Category Archives: Students

Avoiding the Obvious: Skim Reading, Exams and the Internet

It is the anxiety-inducing nightmare for the studious: A dream where you find yourself in an exam hall, which might, on ordinary days, be a gym or some other facility.  It is repurposed for that most cruel of blood sports: sorting out the learned from the dolts, the prize winners from the dunces.  The stern invigilators gaze as you like vermin to liquidate.  You are seated on a firm stool, rarely comfortable. You have been checked to see if you have any cheating accoutrements.  Permitted items: scrap paper, a pencil, an eraser.

Before you, apart from the often blue-rinsed wonders wishing to smother you, is the “exam paper”.  It has a “cover sheet”.  The most evident rule, one that does not apply to reading many, say, Australian newspapers, is to not start at the back and work your way to the front. (The back-to-front principle is sound on some level, as Australian sports writing can, in many ways, be more catchy and sprightly than the political dross at the front.)  Not so with your conventional exam papers.  The front sets tone, temper and tempo.

For those sitting exams now, in whatever fanciful mode they are delivered in, the same problems arise.  But another complication has been added: the enormous, mind numbing distraction of the Internet.  Infinite choice can have a negating effect; such an endless buffet destroys a capacity to consume nourishingly. According to sociologist Todd Gitlin, “If you have infinite choice, people are reduced to passivity.”

From this garden variety of choice sprung the social media netizen, the hyper-networked operator of several tasks, meaning that none are done proficiently.  Such a figure is incapable of the deep read.  Such an action becomes one of glancing, skimming, and gazing. Profundity is not consumed and is, for the most part, shunned.  Maryanne Wolf looks at this in the context of the skim reader, saturated with the distraction.  Babies and toddlers are “pacified” by the iPad; school children get stories from smartphones; boys play games instead of reading; parents read their Kindles and wade through newsfeeds and emails.  “Unbeknownst to most of us, an invisible, game-changing transformation links everyone in this picture: the neuronal circuit that underlines the brain’s ability to read is subtly, rapidly changing – a change with implications for everyone from the pre-reading toddler to the expert adult.”

The digital medium is not so much the message as an obfuscation of it.  “Studies on ages from elementary school students to young adults,” noted Wolf in 2018, “indicate that the slower, more time-demanding processes involved in comprehension and attention to details are adversely affected when reading the same content on digital mediums.”

The modern instructor (forget the term pedagogue, which is now being done to death by modern management, class room theories and political correctness), is left with a bewildering array of efforts that repudiate the self-evident front page, the instruction manual, the damnably obvious.  The truth is not out there so much as somewhere, lurking on some digital platform.  One student email suggests that she “heard from somewhere” (vagueness is golden in gossip) that she only had to answer one question from each section in her exam.  Never mind that the front cover of the set paper states, with punchy clarity, that all questions have to be answered, and not doing so will sink the grade.

To answer an exam, the person sitting it will deploy various strategies, except the obvious one.  The obvious one is described in simple terms in a resource book for teachers.  The section titled “Typical exam mistakes and how to avoid them” states the following: “The first most common mistake in exams is not reading the exam or task instructions properly.”  To think we know what to do is not the same as actually understanding what is expected. “Read everything carefully and read the instructions twice or three times to make sure you understand what you have to do.”  Not bad advice.

When answering exams, there will be the chancing opportunist, the ambitious cheater, the diviner.  In that mix can be added the social media mind, addled by availability, rumour and chat room feeds.  While not exactly on point, this could be regarded as a symptom of “secondary orality”, that manifestation of the post-literature world described by Caleb Crain with such force in 2007. In such a culture, disagreeable ideas are put aside as unworkable and undesirable; we “fall back on hunches”, take refuge in our instincts.  This is not helped by learning platforms which are larded with so much screen information so as to infantilize the user.

An interesting study on how such platforms as Brightspace or Canvas actually serve to impair student learning could be gathered from the fine-boned resistance against downloading certain links, especially those that lead to the intimidating sight of multiple pages. Unless the image is instant and obvious, dashingly glitzy and the soul of brevity, going to a link that states “course guide”, where all the material is available, is hard going indeed.  Preference is given on finding spread material through “tabs” and “modules”, much of it repetitive.  Let the user stroll through a series of clicks, and all will be well.

Wolf suggests that we need a new literacy for the digital age, in line with a deeper understanding about a very battered neutral circuitry. But what we are getting is an illiteracy profound and pronounced.  And reading the front page of an exam paper was never exactly the sort of thing that was done by many in any case.

Are We Up Against the Wall Yet, Alma Mater?

If all values are system values, what do we make of trending lawsuits filed by students against their college campuses? Is it something like the demand of an air traveler who gets downgraded from first class to coach? The analogy seems to have merit. At least it reminds us of flying.

Campuses have about five categories of bills they send to students: tuition, student activity fees, parking, meal plans, and housing. Tuition goes to the academic budget. Student activity fees go into the infrastructure of extracurricular life, student organizations, counseling, libraries, health services, etc. In public debate, the term tuition often collapses all five categories into one.

On the more obvious side, meal plans and housing should be refunded if students are ordered to leave campus. But this means that funding for food service workers and housekeeping staff suddenly goes to zero. Bundled with any refund of this type–however obvious–will be a question of layoffs.

Parking also seems like an obvious refundable claim. But again, parking services are self-funded through fees, and any refund is going to delete money that was budgeted for payroll.

Student activity fees get complicated, but the general theme is applicable. Wherever a campus is collecting fees, they are funding staff workers, and wherever fees are refunded, budgets for salaries begin to disappear.

Activity fees are complicated, because many services remain open to students, particularly counseling and emergency services, even if staff are working at a distance.

Which brings us to the difficult question of tuition itself, the money paid for academic, um, tuition. Students are correct to argue that online education is not the full experience of in-person education. For some fields of study, the difference can be a wide one. Drama, fine art, chemistry lab, etc., involve experiences that may be impossible to simulate online.

Students complain on the internet that moving their math classes online was especially difficult, which is an interesting thing to think about. Here we see the value of real-time personal attention to student questions and posture. The teacher can see everyone slumping down and make adjustments on the spot. Eye contact, unmediated by Zoom, is a wonderful teaching tool, and we can thank the pandemic for the crash course in the embodiment of it all. Teaching math is a deeply embodied transaction. Is that why my high school math teachers were coaches, too?

Literature was also mentioned by students on the internet. They missed the spontaneous discussion of the assigned materials, even if they were perfectly suitable for online delivery. Stanley Fish once asked, “is there a text in this class?” It all sounded so postmodern at the time, but here comes the pandemic, and we more plainly see how the text may be a kind of occasion for higher education, but never the education itself. There is a good reason why we continued to hold classes for several centuries, long after the printing press made it possible for everyone to read the books on their own.

As students were abruptly shifted from classroom to laptop, the feel of shock was widely confirmed. It was like being downgraded from first class.

However, we should not let the structure of our rant obscure the value of online education for those who need it most. Think of the soldier overseas, the working mother of three, or the 19-year-old who already has classes on campus plus a job as night clerk at your local hotel. Or perhaps the unemployed worker who wants an educational upgrade right away. Students such as these have competing pressures to consider, and online education is their preferred vehicle.

Two questions are important to ask about the difference between online and in-person instruction. Is there any difference in delivery cost? Did your online literature class leave your professor behind when it moved from class to laptop? Did the academic sector of campus find itself doing less work? Were teachers fired on the spot so that online classes could be lumped together into even more mind-numbing aggregations of distance packages? If the cost of delivering semester credits remained the same, how is it fair to demand refunds of tuition–when tuition is defined as the academic portion of the bill?

The second question is, what choice did the schools have? There are several related questions: If the pandemic made the move to online education necessary, and if online instruction involved the same payroll, and if other students were receiving online instruction by choice prior to the pandemic, just how much money do we think the school should pay back? Should the schools have simply refunded tuition to all classroom enrolled students and stopped trying to help them complete their semester credits?

And if schools have to re-budget their credit-delivery tuition to a lower amount, how do you expect them to make up the difference? Larger class sizes? Fewer instructors? Surely you are not expecting across-the-board cuts to administrative salaries? Do you really think that’s how things work?

