on a table at a Whataburger fast food chain store in Fort Worth, Texas. On the tray sit a large vanilla milkshake (over 900 calories) and a triple meat Whataburger (over 1000 calories). They look disgusting.
Fort Worth, TX, summed up? I took the Whataburger pic this weekend, but didn’t actually eat the “triple meat” burger or drink the large vanilla shake

I was travelling through central Washington state and northeast Oregon for a few weeks earlier this summer — now, in mid-July, I’m visiting my hometown of Fort Worth, Texas for not quite half a month. Besides seeing family and friends, I’m here to do research of a personal sort. Yet after six years as a Seattle resident, I can’t help noticing several things about the Dallas / Fort Worth metroplex, some bad, some good. I’ll share those observations. I was going to then provide news blasts about the current situations in Cuba, Haiti, and Germany, but this entry simply grew too long, and I gotta do some other stuff. Hopefully next week I’ll take on news blasts for those three countries. I’m an untimely fellow.

Bad stuff about North Texas

Graphic of SimCity game. Would you want to live here? Source.

Gridlock) Aside from traffic jams and the Lone Star State’s uniquely deregulated, isolated power grid — meaning during disastrous outages (including this year), Texas, its leaders boasting with pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps lies, cannot, unlike all other 47 contiguous states, receive energy sent as assistance from beyond its borders; the privatized electric system has yet to be fixed or replaced, even though lawmakers knew of its vulnerabilities: they chose to serve the power companies instead — I want to talk about another type of Texan gridlock. In Seattle, multitudinous fairy-tale roads wind up hills, passing idiosyncratic houses with quirky paint jobs, and in the distance are bridges, sailboats, mountains. Many of my Seattleite friends have never lived anywhere else, nor have they ever been to the South. Comparing my place of birth with the Emerald City’s highly commercial Northgate neighborhood (an exception to the usual Seattle beauty), I tell them North Texas is primarily composed of tract houses, billboards, strip malls, fast food joints, and car dealerships. That truth was really evident from the sky as my flight descended toward DFW Airport. During landing, I was reading the first chapter in a thought-provoking collection of essays from 2006, edited by Alvin M. Josephy, Jr.: Lewis and Clark Through Indian Eyes. It’s research for my fiction project set at least partially in northeast Oregon and 2036, because all time connects, and the colonial histories of NE Oregon often begin by trumpeting the settlers Lewis and Clark, whose expedition, commissioned by slaveowner Thomas Jefferson, journeyed, between 1803 and 1806, from Pittsburgh to the Pacific Northwest coast and back to St. Louis, thanks to aid from the enslaved, pregnant, and raped Sacagawea, of the Shoshoni and aged merely fourteen to sixteen years or so at the time of Lewis and Clark’s wrongly idolized quest. That’s not the version you heard in school, right? In the United States we aren’t taught the truth that Jefferson’s top goal for the expedition was establishing evermore commerce, nor that the explorers called the indigenous peoples Jefferson’s “children,” an insult that should call to mind Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha. Rivers also have hidden truths… In his essay Frenchmen, Bears, and Sandbars, in the Lewis and Clark Through Indian Eyes collection, Vine Deloria Jr. discusses how “Rivers do not, as a rule, create long straight embankments.” Indeed, rivers move over time, something a character mentions early in Cynthia Shearer’s excellent 2004 novel The Celestial Jukebox: “What you looking at there used to be the Mississippi River. Long time ago the river moved itself over […] River just change its mind and move sometime.” As the virtual flight attendants on the seatback televisions were politely ordering me to stow my tray table in the upright position, Deloria Jr. was telling me how Lewis and Clark misinterpreted Missouri River sandbar deposits, insisting with Enlightenment rationality that measurable straight lines must exist to explain the deposits as human-made, when actually they were natural phenomena. Lewis and Clark didn’t understand how chaotic rivers and Nature are. I glanced out the airplane window, and below, behold, North Texas, designed and coerced into “rationality” by long straight lines everywhere. Tract houses separated by long straight congested roads. Like some Cartesian grid Texans are all locked into. The pain caused by living apart from Nature should not be underestimated, even if Texan natives aren’t aware of it, as I wasn’t for a long time, though toward the end of my residency in Texas (I left at the end of 2015), I was frequently going to parks for just that reason. It makes me think of the ideology implicit in the 1991 Super Nintendo game SimCity, which I spent countless hours playing as a kid.

