Notes on a Theory…

Thoughts on politics, law, & social science

Five Posts You May Have Missed in 2014

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These posts didn’t get as much love. Sadly, none of them is out of date.

1. Criminalization is Pretty Harmful Too

Here is some push back on the idea that decriminalization of things will lead to harms, as if criminalization isn’t a massive source of harm.

Is prison harmful? Is ripping apart families harmful? Is the endemic sexual assault found in prison harmful? What about the risk of violence, or the torture of solitary confinement? Or overcrowding, or lack of medical care? How about the collateral consequences of imprisonment–unemployment, being barred from public housing, food stamps, federal education aid and a whole host of professions or voting? What about the impact on communities where many people are shuffled between prison and the neighborhood? What about the police harassment that comes with hyper-aggressive law enforcement?

[Speaking of which, High incarceration may be more harmful than high crime h/t Gerry Canavan.]

2. Charter Schools’ False Promise

Charter schools aren’t a policy solution to our educational problems, but a distraction from the real problem–deep and long-standing inequality.

I never bought the idea that charters would develop solutions we didn’t already know about in education. We do know what works. We systematically provide fewer resources and a punitive, non-supportive environment to students on the basis of race and class. That’s just another way of saying we provide a worse education to those students who need the most, because of systematic disadvantages.  Students need schools that aren’t crumbling, that have libraries and counselors, that have air conditioners, that have enough textbooks for everyone on the first day of class. They need teachers and administrators who treat them like they count, not like a threat, who adopt an ethic of caring, not of test and punish. They need eyeglasses and dental care. They need food. And safety.

3. ‘Humanitarian Intervention’ is a Claim, Not a Fact

My point here isn’t that anyone is lying, but rather they are treating things that are not factual as if they are and as if they are already proven [supported – they can’t be proven]. And that typically means taking authorities’ claims as true.

Melber, following current standard journalistic conventions, treats the claim that this is a ‘humanitarian intervention’ as a fact. He is passing along claims by US government officials about what they are thinking, about their own motives, and what limits they might impose on their actions (not to mention what the facts on the ground are) as facts. [snip] This is pretty troubling under normal circumstances. But it’s especially troubling when it comes to war. If nothing else, it would be nice if the rest of us, who are not bound by these conventions, could stop talking about politicians’ beliefs and motives — which we do not have access to, and which in any case aren’t relevant — and focus instead on their claims, and the claims of others who aren’t necessarily treated as legitimate by the media.  It would be a small step toward having actual democratic accountability.

4. Treating All Children Like Human Beings

My call for placing school discipline and school push out as central to achieving educational equity.

The problem of discriminatory and harsh discipline is about the intersection of class and race. There is a lot of attention on school closures, but suspensions also deny students access to schools. If we take educating everyone, and educating equally seriously, we have to start treating all children like human beings, not dangerous threats.

5. What is Oligarchic Inevitability?

Part of my larger project on how we talk about politics and how that impedes effective action to change the status quo.

A realistic approach to politics needs to understand that the people have the potential to wield power but that it won’t come simply through conventional channels. It must be premised on the idea that the wealthy are extremely powerful but not some all-powerful force of nature.  It requires focusing on what will mobilize significant numbers not what will convince majorities. Neither oligarchs nor democratic majorities automatically get what they want. There is always politics. Neither cynicism nor idealism help us figure out how to make this world better.

Honorable mention: The final post in my Wall Street and education series didn’t get as much attention as the first two, but it deals with some important issues that have resonance beyond the education field–Markets, Efficiency and Choice: Wall Street and the School House Part III.

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Written by David Kaib

December 21, 2014 at 9:12 pm

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