At any rate, I think students will likely benefit from the recent right-wing shift in our national courts. There was already a culture war on liberal sentiment, the liberal arts, and liberal education prior to the pandemic. Lawsuits that demand refunds for the academic emergency seem to play into a picture of colleges as elite liberal leeches who probably deserve a whipping of some kind.

Recalling our thesis of system values, the student lawsuits also represent a dialectical moment when higher education in America is viewed increasingly as the student’s problem to finance. The state has been shaving its share of commitment for many decades now–at least since Reaganomics–transforming a system of public finance into a system of student debt, a.k.a neoliberalismo. In this social moment, student lawsuits are social expressions of pushback against this system of values, where Alma Mater, or nurturing mother, is dragged into court for a sad family feud.

Meanwhile, all the student energy directed against local campus administrations has had the effect of deflecting pressure from the national stage just as several trillions of dollars have been allocated for COVID-19 relief. And according to the usual calendar of campus politics, the game is over. Once finals are done and grades are in for the Spring, college student activism usually goes into hibernation for at least several months.

We have seen no evidence that widespread student discontent was ever effectively delivered to the doors of Congress in the form of an appeal for direct federal relief. This may be a failure of media coverage or research on our part. Instead, we have seen Congress allocate modest relief funds for college students and campuses. In an election year, Congress would, in theory, be most susceptible to students organized to advocate and vote. But the pressure was never brought to bear at the Congressional level, where the real money is.

Forbes reporter Adam S. Minsky, Esq., reports that progressive Democrats wanted to award $30,000 in student loan relief across the board. As the final package of the HEROES Act was being negotiated prior to the House vote of May 15, the dollar amount of student loan relief was cut to $10,000, and the scope of relief was restricted to borrowers who demonstrated some defined forms of hardship.

There is money in the House-passed HEROES Act that can flow to public campuses, but the amounts are less than what organized higher ed interests groups had asked for. And this is another sign that the higher education community was unable to mount much of an organized voice at the national level during March, April, or May, preoccupied as they were with the day-to-day work of getting semester credits completed, slashing budgets for the next academic year, and generally contemplating the lifeboat ethics of who gets shoved off.

Meanwhile, back in the nation’s capital, the majority leader of the Senate and the President of the United States both promise that none of this modest HEROES money, in support of the public sector or higher ed, is going to see the light of day. If students are able to claw back funds through lawsuits, and if the HEROES Act dies in the Senate, the legacy of 2020 will be what?

The American tragedy here is that Mencius was correct. The personality of the ruler flows down through the kingdom. We have become a flock of bickering grackles. Above us, we fail to notice if that sky remains devoid of any farsighted, graceful eagle. If all values are system values, what system will we reach for after final grades are in?

The 5th Coronavirus Relief Package We Need

The coronavirus depression is fast becoming as deep as the Great Depression. The federal government’s response has been too little, too late.

While sickness and death spread, while unemployment and small business failures soar, while health care and essential workers lack personal protective equipment (PPE), Congress is in recess until May 4.

The childlike dummy, Donald Trump, spouts bad advice daily in his televised briefings. Thursday he said we could beat the coronavirus by injecting disinfectants or somehow shining ultraviolet radiation inside our bodies.

Meanwhile, the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, is MIA. Is he sitting on a park bench somewhere feeding bread crumbs to pigeons?

Since the lockdown started five weeks ago, 26 million people have applied for unemployment insurance. But many qualified people have yet to receive unemployment benefits, or even get their applications accepted through overwhelmed state unemployment insurance agencies.

Economists estimate that the real unemployment rate may have reached 23% in April, which is about as high as it ever got in the Great Depression. The economy had contracted nearly 50% four years into Great Depression, while economists predict a contraction of 25% to 50% over a few months now.

Many of these temporary layoffs are turning into permanent job losses as businesses fail, particularly the small business that provide half of the nation’s jobs. Half of small businesses went into the lockdown with less than a month of cash reserves to cover fixed expenses like rent or mortgage and utilities. When small businesses run out of cash, they are dead.

The Payroll Protection Program (PPP) was supposed to keep these small businesses going, but like the unemployment insurance program, the loans are not getting to most people and the money allocated is far from enough to meet the need. 60% of small businesses have applied, but only 5% small businesses have received PPP funding.

When the lockdown started, Obama’s Small Business Administration head, Karen Mills, predicted a small business failure rate of 20% in a “best case scenario” and 30% in a “good scenario.” With a nearly 100% failure rate by the federal government in responding to the coronavirus depression, the carnage among small businesses and their workers is looking like a worst case scenario.

Big businesses are getting bailed out. Much of the money designated for small businesses has been snatched up by big businesses before small business’s applications were even considered. The half a trillion allocated for big businesses is being doled out to Trump cronies without disclosure of the recipients and without restrictions against firing workers or bonuses for executives. The Federal Reserve has cut its overnight borrowing interest rate for banks to zero and is engaged in unlimited trillions of dollars of quantitative easing to backstop corporate debt.

Meanwhile, essential workers—in hospitals, grocery stores, public transit, sanitation, food processing, package handling, delivery—are working in most cases without adequate or any PPE. We have already lost 83 transit workers to COVID-19 in New York City. We must demand an OSHA Temporary Standard to provide enforceable PPE protection for workers.

Most of the elements of the 5th Relief Package we need have been introduced by various members of Congress, but they won’t be included if we don’t speak up and demand real emergency relief.

Here are measures the 5th Relief Package should include to protect our health and well-being during the crisis:

– Medicare to Pay for COVID-19 Testing and Treatment and All Emergency Health Care
– Defense Production Act to Rapidly Plan the Production and Distribution of Medical Supplies and a Universal Test, Contact Trace, and Quarantine – – Program to Safely Reopen the Economy
– An OSHA Temporary Standard to Provide Enforceable PPE Protection for Workers
– $2,000 a Month to All Over Age 16 and $500 per Child
– Loans to All Businesses and Hospitals for Payroll and Fixed Overhead To Be Forgiven If All Workers Are Kept on Payroll
– Moratorium on Evictions, Foreclosures, and Utility Shutoffs
– Cancel Rent, Mortgage, and Utility Payments; Federal Government Pays Those Bills; High-income People Pay Taxes on this Relief
– Suspend Student Loan Payments with 0% Interest Accumulation
– Federal Universal Rent Control
– Aid to State and Local Governments Sufficient to Keep Essential Services Running
– Universal Mail-in Ballots for the 2020 General Election

A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco found that over the last 600 years, the economic depression after pandemics persists for about 40 years, in contrast to much faster recoveries after wars. The difference is that capital is destroyed in wars that has to be rebuilt, but not in pandemics. Coming out of this pandemic, we should destroy the productive capital stock that has been heating up the planet and poisoning the environment and replace it with clean energy, zero waste production systems.

To rebuild our economy when it is safe to go back to work, we should invest public money on the scale needed to put everyone to back to doing what we should have been doing before the coronavirus crisis hit in order to protect our climate and our people. I have detailed a 10-Year, $42 Trillion budget for an Ecosocialist Green New Deal that would create 38 million new jobs rebuilding all of our production systems for zero-to-negative greenhouse gas emissions, zero-waste recycling, and 100% clean renewable energy by 2030 in order to reverse the climate crisis and other environmental problems.

This full-strength Green New Deal includes an Economic Bill of Rights to end poverty and economic despair. It provides for a job guarantee, a guaranteed income above poverty, affordable housing, Medicare for All, lifelong tuition-free public education, and a secure retirement by doubling Social Security benefits. We need the Green New Deal now for economic recovery as well as climate safety.

Harvard’s Fossil Fuels Formula: Engagement before Withdrawal

“Know the true value of time; snatch, seize, and enjoy every moment of it,” urged the Earl of Chesterfield in a letter of advice to his son penned in 1749.  “No idleness, no laziness, no procrastination: never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.”  This has not tended to be the view of university governors the world over, notably in the field of ethical investments.  The elite heavy weights have shown their flabbiness in the area, dragging in their approach to matters of environment and the climate.  Money is just that; where it goes, in terms of investment, is of little moral consequence, lacking smell and ethical baggage.  Industry is there to be, and here, the word is essential, engaged.