Screenshot of video showing tract housing in Fort Worth. Source.
Graphic of SimCity residential donuts. More industrial zones needed, but why? Image source.

A well-known strategy among SimCity gamers is to create “donut” neighborhoods: squares imposed on the land, usually in nine-by-nine arrangements, with train tracks or roads boxing them in, and a park in the middle to appease the unhappy residents. In SimCity, players are rewarded for engineering such supposedly rational cities. In real urban life, rivers are forced to flow “logically” in straight lines, like trees in some parks, lined up in discrete pots. As a video game-playing kid, I didn’t quite understand that these efficiency setups clash with harmonious ways of living with land, though I did play in undeveloped lots regularly, needing that. To be honest, not until very recently did I put two and two together, comparing rivers in rural areas with rivers in urban places, although a 2019 Seattle Public Library exhibit did briefly puncture my conventional consciousness on the subject. In Fort Worth, I grew up walking and jogging on the sidewalks by the Trinity River, and just assumed the embankments were naturally steep and unchanging, shaped conveniently for urban planners to impose at a moment’s notice, above either edge, unchanging sidewalks…

Despite Seattle’s beauty, the same story plays out there, too. Unfortunately I haven’t read it yet, but BJ Cummings’ 2020 book The River That Made Seattle: A Human and Natural History of the Duwamish looks amazing from this interview and this review. The book talks about how without displacing Salish indigenous peoples and trashing and forcibly diverting the Duwamish River, the city of Seattle as we know it wouldn’t exist. There would be no city forums for identitarians to debate which sect should get paid more wages for helping corporations drive us extinct. And in contrast to the dolla dolla bill, let’s-go-extinct-ASAP civilization of biz, which argues each individual is an autonomous sole proprietor capable of not caring what anyone else thinks, and worthy of paralyzing shame for any mistake actually caused by corporate destruction, I hope my discussion of rivers and gridlock ⁠— not to mention what volcano Mount Rainier and the Cascadia Subduction Zone might have to say — helps to show how people are in fact creatures of their environments, which of course doesn’t remove each individual’s responsibility to fight for something better. It’s interesting, too, how fiction-writing instructors typically badger writers into obsessing over their supposedly autonomous characters’ ex nihilo motivations, rather than learning about the settings they’re in: for instance, how does the local power grid, or train track, or river characterize a protagonist, or for that matter, a protagonist’s grandparents or neighbors? The so-called “Golden Age” of science fiction in the 1950s presented familyless protagonists singlehandedly subduing the universe; but in the ’90s, science fiction writer Octavia Butler presented characters with extended families walking fiery highways as refugees, an entirely different take on life.

Photo by me this weekend beside wonderful Trinity River in Ft. Worth

Coronavirus confusions) From observation, I guesstimate that ten percent, or fewer, of North Texans are masking. As of 16 July ’21, for Texans ages 18 and up, only 53.9% are fully vaccinated and only about 62.6% are partly vaccinated (one jab of a two-jab series). By way of comparison, in King County, home of Seattle, as of the same date and for ages 16 and up, 75% of residents are fully vaccinated, and 80.7% of residents are partly vaccinated. That’s all according to public health data managed by regional government entities. As for masking, given my observations a few weeks ago, in the Seattle areas that might be described as very progressive or Green Party-ish politically, for instance, inside co-ops selling organic foods, I’d guesstimate that indoors, 90+% of people are masking. How this came to be so politicized, I’ll address in a moment.

This does not look good. Source: John Hopkins Univ COVID-19 map.