Harvard University, one of the wealthiest teaching and research institutions on the planet with an endowment of $41 billion, is something of a specialist in this.  In 2013, the university’s President Drew Gilpin Faust adopted the position of “engagement over withdrawal” on the subject of fossil fuel divestments.  At the time, Faust considered any full divestment measure as unwarranted and unwise: the endowment fund was to be seen in purely self-beneficial terms, “a resource, not an instrument to impel social or political change.”

Playing the fiddle of an amoral politician, Faust attempted different measures of dismissiveness and reassurance: climate change did pose “a serious threat to our future – and increasingly our present”, and the university would be incorporating “environmental, social and governance” into its investments, thereby aligning with “investors’ fiduciary duties”.  Such an approach guaranteed an indefinite series of postponements on the matter.

By April 2017, the Harvard Management Company, the entity responsible for managing the finances of the corporation, felt that some move was required.  Colin Butterfield, heading the natural resources section at the HMC, accepted that climate change was a “huge problem” and that a “pause” in fossil fuel investments would take place.  Slyly, Butterfield shifted the focus, distinguishing between direct and indirect investments in the industry.  “What I can tell you is, from my area, I could honestly say that I doubt – I can’t say never, because never say never – but I doubt that we would ever make a direct investment with fossil fuels.”

In 2019, Harvard’s new broom, Lawrence Bacow still preferred “engaging with industry”.  In a surprise appearance at a forum hosted by Divest Harvard and the Harvard Political Union in April that year, he gave a model lesson on intellectual skiving: Teach, research and convince, and the industry itself will change.  Till that was done, the fossil fuel matter could be postponed.  “We need to engage with those whose behaviour we need to change.  We need to engage with industry.  We do that through scholarship; we do that through our teaching.”

Donning his weighty business hat, Bacow played the role of cold realist, warning against any policy coitus interruptus.  Divesting from fossil fuels was not the same as tobacco, where a full-scale enterprise of withdrawal through the university from research to labs could be implemented.  “The day after, if we were to divest, we’re going to turn on the lights.  We would still be dependent on fossil fuels.”

It has been a long, acrimonious battle.  The Harvard President and Fellows have tended to swat the claims away, regarding them as callow and unrealistic.  The students, in turn, have sought to have their case taken seriously, engaging in their own little bit of climate change lawfare.  In 2014, a lawsuit was lodged in Suffolk County Superior Court in Massachusetts, featuring an 11-page complaint and 167 pages of supporting exhibits asking the court to force divestment on the students’ behalf.  The measure failed at first instance and on appeal, though campaign managed, along the way, to gather support from the Animal Legal Defense Fund, climate change scientist James Hansen and the Cambridge City Council.

The central problem in such climate change litigation remains one of conviction.  Courts refuse to cast a distant eye upon the future, expecting evidence to be as immediate, clear and incontestable as possible.  The argument by the students was precisely one of current action to prevent environmental dystopia, a case for future, potentially imperiled generations.  Instead, the students failed to show they had legal standing to challenge fossil fuel investments for their negative impacts on academic freedom and education at Harvard.  Their interests were “widely shared” with thousands of their peers at Harvard; their connection with the subject matter was not sufficiently “specific” or “personal”; and their allegations on financial mismanagement were too speculative to be accepted.

Both the Massachusetts Appellate Court and the lower court also came to the same conclusion on rejecting the merits of a new civil wrong on the “intentional investment in abnormally dangerous activities”.  The students had, in the higher court’s assessment, “brought their advocacy, fervent and articulate and admirable as it is, to a forum that cannot grant the relief they seek.”

The Bacow formula of engagement has been tinkered with, if ever so slightly.  As a tentative nod to the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day, and in response to a resolution adopted by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in February, the endowment was instructed to develop an approach to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from its investment portfolio by 2050.  Full Postponement Bacow had now transitioned to Partial Postponement Bacow.  “Harvard’s endowment should be a leader in shaping pathways to a sustainable future,” he wrote to members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “With this in mind, the corporation has directed the Harvard Management Company (HMC) to set itself on a path to decarbonize the overall endowment portfolio.”

In doing so, few toes will be tread upon in this new approach, as it “considers the investment portfolio as a whole, rather than simply targeting the suppliers and producers of fossil fuels.”  Possible partners, he warned, would not be demonised, as they had “committed to transitioning to carbon neutrality and to funding research on alternative fuels and on strategies to decarbonize the economy.”

The reaction from Divest Harvard showed an expected mixture of “I told you so” satisfaction tinged with regret.  “Until today, the administration has claimed that the endowment should not be used for political purposes.”  Finally, due to the pressure of student, faculty and alumni, Harvard had “acknowledged its duty to mitigate the emissions its endowment has been fuelling for decades.”  Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard was less complimentary: the university had taken “a step in the right direction”, but the plan was “insufficient”, making fossil fuel companies “cooperative partners”.

Former college president James L. Powell assessed the nature of managing an endowment sternly in a recent letter to the New York Times.  “The fundamental principle of endowment management is that future student generations should benefit to the same extent as the current generation.  By investing in the very companies whose products cause dangerous global warming, Harvard violates that principle and bets that it can profit from the success of those companies.” Such betting is set to continue – at least till 2050.

Proposed Federal “Distance Learning” Rules Help Big Tech Shut Down Brick-and-Mortar Public Schools, Replace Human Teachers with AI

The DeVos Department of Education’s new “Proposed Rules” for federal regulations of “Distance Education and Innovation” (85 FR 18638) will effectively open the floodgates for online education corporations to put public brick-and-mortar schools out of business by streamlining “adaptive-learning and other artificial intelligence” technologies that replace “human instructors” with “competency-based education (CBE)” software which provide “direct assessment” through “subscription-based” courseware that data-mine students’ cognitive-behavioral algorithms to “personalize” digital lessons.

What Is Computerized CBE? No More Classrooms, No More “Credit Hours”

As I have documented in several articles, “CBE” is a euphemism for educational methods that deploy computer modules based on Harvard Psychologist B. F. Skinner’s “teaching machines,” which implement operant-conditioning methods to “shape” student learning into “competent” behaviors geared toward college or career readiness. The terms “competency-based education” and “CBE” are used 147 times in the new Proposed Rules for 85 FR 18638, which is a total of 64 pages long. Compare this to the 392-pages of federal legislation that cover the entire Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which only contains 6 references to “competency-based education.”

According to Skinnerian CBE advocates, competency-based computer learning at home is better than human instruction in a classroom because the one-to-one student/computer ratio enables each student to learn at his or her own pace. 85 FR 18638 states “CBE programs . . . measure student progress based on their demonstration of specific competencies rather than sitting in a seat or at a computer for a prescribed period of time. Many CBE programs are designed to permit students to learn at their own pace.” Stated differently, when a student enrolled in CBE courseware is ready to move on to the next lesson, he or she can click on the next learning module without having to wait for the teacher to deliver the next lecture. And if a CBE student is not ready to move on to the next virtual lesson, he or she can remediate by repeating the same digital learning module without being “left behind” when the teacher moves on to the next lecture.

“Subscription-Based” Distance Learning, Pay-as-You-Go

To facilitate “self-paced” CBE learning, online education corporations and other software companies are offering “subscription-based” e-learning services that enroll students on a pay-as-you-go basis. These self-paced CBE courses allow a student to “subscribe” for enrollment into virtual-learning modules which can be rolled over with monthly subscription fees for as long or as soon as it takes for the student to demonstrate “competency” in the course.

Now that basically every US school has converted to virtual “distance learning” through computers, 85 FR 18638 is attempting to loosen federal requirements for self-paced CBE courseware so that online education corporations can rake in federal funding for delivering more subscription-based “competency” lessons through digital platforms:

Current regulations require an institution to evaluate a student’s pace of completion by dividing completed credits over attempted credits. This calculation is difficult to apply in competency-based programs, including subscription-based programs, because there is often no set period of time during which a student “attempts” a competency in such programs; rather, the student works on a competency until he or she can demonstrate mastery of it. Given the limitations in this proposed definition on a student’s eligibility to receive additional disbursements [of federal funds], we believe it is unnecessary and needlessly burdensome for an institution’s SAP policy to include pace requirements for subscription-based programs.

In other words, these new (de)regulations will relax the legal requirements for online education corporations to receive federal funds, such as financial aid grants, as payments for students’ CBE subscription fees. It should be noted that “subscription-based” e-learning is referenced 112 times in these new Proposed Rules.