A disproportionately high number of those masking in North Texas are individuals categorized on bureaucratic paperwork as minorities (and then identitarian activists tell us we must all heed our opponents’ paperwork). Sometimes those groups tend to have less resources to pay for healthcare yet simultaneously tend to sometimes have more empathy and altruism, gifts of being slotted into negative image roles (differing from the idealized images, you know, white businessmen in suits and the like, who tend to live in grandiose, puffed-up headspaces). Because some of the people I’m visiting indoors are elderly, I wore a high-quality mask the whole time, and received mockery for it. In crowded North Texas restaurants, diners aren’t masking whatsoever. The US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that’s fine if you’re vaccinated; the UN-based World Health Organization (WHO) disagrees, telling even vaccinated people to mask, since they might be asymptomatic carriers — however, growing evidence suggests those vaccinated with Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna are far less likely to be asymptomatic carriers; studies are underway in this regard for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — and in rare instances, vaccinated people can still become diseased with COVID-19 (a “breakthrough” case), including as a sufferer of Long COVID. Adding to everyone’s confusion, the CDC stopped actively tracking all breakthrough cases, and now tracks only breakthrough cases resulting in hospitalization or death. Meanwhile, the Delta variant of the virus, a more contagious mutation that grows faster inside people’s respiratory tracts than the original, currently accounts for at least a fifth of all United States cases, and COVID-19 is now on the rise in every US state; Los Angeles County, the most populous county in the country, just resumed mandating masks. Getting two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, as I did in March, is effective in protecting against the Delta mutation (though less effective than against the original novel coronavirus), so that’s the basis on which I’m travelling (while masking, handwashing, physically distancing, and meeting only outside insofar as possible), plus the greatly decreased likelihood of a person with an mRNA vaccination being an asymptomatic carrier, something a Harvard-trained doctor I know puts his trust in. Apparently the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines similarly protect decently, though not perfectly, against Delta. Perhaps surprisingly, nobody on my flight to Texas (I’ve yet to fly back to Seattle) caused any trouble; each passenger masked as required without incident. Based on this 2018 study suggesting window seat airline passengers are least likely to catch respiratory illnesses, I got window seats. But SNAFUs (Situation Normal: All Fucked Up) prevented me from getting tested knowledgeably, namely not receiving a timely response back from my primary care physician regarding how vaccination affects COVID-19 tests, likely because her underling completely didn’t answer my question. I asked something like: “How does being vaccinated, versus unvaccinated, affect COVID-19 serology and PCR test results?” And they replied something like, “Are you wondering what type of test you should get?” And it’s like, answer my question or link me to an answer! I’ve taken to replying to such responses, or front-loading my questions with, “If you don’t know the answer, it’s okay to just say that,” and I find interlocuters usually react better. Instead of them trying to extract my motivations. Really, I should have figured out about the testing myself. But testing-while-vaccinated is another example of coronavirus confusions people are enduring. I’ve shown zero symptoms, not even mild ones, since the pandemic began; in fact, I haven’t had any sort of respiratory illness in years and years, probably owing in part to a vegan/glutenfree and low-sugar diet as well as frequent cardiovascular exercise and better sleep than in my past. That’s not to brag; it’s to link you to experience and info that might help. Best I can figure from the CDC in July ’21, for vaccinated people, serology tests to detect past infections no longer work (due to confounding with the vaccine-produced antibodies), but swab tests to detect current presence of the virus do still work. I’d like to get that done prior to spending extensive time with (vaccinated) elderly people indoors, just to be on the safe side; will see how that goes in North Texas. Finally, as for all this being politicized, let’s not forget in February 2020, the Jeffrey Epstein associate and Putin asset, former and probably forthcoming US president Donald Trump called coronavirus a “hoax” (as he calls global warming a “hoax”), and his administration punished US Health and Human Services Department whistleblower Dr Rick A. Bright for Bright’s insisting “on scientifically-vetted proposals” to overcome the pandemic and for pushing “for a more aggressive agency response to COVID-19.” At least two-thirds of a million people dead of coronavirus in the United States since the pandemic started, a decrease in population handy for the oligarchs who, thanks to advanced technology, no longer need as many toiling masses. Locking down hard everywhere for just 100 days would end coronavirus; that’s feasible (see New Zealand’s zero-COVID approach), yet the authorities in the US and elsewhere apparently do what they can to ensure COVID-19 continues, a new permanent paradigm of endless variants, a bit like 9/11 introduced a new permanent paradigm, terrorists as military targets instead of law enforcement suspects and everyone a potential terrorist. Well, maybe the forthcoming University of Washington vaccine will help. Or maybe people will read about coronaviruses prior to 2020 so that they understand masking against respiratory illnesses is a sensible precaution commonly done elsewhere for decades — not tyranny. Next thing you know, libertarians will whine about having their freedumb right to litter taken. I do think those badgering vaccine-hesitant people generally need to have better appreciation for why so many are correctly suspicious of conventional science and conventional medicine, though quacks exist in the alternative science/medicine realm as well, see “the disinformation dozen” spreading fear, uncertainty, doubt, and denial around the coronavirus vaccines. As the last few years have especially shown, propping up subject matter celebs like Neil deGrasse Tyson or whomever, conventional or alternative, and then trying to cheerlead them into winning an advertising blitz on behalf of vaccines or whatever else, is insufficient; having a propagandized public is harmful, whereas having a public capable of self-education is helpful. That requires overhauling our information system.

The color photo shows a grassy residental lawn with a Trump 2024 sign and US flags.
Pic I took this weekend of a Fort Worth lawn near Camp Bowie

The Decline of North Texas Civilization) I’ve been in Fort Worth a full week, and I get a general sense of exhaustion and torpor from Texans. I’m also witnessing little things falling apart. It’s just an anecdotal observation, but the motel I’m staying in — the same as when I last visited two years ago — is even more run-down this time around. When I arrived, the bed lacked pillows, the bathroom lacked towels, and various objects were broken. I’m not the kind of picky person who makes a fuss over such minutiae; the point is merely that North Texas appears to be slowly breaking down. The world has moved on, as those Stephen King Gunslinger books say. I feel tired and lazy, too, which I think is probably a partial result of the overall lower quality of life here, decreases in things like water quality, relative to Seattle. Although that could be my imagination, or more about the odd feelings I’m experiencing around being back here. Except for family member funerals possibly, I don’t think I’ll return to Texas any after this, which is a big change to accept internally. I’m finding the research information I was looking for, and long-ago acquaintances don’t want to meet face to face, probably because deep down, we both know we’re no longer actually friends with a fun energetic connection, or even shared values and interests, beyond fairly superficial things like Star Trek … so that makes sense. I was just curious how their lives have played out, and if they have anything new and exciting to say. Despite half the region now differing — a change I’ll get to below — at least half this region will still likely celebrate the probable return of a Donald Trump presidency, howling once again their bloodthirsty approval for his ideas like bombing accused terrorists’ innocent civilian family members. I hope someday even more people emphatically and consistently insist loudly that adopting If they aren’t paying your bills, then fuck ’em as a civilization-wide strategy has negative consequences for all.

Good stuff about North Texas

Pic I took this weekend of the Boulevard of Greens storefront near where Camp Bowie and I-30 cross

Refuge) Prior to my leaving for the Pacific Northwest at the end of 2015, Fort Worth had only one dedicated vegan restaurant, the noteworthy Spiral Diner on Magnolia Avenue in the Near Southside neighborhood. That neighborhood has continued to develop admirably since I lived here, although I don’t know what the unhappy underbelly might be. Of course, besides Spiral Diner, restaurants for pho and thai and other non-USian (“ethnic”) vegan-friendly food have existed in North Texas for a long time, I think particularly in Arlington (where, an elderly Republican in Fort Worth, panicking from a diet of FOX News, once told me, non-white terrorists are assuredly lurking and soon coming to get us). But now, in 2021, there are more, specifically vegan restaurants even here in Cowtown. There’s Belently’s Love on Bluebonnet Circle, which I haven’t tried yet, serving TexMex. There’s also the amazing Boulevard of Greens, where everything is vegan and gluten-free. They offer a number of smoothies, juices, bowls (including with quinoa and broccoli!), and other invigorating items. Boulevard of Greens really has shifted my visit from miserable to manageable.

It also deserves mentioning that North Texas, especially Fort Worth, has a lot of art museums and other cultural institutions. There’s the Modern Art Museum, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, and the Kimball Art Museum. I’ll probably go see this exhibition at the Amon Carter of work by a photographer born in Saigon during the Vietnam War. The perfectionism of the classical music world can be misery- and stress-inducing, but the performances associated with the Fort Worth-based Van Cliburn Foundation can still be beautiful. And besides art, North Texas has plenty of parks. There’s a once frequent, but now rare due to that “rationally imposed” urban development, ecosystem in Arlington, a bog with unusual plants and animals, that I went to years ago. And of course, the excellent Fort Worth Botanic Garden, where I’ve gone many times. More than a decade ago, I wrote a blog post about a specific tree there, the biggest Southern Magnolia in DFW!

Before the pandemic at least, there were also multiple enjoyable bars/nightclubs with live rock music, that I used to frequent. I can’t find it in me to look up if there are any outdoor shows by musicians I once knew. Guess I just don’t relate to Texas anymore. Reminds me of the song “I’m Not From Here” by the great James McMurtry, himself born in Fort Worth: “Hit my home town a couple years back / Hard to say just how it felt / But it looked like so many towns I might’ve been through on my way to somewhere else […] We can’t help it / We just keep moving / It’s been that way since long ago / Since the Stone Age, chasing the great herds / We mostly go where we have to go.”