Adaptive Learning = Post-Human Artificial Intelligence

As I have documented in numerous articles, self-paced CBE subscriptions and “adaptive-learning” software basically go hand in hand. CBE “courseware” subscriptions “personalize” lessons for students through “adaptive-learning” computers, which are nothing less than modern digitalized versions of the “Skinner box,” or “teaching machine.” Adaptive-learning software revamps B. F. Skinner’s “programmed instruction” with “artificial intelligence” that automates “stimulus-response” methods of educational psychology to train students for academic and career “competences.”

Essentially, adaptive-learning courseware enables “self-paced” learning because the psychological-conditioning software “adapts” its lessons based on how the student “responds” to the virtual “stimuli,” such as multiple-choice or short-answer modules on digital windows. The faster the student responds with correct answers, the faster the learning stimuli will progress the student towards full “competence” at the end of the subscription-based course’s module sequence.

Incentivizing broader enrollment in subscription-based adaptive-learning courseware, 85 FR 18638 expands the definition of accreditable “academic engagement” as “participation by a student in . . . an online course with an opportunity for interaction or an interactive tutorial, webinar, or other interactive computer-assisted instruction.  . . . Such interaction could include the use of artificial intelligence or other adaptive learning tools.” Under this revised definition of “academic engagement,” schools will be given expanded flexibility to accredit a vast range of self-paced CBE curriculums delivered by online education companies through adaptive-learning AI that programs students with operant-conditioning algorithms.

Moreover, “academic engagement” is being further expanded to give adaptive CBE courseware the green light to phase out certain requirements for human instruction: “[a]ctive engagement . . . could include the use of artificial intelligence or other adaptive learning tools so that the student is receiving feedback from technology-mediated instruction. The interaction need not be exclusively with a human instructor.” Indeed, adaptive AI can deliver “feedback” on student learning through “direct assessment,” which is referenced 226 times in the new Proposed Rules.

Of course, in a bankrupt economy where people are locked down under emergency pandemic pretenses, such adaptive AI courseware will be more convenient since the software can be available for the student 24-hours a day (unlike a human teacher). In addition, the non-human AI bots will be much cheaper than human instructors who need to be fed and housed. So it looks like the proposed (de)regulations will set up incentives which will ensure that the virtual-learning industry is able to swallow up federal education funds while public brick-and-mortar schools and human teachers are starved out into obsolescence.

Sweeping Deregulation of Artificial Intelligence: AI Will Make Decisions for You

To be sure, AI adaptive-learning algorithms are evolving faster than legislators can deliberate on new regulations for such new “machine learning” innovations. Thus, to get out of the way of “progress,” 85 FR 18638 is basically writing a blank check for AI corporations to sell schools and students new e-learning products and ed-tech “updates” without preliminary regulatory permission from the federal government:

[t]he current regulations [which] do not address subscription-based programs or consider programs made possible through artificial intelligence-driven adaptive learning.  . . . Because of the time it takes to implement new regulations, it is unlikely that the Department will be able to keep pace with developing technologies and other innovations in real time. These proposed regulations attempt to remove barriers that institutions face when trying to create and implement new and innovative ways of providing education to students, and also provide sufficient flexibility to ensure that future innovations we cannot yet anticipate have an opportunity to move forward without undue risk of a negative program finding or other sanction on an institution.

To put it another way, AI-learning algorithms evolve faster than legislators can regulate, so these new federal rules will “remove barriers” to AI ed-tech progress by allowing educational institutions the “flexibility” to rubber stamp new AI courseware programs without prior regulatory approval from the US Department of Ed.

But if the federal government allows AI ed-tech to develop faster than Congress can regulate, then the Department of Ed will render itself into a mere ceremonial bureaucracy that has abdicated its authority to AI algorithms, which means artificial intelligence will be in the driver’s seat taking control of the future of education policy as virtual distance learning becomes the mainstream mode of schooling in a post-corona economy.

It should be noted that Edgar McCulloch, who is a Government Relations representative of the IBM Corporation, sat on the “Accreditation and Innovation negotiating committee” involved in the proposal of these new federal rules. This is worth noting because IBM develops AI ed-tech through its Watson artificial-intelligence program which partners with the globalist Pearson Education LLC: the “world’s largest education company,” which also runs online schooling companies including Connections Academy.

How much stimulus money will be vacuumed up by online education corporations and AI courseware companies under these new federal rules? Will brick-and-mortar schools be able to survive in a post-corona economy in which people are either heavily travel restricted or too poor to pay for school buildings and human employees? Will human teachers, or even human ethics, survive in a world in which the total deregulation of technocratic advancement exalts AI as the judge, jury, and executioner of human learning?

Education Cannot Solve Poverty and Inequality

One of the long-standing stubborn myths about education in American culture is that education is “the great equalizer” and that education is the way to overcome poverty and inequality at the individual and societal levels.

The facts show, however, that poverty and inequality are generally increasing every year despite the fact that there are more college-educated people than ever. Indeed, many people with college degrees are unemployed or underemployed. And many are stuck in jobs that have little to do with their degrees. Never mind the massive debt load oppressing many students, college graduates, and their families. In 2020, millions of college educated people are starting out life at a great disadvantage.

In the realm of K-12 education, when mass state-organized education started in the mid-1800s, only a small number of youth attended school. Today, 50 million young people are enrolled in 100,000 public schools across the country. More youth than ever are schooled. But this has not stopped poverty or inequality; both keep growing despite many “reforms.”

Poverty, unemployment, inequality, and insecurity are rooted in the outmoded capitalist economic system. This outdated system, with or without education, guarantees poverty, unemployment, inequality, and insecurity. Such problems are not some aberration or accident of the system, they necessarily arise from the internal logic and operation of capital. Capitalism ensures that the rich get richer while the poor get poorer, which is why the capitalist economic system simply cannot provide for the needs of all.

Even if everyone had three college degrees, there would not be enough jobs, let alone good jobs, to employ everyone. This is one reason why the “gig economy” has exploded in recent years. Underemployment is the new unemployment. It is also worth noting that in January 2000, 20 years ago, the employment-to-population ratio exceeded 64%, while today it stands below 61%.1 This means fewer people are participating in the workforce now than 20 years ago. Pensions have also been negatively affected over the years. In 1979, more than 40 years ago, nearly 51% of workers, which is a low number to begin with, received some type of pension through their employer. By 2016, only 32.4% of workers received such pension benefits.2

Americans are suffering more with each passing year because of an economy that cannot meet the needs of all. And the COVID Pandemic has severely deepened the economic crisis confronting everyone. Work, moreover, has never been considered a basic human right in capitalist economies. Like most needs, work is reduced to a privilege or an opportunity in “free market” societies.

While education is indispensable and valuable, it cannot overcome the main contradiction in the economic system between social production and private ownership. Under capitalism, those who produce the wealth and those who control the wealth are not the same. The majority produces the wealth in society, while a tiny ruling elite controls all socially-produced wealth. Consequently, the majority cannot decide how, where, and when to use the wealth they produce. All major decisions about the economy are made by the top one percent of the top one percent.

Graduating more students from high school and college is a good thing, but it won’t solve poverty and inequality. Having more high school and college graduates does not change the economic system that generates these and other problems.

The motive of production today serves mainly the rich, not the people as a whole. Ending serious socio-economic problems requires democratic renewal and a big change in the motivation, direction, and outlook of society and the economy.

What is needed is a human-centered economy that is balanced, coordinated, and consciously organized to ensure the well-being of all. The healthy extended reproduction of society is not possible in an economy dominated by private competing owners of capital driven by unlimited greed. Only an economy with conscious human control and a society that recognizes the rights of all can overcome poverty, unemployment, and other tragedies. In such a society, the mental and manual abilities of all will be better and further developed. No one will experience insecurity, fear, and anxiety because human rights will serve as the core principle guiding all activities. Stubborn problems like poverty, unemployment, and inequality will be overcome because the human factor and social consciousness will be deployed to swiftly end such decades-long problems. Such problems will no longer be treated as “too big to solve.”