Wait, what?) Tarrant County, home of Fort Worth, has long been one of the reddest counties in one of the reddest states, Texas. But in the 2020 presidential election, Tarrant County went blue for Biden. Unfortunately, discussions of elections are dependent — a point still not often acknowledged — on secret, corporate, closed-source computerized vote-tallying. Who counted your vote, name the person! Where was your vote counted, go to the place! Can’t answer those, can you? Yet in the past in the United States, and in the present in Australia and elsewhere, people use(d) handmarked paper ballots, and the ballots were/are counted publicly, observably. Here’s a book and another book on the topic, worth reading. Not to mention the problems with democracy altogether (including direct, representative, and liquid): propagandizing hundreds of millions of people to come to an oversimplified consensus on things that don’t affect them and that they don’t know about, among other troubles. Anyway, I digressed. It’s just interesting to see my hometown turning blue for the first time in my life, if turning blue it indeed has. How can a person begin to appreciate perspectives considered very far-out, like anarchism, if they’re terrified of, or get screamed at or worse for, something as mild as voting for a Democrat? It takes a lot of strength to be a dissident. Maybe the reportedly Biden-blue Tarrant County heralds a change for the better for North Texas.

The Big Wheels, and Dignity) Since there’s little to no public transit in North Texas, I had to book a rental car for my trip. I reserved a polite, Seattle-sized compact vehicle (i.e., very small) and a GPS unit, one of those add-on devices that suction-cups to the front of the automobile. (Yes, I know most people just use their smartphones.) When I arrived, of course the rental car company had overbooked to protect itself against cancellations, so with few cancellations, there were no GPS units available. (And the capitalist Texans explain to each under how “rational” and “Enlightened” this system is, versus the depositories in Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1974 novel The Dispossessed, where nobody owns non-personal items, so if you want an object, just go grab one from the nearby depository, maintained by people who like to do that sort of thing and receive social approval for it.) With no add-on GPS units, the Alamo rental car company (Forget the Alamo, lol) asked me if I was okay with a car that had built-in GPS. I said yes. Except the only vehicle they had with built-in GPS was a Nissan Armada! It’s a full-size, Texas-sized SUV so huge it makes Suburbans and Hummers look tiny. I actually had trouble in a parking garage because the Armada almost hit the ceiling, and almost couldn’t squeeze through the entry lanes, you know with the lowered gate where you take your ticket. In US schools, you hear the word “armada” in connection with the Spanish Armada, a fleet which in battle with the British was completely destroyed! Maybe the Nissan marketers figured no one would remember such a trivial detail as the armada sinking. Once I figured out how to adapt my driving for the Armada — it brakes more slowly than a smaller car, for instance — I started having a hilarious time driving this ridiculous battleship, as a lone guy without a family to pack the air-conditioned seats. All other passenger cars, tiny next to my vehicle, fearfully defer to the surprisingly fast Armada, so I can easily change lanes at whim, king of the road in my big wheels. Guilty pleasure. More seriously, the Armada has Sirius XM satellite radio, enabling me to listen to — wait for it — Ozzy’s Boneyard. A few days ago, the channel/station/whatever was playing an interview with Ross Halfin. The rock photographer told a story about how, in short, a Led Zeppelin member (I forget which) disrespected him in person. Halfin said that after that, he decided never to let anyone else diss him similarly again; the radio hosts murmured their approval. What strikes me about this otherwise mundane conversation is that Halfin didn’t specify the means-whereby, how, he’d ensure others wouldn’t disrespect him — and the hosts didn’t ask. What actions does Halfin take when someone tries to disrespect him in person? What words does he say, and how does he say them? I mean, he (or most anyone) could say something like, Hey fuck you, I don’t take this kind of shit, a string of words that doesn’t exactly require a Ph.D. in Rhetoric to formulate (in fact, most intelligentsia I meet are completely clueless how to handle confrontational situations, stuck abstracting in their ivory towers). While bullies usually back down, what do you do if the bully doesn’t back down? What if it comes to fisticuffs, and what if you’re concerned about getting indicted for assault afterward? I’ve never seen a flowchart for this sort of thing, how to protect one’s dignity, the details. I think it’s extremely important and very overlooked. Insults have a way of piling up over the years, breaking down a person who’s never learned how to respond to them skillfully and quickly, making the person fall prey to internalized oppression and making the person suffer all sorts of health and psychological/sociological problems. Didn’t the civil rights movement in the ’60s address this? What if you don’t want to do a strictly nonviolence-only approach, perhaps because you’re itching to say, Hey shithead, cut it out, or I’m gonna run you over with my Nissan Armada! (Unless it sinks.) If you want to waste eight minutes of your life, here’s Out of Spec Reviews’ youtube take from DFW Airport on the 2021 Nissan Armada, so you can actually see this big-ass Behemoth. Or read about problems of car culture instead.