  1. Economic Policy Institute, March 2020.
  2. Economic Policy Institute, February 2017.

The Brooklyn Yeshiva Anthem Protest And Why It Is Not Antisemitic

An anti-Semite used to be a person who disliked Jews. Now it is a person who Jews dislike.

Hajo Meyer, Jewish German-born Dutch physicist and Auschwitz survivor.

Antisemitism is a trick we always use.

Shulamit Aloni, Jewish Israeli, former Israeli Minister of Education, longtime member of the Israeli parliament.

On Sunday, February 23 before a match at Yeshiva University, two brave young Muslim Brooklyn College volleyball players “took a knee” during the playing of Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem.  Omar Rezika (Soph.) and Hunnan Butt (Fr.) following the example of NFL football player, Colin Kaepernick, who protested the police brutality in the US African-American community, were protesting the brutality of the Israeli occupation and its apartheid policies toward its non-Jewish residents.  The Nation sports journalist Dave Zirin wrote me that he learned this was the reason for the protest from sources close to the team.

The Jewish press, Jewish organizations and social media were quick to cry antisemitism.  The Simon Wiesenthal Center, The Algemeiner, and StopAntiSemitism.org (has short video of the protest) were just a few who rallied their readers against the protesting students.  The antisemitism charges were easily refuted by the fact that the protest was a legitimate political protest against Israel and had not been directed at Jews, as Jews, nor specifically at the members of the Yeshiva community because of their ethnicity or religion.  Of course, just about every Yeshiva student, faculty member and administrator is a supporter of Israel and is also an active apologist for Israeli transgressions.

The Yeshiva University President, Ari Berman, boasted of the wide (some would add “mindless”) support Zionism has in the United States, and called the actions of Rizika and Butt “unfortunate.”  In saying this he ignored the acceptance free speech and peaceful protest have in American culture and especially in academia.  The Yeshiva University newspaper, The Observer, quotes Berman as saying:

It is unfortunate that some members of the opposing team disrespected Israel’s national anthem. We are proud to be the only university who sings both the American and Israeli national anthems before every athletic competition and major event. Nothing makes me prouder to be an American than living in a country where our religious freedom, our Zionism and our commitment to our people will never be impeded and always be prized.

One salient element that differentiates this protest from Kaepernick’s NFL anthem protests, and indeed most protests, is that it can be credibly argued that it was Yeshiva University, not the protesters themselves, that initiated the confrontation. What university makes the visiting team stand for a foreign national anthem?  And this is not just any foreign national anthem.  It is a national anthem whose words specifically exclude more than 20% of Israeli citizens and more than 50% of persons subject to Israeli rule because they are not Jewish. The anthem also celebrates what most Muslims and many progressives, backed by international law, consider to be a brutal, illegal occupation of Palestinian land.

Even the Zionist political lobby group, JStreet, which supports a kinder, gentler and better-concealed Israeli occupation, featured an alternative, more democratic version of a possible Israeli anthem in the entertainment program of one of its recent conferences.

The American Jewish blogger, Richard Silverstein, who has tweeted about the anthem protest, sent me his reaction:

Unfortunately, the courageous act of dissent performed by these two young volleyball players has been transformed into a act of anti-Semitism, when it was nothing of the sort.  They simply sought to engage in a cherished American tradition of free speech and standing up for the oppressed.  No university that I know plays both the Star Spangled Banner and the national anthem of a foreign country before sporting events…except Yeshiva University.

A Brooklyn College spokesperson issued a brief statement which was quoted in the Yeshiva Observer that began by assuring those who took offense from the anthem protest that ““Brooklyn College strongly condemns all forms of anti-Semitism and hatred…. Their kneeling is protected by the First Amendment.”  The spokesmen did not defend the students against the charges of antisemitism  from the Jewish press, nor against the criticism of President Berman.

Interestingly, the Yeshiva University Observer did not bother to even mention the reason Rezika and Butt were protesting. However, its article copiously catalogs the consternation of the Yeshiva community at the temerity of two visiting students to disrespect the Israeli national anthem and the anguish that their kneeling caused in the Yeshiva community.

Conflating Judaism and Zionism is a staple in the bag of tricks of American Zionists.  They claim that a vast majority of Jews are Zionists (something with which I concur and most pro-Palestinian activists strongly deny, especially Jewish pro-Palestinian activists).  Thus they claim an attack against Zionism is an attack against the core beliefs of most Jews.  It is hateful to them, and thus antisemitic.  Yet the same people who justify their claim of antisemitism by the belief that most Jews are Zionists (in an almost religious sense) will also tell you, when it is in their interest to do so, that it is antisemitic to protest in front of a synagogue (or at a Jewish university) because Jews have very diverse opinions on Israel, and to generally assume the synagogue members support Israel is wrongly generalizing about Jews and is in itself antisemitic.  This flawed but convenient logic makes any real criticism of Zionism equal to antisemitism.

In the United States there is a taboo in criticizing Israel in or around any place that is Jewish.  Such protests get little or no mention even in the progressive press and on websites run by both activist Palestinians or Jews.  What is surprising is that a number of sites and well-known activists did not run from this story.  The story was carried by The Nation, Middle East Eye, and the PalestineChronicle.  Yousef “Strange Parenthesis” Munayyer, the Executive Director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, gave a statement of support for the anthem protest to Middle East Eye.  All of this is both unusual and encouraging.  Many others, as expected, avoided the story despite the fact that flashy protests against Israel are the bread and butter of their outlets.

In Amy Kaplan’s brilliant analysis of the “unbreakable bond” between the United States and Israel she asks the following question:

How did Zionism, a European movement to establish a homeland for a particular ethno-religious group, come to resonate with citizens of a nation based on the foundation, or at least the aspiration, of civic equality and ethnic diversity?

She states that her book, Our American Israel:  The Story Of An Entangled Alliance, “aims to recover the strangeness [emphasis mine, IG] in an affinity that has come to be seen as self-evident. … How in other words, did so many come to feel that the bond between the United States and Israel was historically inevitable, morally right, and a matter of common sense?”

Four Questions That May Be Difficult To Easily Passover

How strange is the received wisdom about Israel?  Here are four examples that come to mind.

  1. Why is it unthinkable to protest in front of a synagogue even when that synagogue openly supports Israeli occupation and apartheid, when it is acceptable to protest in front of a church? There have been numerous protests at Catholic churches over charges of priests sexually abusing young church members.    My friends Ed Kinane and Ann Tiffany were accused of antisemitism when they protest against the siege of Gaza in a Jewish neighborhood, partly because the protest is at a busy intersection near a synagogue.  However, when they protested in front of a Catholic Church, demanding the new bishop be more sensitive than his predecessor to the problems of American capitalism and empire, nobody complained that it was inappropriate to protest in front of a church.
  2. Why have so many states passed anti Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) legislation, when that legislation clearly violates the right of free speech?
  3. Why is talking about the use of money in order to influence the US Congress by Jews or Jewish groups verboten when it is generally accepted as a simpe statement of fact? Remember, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby?” from the twitter feed of Representative Ilhan Omar?  That tweet has been deleted, by the way.
  4. “To raise a memorial to a European genocide on the secular but sacred space of the National Mall required enormous cultural work – nothing less than the transformation of the Holocaust into an element of American heritage” (from Our American Israel). How was this accomplished, especially considering there is no museum or even a memorial dedicated to American slavery or the genocide of Native Americans on the National Mall?

The answers to these questions, as the Jewish-American rock idol Bob Dylan sang, “is blowing in the wind.” Ironically, after living briefly on a kibbutz in northern Israel, he also sang Neighborhood Bully, which is an apologia for Israeli war crimes.

Just asking these questions is enough to get you accused of being an antisemite, even if you are Jewish, like I am.  So I am going to stop here.  One good thing about being old, though, is that no one can call my employer to “expose” me as an antisemite.

One last thing, if you want some answers about all of this, I strongly recommend you read Amy Kaplan’s book.  It is brilliant.

Community Schools Are Not the Antidote to Charter Schools

Democratic presidential candidates, such as Elizabeth Warren, have pledged to fix the American education system by replacing privatized charter schools with “community schools” that incorporate “socioemotional-learning (SEL)” programs. These “Democratic” community schools, which teach “social skills” and “emotional competencies,” might sound like “liberal” or “leftwing” education reforms. But don’t be fooled by the pathos of such leftist “social justice” rhetoric. The Democrats’ socioemotional community-learning centers are no more “progressive” than corporate-fascist charter schools.

Both charter schools and community schools are public-private partnerships between businesses and government agencies that “pipeline” students into “career pathways” curriculums assigned to fill workforce development quotas which have been budgeted for managing a planned economy. At the same time, these workforce “pipelines” and “pathways” at both charter and community schools are being contracted to syphon public tax dollars to pay privatized socioemotional-learning companies to administer SEL services through computerized educational technologies which data-mine the psychometrics of students’ “learning algorithms” so that corporate industries and government bureaucracies can prescribe “personalized” workforce-competency lessons tailored to the SEL metrics of each student’s psychological profile.

It should be no surprise, then, that hi-tech SEL is advocated not only by neo-liberals like Warren, who champion community schools, but also by corporatist neo-conservatives such as President Trump and his Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, who promote charter schools. While Senator Warren’s campaign website hypes “community schools” that “[e]xpand the implementation of . . . Social Emotional Learning,” Secretary DeVos has long been endorsing socioemotional-learning as she posted the hashtag “#SEL” in a 2018 Tweet from the official Twitter account of the US Department of Education.

In brief, proponents of SEL on both the right and left wings of the political aisle are making the case that students cannot reach their full intellectual, or “cognitive,” potentials as learners if they have “mental health” impediments resulting from emotional difficulties caused by social stresses, temperamental “disorders,” or other neuropsychological “disabilities.” As such, both Democrat and Republican SEL advocates are supporting school reforms that hire private companies to data-mine student psychometrics in order to identify which students are in need of emotional, cognitive-behavioral, or psychosocial therapies that will purportedly optimize their learning potentials.

It is certainly true that the logic of a student’s mind is optimized when it is not bogged down with the cognitive dissonance of low self-esteem from social ostracization or neuro-temperamental “disability.” However, the corporate-government data-mining of student psychometrics will only further impede a student’s academic self-esteem by over-pathologizing his or her “social” and “emotional” performances at school. Therefore, SEL data-tracking is not geared to therapeutically remedy students’ low self-esteems so that they can maximize their learning powers in order to freely climb up the socioeconomic ladder by following the reason of their own consciences. Rather, SEL data-tracking is engineered to empirically pathologize student learning so that workforce-schooling partnerships between Big Business and Big Government can “scientifically” diagnose students as socially or emotionally “unfit” for certain job castes in a technocratically planned economy.

Community Fascism, Corporate Communism

There is no doubt that Billionaire Betsy DeVos is the queen of “school choice” privatization as she has dumped millions of her own dollars into the funding of charter school companies which push “competency-based” workforce training through “career pathways” curriculums managed by unelected corporate councils that are subsidized by public tax dollars. DeVos’s charter choice industry is indeed an assault on public education; but if you’re hopeful that the Democrats’ community-schooling reforms will put an end to education privatization and thus restore the publicly elected schoolboard system to local “communities,” take a closer look at Warren’s education plan.

According to the official “Warren for President” website  the Democratic Senator pledges that her community schools will “[p]rovide better access to career and college readiness” bydramatically scaling up high-quality apprenticeship programs with a $20 billion investment that will support partnerships between high schools, community colleges, unions, and companies” while “leverage[ing] existing federal programs to facilitate education-to-workforce preparedness.” Stated differently, Warren’s “community” education plan will spend $20 billion of the federal budget to subsidize corporate workforce training through public-private partnerships between schools and companies. Hence, despite the “communitarian” labeling, Warren’s community-schooling reforms are essentially no different from the charter-schooling policies of Secretary DeVos, who has proclaimed that “[t]he best workforce is an educated workforce, and this Administration is committed to increasing access to career and technical education for college students and adults alike. By encouraging public-private partnerships, we can help connect students with prospective employers and provide those students with the necessary skills to find a good-paying job in their communities.”

Take a closer look at community-schooling legislation, which clearly defines community schools as “public and private partnerships” between businesses and government agencies contracted together to streamline “workforce” development through “pipeline services.” According to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), community-schooling “pipeline services” are basically synonymous with charter-schooling “career pathways,” both of which are polytechnical job-placement programs managed by public-private school-to-work partnerships between politically connected corporations in bed with state and federal governments:

  • Section 4622 of ESSA states that “[t]he term ‘full-service community schools’ means a public elementary school or secondary school that—(A) participates in a community-based effort to coordinate and integrate educational, developmental, family, health, and other comprehensive services through community-based organizations and public and private partnerships.”
  • Under Section 4625, ESSA mandates that federally granted community schools must stipulate the particular “pipeline services [that will] be coordinated and provided by the eligible entity and its partner entities” in order to facilitate the “comprehensive services” listed in Section 4623.
  • Section 4623 of ESSA states that “[t]he term ‘pipeline services’ means a continuum of coordinated supports, services, and opportunities for children from birth through . . . career attainment. Such services shall include . . . the following: . . . (C) Support for a child’s transition . . . into the workforce . . . (E) Activities that support postsecondary education and workforce readiness, which may include job training, internship opportunities, and career counseling. (F) Community-based support for . . . students who are members of the community, facilitating . . . success in postsecondary education and the workforce.”

In sum, community-schooling “career attainment” through “pipeline services” is the functional equivalent of “cradle-to-career” charter schooling through “career pathways” curriculums. Regardless of which way the rhetorical labels are spun, both “Democratic” community schools and “Republican” charter schools are public-private partnerships between government bureaucracies and crony-capitalist companies that pipeline students into career-pathways job placement to fulfill the workforce-development quotas which have been predetermined by a planned economy.

Socioemotional Workforce Conditioning:

If there is any substantive difference between community schools and charter schools, it is perhaps that the former is legally required to incorporate an array of public-private health and social services through “lifelong learning” programs that conglomerate workforce planning and healthcare into a single “educational” apparatus. By blurring the lines between economic management and health and human services under the singular banner of “education,” community SEL schools can streamline their career and healthcare pipelines through public-private partnerships with education-technology corporations that provide medical treatments to enhance school-to-work learning through socio-emotional accommodations, such as occupational therapies prescribed according to each student’s digitalized psychological profile tabulated by ed-tech data-mining.

Section 4622 of the ESSA law states that, in addition to “job training” and “career counseling,” community-schooling “pipeline services” include “(G) Social, health, nutrition, and mental health services and supports.” By bundling “job” and “career” services together with “social” and “health” services, ESSA’s community pipelines convert schools into public-private headquarters for managing a planned economy through medical services administered to psychologically and socially engineer the student body into a workforce caste collective.

Moreover, the ESSA legislation states that community-school pipeline services must record accurate data pertaining to the socioeconomic and public health “needs” of the community school district while also keeping track of the data pertaining to the workforce-development and socioemotional-learning “outcomes” of the district community’s “lifelong” students. Section 4625 stipulates that federally granted community-school pipelines must submit to the Secretary of Education “(A) A needs assessment that identifies the academic, physical, nonacademic, health, mental health, and other needs of students, families, and community residents.” In addition, clause “(C)” states that federally financed community schools must also record “annual measurements” of pipeline “outcomes” data in order “to ensure that children are— . . . (iii) safe, healthy, and supported by engaged parents.” Therefore, to provide an accurate assessment of such health needs and outcomes of the community residents, federally funded community schools must accurately record epidemiological data pertaining to the health of different populations living in the school district.

In brief, to keep track of annual assessments that measure the needs and outcomes of career and health services, community-school pipelines are authorized to set up public-private contracts with education-technology corporations that “upgrade” student “competency” with “adaptive-learning” software and computerized biofeedback devices that data-mine students’ cognitive-behavioral and socioemotional-learning algorithms in real time for the purposes of diagnosing learning disabilities while digitally administering psychological therapies in order to medically accommodate a healthy workforce.

And there is more socioemotional-learning legislation in the mix to combine workforce training hand-in-hand with SEL conditioning. In addition to Elizabeth Warren’s presidential plan for “community-based” workforce SEL, a bill titled  “The Social and Emotional Learning for Families (SELF) Act” was introduced on June 14, 2018, by Democrat US Representative of Ohio, Tim Ryan, whose pitch for the law proclaims that the SELF Act will improve the workforce competence of the student body:

[t]here is growing recognition that social and emotional skills are essential for students’ healthy functioning and positive academic outcomes.  . . . It’s why I’ve introduced the SELF Act which promotes and encourages collaboration between schools and parents around the development of their students’ social and emotional skills. This partnership is not only beneficial to the student’s long term academic success, but necessary for them to be a productive member of the American workforce [sic].