This blog post, Summer 2021 thoughts from North Texas, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/07/17/north-texas-thoughts-summer-2021/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

New, optional notifications for commenters … and Myanmar news blast

Note: In 2021, I’m blogging once a week, usually on Saturday. This is entry 20 of 52.

Note: Adding a little to last week’s post on math empowerment, here’s a list of online resources for learning math free of charge, the helpful r/math subreddit FAQ, and mathematician Paul Lockhart’s well-known 25-page essay, sometimes called Lockhart’s Lament, decrying how math is typically taught in schools and providing suggestions for how to teach the subject as discovery and art. He later developed his essay into a book (which I haven’t read), titled A Mathematician’s Lament. I’ll stick this note atop last week’s post as well.

The black-and-white photo shows a uniformed man atop an old-timey automobile. A woman stands behind him. They're in some sort of rural farm setting.
United States Postal Service – Rural Free Delivery vehicle in South Dakota, 1905 – from Popular Mechanics

This evening I added a feature to my blog that hopefully will improve discussions. If readers choose to leave a comment on an entry, they now have the option to receive an email whenever a new comment is added to the post by anyone. Such emails include an unsubscribe link.

My hope is that receiving notifications of new comments will encourage previous commenters to return and converse with other readers. If you subscribe in this manner, and the post to which you subscribed were suddenly to go viral and draw zillions of comments, flooding your inbox, you can just unsubscribe. Further, all notification emails include [DouglasLucas.com Blog] in the subject line, so you can set up filters in your email system if you like.

I tested the feature a few times; it’s working fine, at least for me. However, if anyone has troubles or concerns with it, please let me know. Besides fixing a few additional things under the hood of this blog (invisible from the reader point of view), I also tried tonight to add a feature for my blog to notify commenters by email once their comments are approved (after being held for moderation), but none of the plug-ins I experimented with worked, at least not via a few hours of tinkering. I’ll try again next week.

To close off this week’s post, I’d like to inaugurate the news blast(s) write-ups I’ll include with each entry from this point forward. Many readers of my blog aren’t on twitter, where such information initially hits international awareness, so I’m hoping these news blasts will be a good way to spread topics that too often stay off the everyday radar, particularly here in the United States. I also will try to summarize the information in such a way as to provide an overview for audiences who may be unfamiliar with the material and who might need an accessible entry point into it.

News blast

Myanmar (aka Burma). Since the February coup d’état this year in Myanmar, in which the military murdered hundreds and arrested the democratically elected civilian government to replace it with its own junta (claiming a fraudulent election), hundreds of thousands of protesters have continued to take the streets and demand an end to military rule, sometimes in favor of the actual National Unity Government (NUG) declared illegal by the usurpers. However, U.S. officials in the first week of May said they won’t support the NUG unless it adopts representation for the displaced and persecuted Rohingya people and/or adopts a decisive anti-genocide position. Some individuals online are also pressuring the NUG to improve. Meanwhile, poverty in Myanmar is increasing to starvation levels amid a collapsing trade economy, Internet access is repeatedly shut down, journalists and poets are murdered for voicing anti-junta opinions, and dissidents are tortured with their organs harvested. Yet resistance continues, including hacks against the junta, and huge portions of the Burmese public joining militias / ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) or a civil disobedience movement to oppose the Tatmadaw (Myanmar military). The rank-and-file military is brainwashed to believe the resistance is chiefly foreign funded; the junta attempts to cut its troops off from outside information; one military doctor told the New York Times: “I want to quit, but I can’t. If I do, they will send me to prison. If I run away, they will torture my family members.” Arrests and rapes by military forces continue. Earlier this month, the junta declared martial law in Mindat, a town in Myanmar’s northwestern state of Chin, where residents told Reuters “We are running for our lives” and “We are living in a nightmare. Mindat is literally a war zone.” Clashes between insurgents and junta forces are ongoing as of yesterday in the Demoso township. Resistance movements in different countries, including Myanmar, are supporting one another, sometimes under the banner of the Milk Tea Alliance. Currently, because China, Russia, India, Turkey, Israel, and other countries supply weapons to the Tatmadaw, 200+ NGOs, as well as Anons, are calling for an arms embargo against it. Here in Seattle, protests took place outside corporate ABC affiliate Komo News. Save Myanmar Seattle information is available at this linktree page. The junta has suspended nearly a thousand educators in the Gangaw Magway area from their posts because teachers and students are learning real lessons by resisting them. A significant show-down may be coming since the junta expects compulsory education to resume on the looming date of June 1.