Although the SELF Act of 2018 was never passed by Congress, Ryan is still pressing forward as he has now introduced the SELF Act of 2019. Additionally, during his 2019 campaign for the US presidency, Ryan repeatedly touted his call for workforce SEL.

The Edu-Corporation as Hospital, Ed-Technology as Doctor:

Not only do community SEL schools contract with the privatized healthcare industry to apply medical science to streamline workforce conditioning for a technocratically planned economy, but public-private community SEL partnerships also open the gates for private education-technology companies to secure government contracts for data-mining students in order to “scientifically” administer hi-tech cognitive-behavioral, socioemotional, and occupational therapies to medically treat students who have learning disabilities such as ADHD.

To be sure, Elizabeth Warren has promised that her community-school reforms will “crack down on anti-competitive data mining practices by educational technology companies” by “ban[ning] the sharing, storing, and sale of student data that includes names or other information that can identify individual students.” Nevertheless, notice that these reforms do not abolish student data-tracking; rather, these reforms are merely aimed at better anonymizing student data in order to improve competition between the ed-tech corporations that data-mine student learning algorithms. As a result, Warren’s public-private community schools will still hire education-technology corporations to data-mine students’ SEL algorithms despite her so-called “crackdown” on ed-tech Big Data.

Here’s a menu of corporate leaders in the socioemotional-learning industry that are primed to be favored for public-private SEL contracts with “progressive” community schools:

  • Neurocore Behavioral Biofeedback: The corporate website of the Neurocore company states that it treats students with ADHD and other learning disabilities by providing hi-tech biofeedback therapies that utilize the operant-conditioning techniques of “positive reinforcement and repetition” to retrain students’ brainwave frequencies to conduce better attention and memory spans. In particular, Neurocore’s biofeedback-conditioning reprograms a student’s ADHD by utilizing quantitative electroencephalography (EEG) to monitor his or her brainwave responses to video stimuli; whenever the ADHD student exhibits an undesirable brainwave response that indicates distraction, the video stimuli is halted or altered until the student exhibits a focused brainwave response that indicates concentrated attention. It should be noted that Secretary Betsy DeVos sat on Neurocore’s board of directors until she was confirmed to the office of US Secretary of Education. Although DeVos has since resigned from the Neurocore board, she has refused to sell her shares in the company.
  • Microsoft-Patented GSR Monitors: The Microsoft Corporation has recently been sending a series of applications to the United States Patent and Trademark Office in order to patent  “smart fabric” technologies that are “woven” with computerized biosensors, such as “galvanic skin response monitors,” that can digitally track the wearer’s neuro-emotional status through “electrodermal activity” (EDA) and other biometric measurements which can be wirelessly transmitted through IT telecommunications across the internet-of-things. This Microsoft patent application comes several years after Microsoft Founder and CEO, Bill Gates, commissioned his tax-exempt Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to dump over $1 million dollars into “galvanic skin response” (GSR) bracelets that can biometrically gauge a student’s socioemotional engagement with classroom lessons and coursework. In 2011, the Gates Foundation poured $621,265 into the National Center on Time & Learning “to measure engagement physiologically with Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Galvanic Skin Response to determine correlations between each measure and develop a scale that differentiates different degrees or levels of engagement.”  Then, in 2012, the Gates Foundation issued a grant of $498,055 to Clemson University to “work with members of the Measuring Effective Teachers (MET) team to measure engagement physiologically with Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) bracelets which will determine the feasibility and utility of using such devices regularly in schools with students and teachers.” (It is worth noting here that the Microsoft Corporation has also developed an “emotion-analysis API [application program interface]” that is an artificial-intelligence (AI) software for detecting human emotions through facial recognition algorithms.)
  • BrainCo EEG Conditioning: The BrainCo Corporation data-mines student brainwaves through computerized headbands that scan students’ electroencephalography (EEG) wavelengths to calculate students’ socioemotional “engagement” and cognitive-behavioral “focus.” Prototyped at Harvard University’s Innovation Lab, BrainCo’s “Focus 1” headband was awarded the prize for “Most Innovative” ed-tech at the 2017 International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Conference. BrainCo is also engineering Brain-Machine Interface (BMI) headbands which electronically administer cognitive-behavioral therapies that treat ADHD. It should be noted that the BrainCo company is funded by several Chinese firms such as Wandai Capital, Decent Capital, Han Tan Capital, and the China Electronics Corporation, which classifies itself as “one of the key state-owned conglomerates directly under the administration of central government, and the largest state-owned IT company in China.”
  • Affectiva Behavioral Advertising: A data-aggregation company called “Affectiva” provides “predictive analytics” services that combine “behavioral advertising” algorithms with “student learning” algorithms in order to “personalize” both commercial ads and school lessons according to individualized psychological profiles. According to Professor of Education at Towson University, Morna McDermott McNulty, “Affectiva uses voice and facial recognition software to track real-time emotions of device users interacting with online content. That company [Affectiva] spun out of the MIT Media lab and contracts with global brands to test advertising campaigns; but it is also used to gather data about student engagement with online education programs.” It is quite telling that Affectiva’s SEL algorithms, which are programmed to scan students’ socioemotional engagement in response to digital learning stimuli, are in essence the same as Affectiva’s behavioral-advertising algorithms, which are programmed to data-mine consumers’ socioemotional engagement with commercial ads. By combining SEL with behavioral advertising, the Affectiva corporation is in a niche to win public-private community-schooling contracts to dispense ed-technologies that data-mine students’ job-competence algorithms to fill workforce-planning quotas.
  • Akili “Videogame Prescriptions”: Clinical trials at Duke University have been completed for a prescription ADHD video game called AKL-T01, which is owned by the Akili Interactive Labs Corporation. According to Professor McDermott McNulty, the AKL-T01 digital prescription “looks and feels like a high-end video game, leveraging art, music, storytelling and reward cycles to keep patients engaged and immersed for the delivery of therapeutic activity with excellent compliance.” Akili Interactive Labs is also gearing up for “many other digital treatments in the pipeline.” McNulty demonstrates that “[i]f Akili attains FDA approval for their ADHD game and is able to get insurance companies to pay for it, an enormous new market for prescription digital therapies will open up.” In fact, there is a high probability that the FDA and the insurance industry will approve of Akili’s AKL-T01 and thereby set the precedent to open up government regulations for other socioemotional videogame therapies because the Akili company is heavily backed by the pharmaceutical industry, which is one of the most powerful lobbies in the United States. Merck Ventures, Amgen Ventures, PureTech Health, Canepa Healthcare, and Jazz Venture Partners have all poured a combined $72 million into the Akili Corporation.

Tragedy and Rope a Dope:

Beware of community-schooling reforms that neo-liberal demagogues, such as Elizabeth Warren and Tim Ryan, are hyping as the remedy to “school choice” charter privatization. Despite the “progressive” window dressing of “community-based” socioemotional learning, “leftwing” community schools are pushing SEL curriculums that implement corporate-government workforce conditioning administered through public-private “pipeline” partnerships with private companies such as Neurocore, Microsoft, BrainCo, Affectiva, and Akili.

As historicized in the academic tome, Tragedy and Hope, by Georgetown University Professor of History, Carroll Quigley, the same oligarchy of corporate-industrialists pilots both the left and right wings of America’s two-party political machine toward the same technocratically planned economy. Quigley, who was President Bill Clinton’s mentor, professed that:

[t]he argument that the two parties should represent opposed ideals and policies, one, perhaps, of the Right and the other of the Left, is a foolish idea acceptable only to doctrinaire and academic thinkers. Instead, the two parties should be almost identical, so that the American people can “throw the rascals out” at any election without leading to any profound or extensive shifts in policy. The policies that are vital and necessary for America are no longer subjects of significant disagreement, but are disputable only in details of procedure, priority, or method.