Creative Commons License

This blog post, New, optional notifications for commenters … and Myanmar news blast, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/05/22/new-optional-notifications-commenters-also-burma/ You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

Review of education books, part one of two

Note: In 2021 I’ll publish one blog post per week. Here’s entry 15 of 52.

The image shows a tank pointing its gun barrel at a child sitting in a school desk. A soldier's head is poking out the top of the tank's hatch, and the soldier is yelling: "Learn!" The tank has a U.S. flag.
Compulsory education, imposed by nearly all governments

Currently my day job is substitute teaching in public education, something I did previously in Texas, too. Mostly known for popping into rowdy classrooms for a single day at a time, substitutes sometimes work long-term assignments also, effectively replacing the regular teacher across multiple weeks or months, as I’m doing now. There’s a lot I could say about schooling, especially this spring as students in the United States are encouraged to return to poorly outfitted classrooms against the advice of epidemiologists. I worry some of the innovations (to use bizspeak) hit upon during the struggles of remote learning might be forgotten in the rush back to so-called normalcy — for instance, teaching to the test and one-size-fits-all attitudes were thankfully dropped in the last year, but they’ll presumably return soon unless there’s a fight to stop them. Recently I sent many freelance pitches on the subject out to corporate media, nonprofit news, and literary magazines; we’ll see if I get a commission. In the meantime, I thought something quick and focused on the topic might be nice to self-publish here.

There are four books on education that have had an impact on me. What follows is a short review of two of them. In the near future, I’ll blog about the other two. (I’m just cutting in half what would otherwise be a review of four books, in the interest of saving time.)

By Jonathan Kozol, Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation, 1995. I read this roughly a decade ago, around the time I was first going into teaching in Texas. I no longer have a copy of the award-winning bestseller on hand, but I remember the book was very much a tearjerker. It describes public education in the poorest U.S. congressional district then and now, in the Bronx. Kozol exposes in great detail the poverty, racism, and other injustice of public education there, telling the stories of individual students and families. I strongly remember how he very effectively depicts, as the New York Times review puts it, “the hypersegregation of our cities [that] allows whites to maintain physical as well as spiritual distance from complex and daunting urban problems.” Kozol describes the heroic effort put in by many school employees, and the ways employees, students, and families supported one another. In the wealthy private schools I experienced, something like a diagnosis of severe mental illness (whatever that means) would serve as pseudo-justification for ostracizing and making fun of a troubled kid. But I’ve seen firsthand in public schools, otherwise beaten down by a lack of resources and care from the surrounding world, how some students will of their own initiative provide unpaid support to diagnosed kids, just to aid them — something the upper, upper middle, or intelligenstia classes will completely forget exists, erased in their addiction to comfort. I also remember a friendly coach who collected donated clothes and stored them in a portable for poor students to have. I could tell those stories and many more in great detail, some other time. It’s just to say that the contrasts between fancy-pants private schools and worn-down public schools are very striking. The latter aren’t utopias to be romanticized — many bullies and awful, fatalistic teachers, along with other problems, fill public schools, but with 50+ million people in the public education system across the United States, they deserve more attention than the intelligentsia usually deign to give them. You can find out more about Amazing Grace on Kozol’s website. As the book’s subtitle suggests, that the well-off let most public schools rot, shows the low approval given to children, compared with, say, the high approval given to video games (gauged by discrepancy in amount of time individuals devote to each). Thankfully in many areas that’s been changing dramatically in the past few years. I should conclude with the caveat that since I haven’t read this book in a very long time, I don’t know what all I would make of it now were I to re-read it.

The image shows the jacket cover of the Homeroom Security book. In addition to the author's name and book title, the jacket shows five helmeted cops with pointed guns sweeping a school hallway

By Aaron Kupchik, Homeroom Security: School Discipline in an Age of Fear, 2010. This book, published by NYU Press, I also read roughly a decade ago — due to a very good review of it at Salon. Homeroom Security combines two topics I follow, education and authoritarianism (surveillance, cops everywhere, crushing of dissent, etc.). Like the Salon review says, the sociology/criminology professor wrote it in such a fair way that doubters who read the book can really be won over to his “radical” thesis: social support and participatory environments make schools safe, not the battle-zone mentality. I remember also (I haven’t read it in a decade, so again the same caveat as with Amazing Grace) that the academic Kupchik very effectively integrates both quantitative methods (statistics regarding money, measurable outcomes, and more) with qualitative ones (interviews, visiting the campuses for long durations like an an anthropologist, and so on). Most importantly, the book discusses how the armed cops, surveillance systems, and other military-like features lately ubiquitous in schools condition kids to believe those elements are just normal in life, to be expected always, rather than only sensible as rare emergency measures (i.e., humans have unfortunately set up the endo-realities of our our social/governance systems as if we’re experiencing permanent nonstop emergency, with all the health-destroying stress that entails). I’ll let the excellent Salon review — which is mostly an interview with Kupchik — finish up my work for me: below, Kupchik talking with the Salon interviewer:

We’re teaching kids what it means to be a citizen in our country. And what I fear we’re doing is teaching them that what it means to be an American is that you accept authority without question and that you have absolutely no rights to question punishment. It’s very Big Brother-ish in a way. Kids are being taught that you should expect to be drug tested if you want to participate in an organization, that walking past a police officer every day and being constantly under the gaze of a security camera is normal. And my concern is that these children are going to grow up and be less critical and thoughtful of these sorts of mechanisms. And so the types of political discussions we have now, like for example, whether or not wiretapping is OK, these might not happen in 10 years. […] As part of my research, I interviewed students, and one of the questions that seemed like a good idea at the start was asking them whether they liked having the SROs [school resource officers] in their schools. For me, having gone to public schools without cops, this really seemed odd to me, to put police officers in peaceful schools. And the students were puzzled by this question, and I quickly realized that it makes no sense to them because it’s all they’ve ever known. It’s completely normal. It makes about as much sense as if you asked them, “Should your school have a principal?”

The two books above, I highly recommend to anyone interested in reading about public education. The other two I’ll post about in the near future.

In conclusion

For now, let me conclude by saying that what I’ve found most important as a substitute teacher in a long-term assignment is just showing up, being truly present, for the kids. So they know they have someone consistent, there each school-day to greet them, who won’t be a mean-spirited dictator. A simple example: if students are marked repeatedly tardy or absent, there can be a variety of unfortunate repercussions for them. If they’re a few minutes late, it’s safer to just mark them present than it is to force them into a show-down with the quasi-legal system embedded in the schools, when the real problem might be a late bus or a domestic crisis or lack of nutrition/sleep or any number of other things that may be no one’s fault. Having a teacher they can count on not to be a threat, is important, in this otherwise stressful, endosocial world of permanent nonstop emergency that we’ve built for ourselves. And then, I can teach students about geometry and whatever else. Student challenges with, say, math, are often simply troubles with English language learning for migrant/refugee kids, or students understandably feeling miserable with, and resistant to, compulsory education in the first place. It’s helpful when school settings permit teachers to pick just one little piece of the math puzzle that students are struggling with, and break it down, teach it slowly, to make sure everyone understands, while meanwhile giving the advanced students enrichment books to pursue on their own. With the likely return of teaching-to-the-test pressure (or the school loses funding when students don’t pass) and one-size-fits-all in the name of efficiency, not to mention grief and stress in connection with the pandemic — and the poverty, racism, and authoritarianism Kozol and Kupchik document — I fear there are dark days ahead for U.S. public schools. But with the Internet encouraging people to become more outspoken about everything, to stick up for themselves and others, there’s also a lot of room for hope.

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This blog post, Review of education books, part one of two, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/04/17/education-books-review-1of2/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.