Indeed, more than fifty years after the publication of Quigley’s Tragedy and Hope, the policy “disagreements” between “liberal” community schoolers and “conservative” charter schoolers are merely “disputing” the “details” of how to “prioritize” the “methods” and “procedures” for corporate-government contracts that authorize public-private partnerships to “pipeline” or “pathway” students into medically diagnosed job castes prescribed to fulfill the workforce development quotas of a technocratically planned economy.

Work of Necessity, Work of Choice

At age 11, Saabir Gulmadin began chopping wood to support his family. Now 18, he earns about $1.50 US (120 Afghanis) for every 56 kg of wood he splits. It takes him 2 to 3 hours.

“Is the work hard on your body?” I ask.

“Ohhh, yes,” he says, without hesitation.

“Where does it hurt?”

Saabir raises his right hand to give his thin upper arm a couple of squeezes.

Saabir supports the 8 Pashtun family members in their home in Kabul, Afghanistan. His father died from an illness when Saabir was 6, and by age 8, Saabir was working in the streets, transporting items in a wheelbarrow.

A few days ago, the House of the Afghan Parliament approved a law on the protection of children, but it only addresses, in principle, children age 5 and younger. At least a quarter of Afghan children ages 5 to 14 work. With no social safety net, few avenues exist for families to meet basic needs. Given the decades of war, extreme poverty, and the highest number of drug addicts in the world, families in Afghanistan who have lost their breadwinner are often left with two choices: send a child out to work or join the 219 million forcibly displaced migrants, seeking food and physical safety.

A group of Afghan high school and university students, the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APVs), is taking a step to increase families’ financial security with a program that teaches Afghan teenagers a trade. Instead of calling for a blanket ban on child labor, they believe that if a youth is taught a trade to earn money for food and other necessities, this training may in fact enable that youth to stay in school.

Having studied at the APVs’ Street Kids School for almost two years, Saabir recently joined a course to learn how to repair cell phones. In past years, students at the Street Kids School would receive a monthly food ration of rice, lentils, oil, and other basic food items if they regularly attended the school’s nonviolence and literacy classes, but the APV youth coordinators have decided to shift from running the food distribution program to offering training in livelihood skills.

Twenty-one self-selected students from the Street Kids School age 13 and older, and 3 family members of younger students, are taking the repair course at the private Gharejestan University in Kabul.

During a recent class, some students brought their own cell phones to class, and as in the US, could not resist checking messages as the instructor talked about “factory reset” and “safe mode.” Mohammad Haidary, age 16, sat in the front of the classroom, listening attentively and asking questions. During the first two weeks, Mohammad has learned the parts of a cell phone, the problems that arise when a SIM card is faulty, and how improper language settings can turn recognizable speech in SMS messages to a series of squares and question marks.

Like Saabir, Mohammad started working young, at about age 9 or 10, joining Hazara family members in weaving carpets at home. He is taking the cell phone repair course because he wants to be able to repair his own phone if something goes wrong, or the phones of his friends. The repair shops charge high prices for a simple problem, he says. He also believes he’ll be able to find a better job and be able to keep attending school. “It takes me a month, together with my family members, to weave a carpet,” Mohammad says, often working all day and therefore unable to attend school. “But with the repair of mobile phones, I don’t have to use the whole day, and the income is higher.”

Mohammad values having his own phone to review school lessons shared digitally by his teachers and to listen to downloaded English audio lessons. He agrees with the transition from providing food gifts to teaching a trade: “I may be able to find a job in the future, and that will, in fact, enable me to have an income. . . . With that income, I can also, then, meet my food needs.”

Saabir Gulmadin, left, works with a fellow Street Kids School student during a cell phone repair course at Gharejestan University.

Among the youngest in the repair course is Gul Mohammad Jamshadi, 14, from the Uzbek ethnic group. The cut off is age 13, in part because Afghans would be unlikely to trust in him for a repair if he were much younger.

Gul Mohammad started selling bread in a bakery when he was 8. Now he works in a provisions shop, earning 200 Afghanis per week, about $2.50 US. This weekly pay is just double the cost of what a Kabul repair shop charges to replace a phone charger.

Gul Mohammad Jamshadi, left, solders parts to a motherboard. Mohammad Haidary, wearing a hat, works to his left.

Gul Mohammad works to support his mother, his unmarried sister, and himself. His elder brother was killed, and his father has passed away. He says he doesn’t have the tools or phone parts to practice at home what he learns in class, but he studies his course book.

If children like himself had a choice, Gul Mohammad thinks it better that they be able to study instead of having to work, better if the government would ensure that the needs of children were met. He values an education and doesn’t want to join the estimated 1.6 million addicts in the country. When the course ends, Gul Mohammad plans to work part time repairing phones while continuing in school. “If I don’t study, I could become like some people who stop studying and become addicts and who can’t find any job to support their families.”

Trading Chihuahua Desert Hardscrabble for Coast Range Wet

The word was the ember and the forest was my life.
― Jimmy Santiago Baca, “Coming into Language,” March 3, 2014

We’re at the Flip ‘n Chicken sharing food, swapping stories about El Paso, and philosophizing about what it means to be an educator in the Early Childhood program at Oregon Coast Community College.

His looks are a cross between Lee Trevino (golfer from El Paso) and my buddy the muralist from El Paso, Mario Colin.

My hope is that I can influence high school students to become teachers . . . to be better teachers . . . go to grad school . . . get a master’s degree, get a doctoral. My biggest pleasure would be to see that student who obtained a certificate from Oregon Coast College come back to replace me. — Oscar Juarez, faculty member in early childhood education at Oregon Coast Community College.

As the day unfolds, Oscar leads me from his faculty office to the Flip ‘n Chicken to meet Marco and Ana, the proprietors of the small eatery. For Marco and Oscar, this modest Mexican-styled restaurant serving chicken wings and all-day breakfasts is a hub of activity for the Newport and beyond Latino community.

The journey here for his wife Teresa and five children, aged 22 to 11, is a cultural/intellectual/ spiritual roadmap he’s plotted for his entire life. Leaving a huge metropolitan area with more than 90 percent Hispanic population in El Paso and several million Mexicans right across the border in Juarez, to this almost alien quasi-barren place called the Central Oregon Coast has galvanized into him the word “significant.”

Come November 28 2019, it will be a year since he was hired at OCCC-Newport.

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Oscar Juarez  at Oregon Coast Community College in Newport. (Courtesy photo)

Journeys from Mexico to El Paso – Family Legacy

The legacy of his Mexican roots planted in this country – historically in large part the sanctum of Mexico (or New Spain) for hundreds of years — are still tended carefully.

His parents met in Ciudad Juarez. Jesus Juarez was from Guanajuato and Oscar’s mother Maria Guadalupe from Zacatecas. His mother had a third-grade education, and his father went to college and obtained a business degree while living in Mexico City. Both did not speak English when they arrived to Juarez, Chihuahua.

Soon, a carpet tienda opened up – Alfombras Juarez, both in Juarez and then soon after a sister store in El Paso opened. Oscar and three brothers and sister were born in El Paso. The fifth child, a brother, was born in Juarez as their mother went into labor which necessitated giving birth in Mexico.

For Oscar, their humble beginnings set in motion his own ethos of caring for family and appreciating the little things in life – the gulls, the seals in Waldport where he lives, all the vegetation foreign to a Chihuahua native.

However, it doesn’t take much to precipitate pride in his own country’s history of struggle, and his own belief in the common good of all people, no matter the national borders set down.

Zoot Suits, Gang Bangers, Family Unity

We talk about gangs in El Paso, groups I am familiar with since I was both a college/university instructor who also taught in alternative programs tied to gang activity reduction. Oscar grew up with both parents in the household, and their home was part of two other residences – aunts and uncles with their own broods of 5 and 6 children each.

He attributes that cohesion as to why he, his siblings and cousins never got involved in gangs or drugs.

Where I grew up, one block east was the Barrios San Juan gang. One block west, the Fatherless gang. Two blocks north, the Diablo Sherman gang.

He’s quick to dispel the racist banter about Latinos and gangs.

You can’t judge a book by its cover.Here is one gang, Diablo Sherman, which came from a rundown housing project … they were never given a chance. With both parents working night and day. So, what other outlet do teenagers have? These gangs give them a sense of belonging.

He admits there was pressure to join a gang, but he stifled that by becoming a diplomat, making friends with individuals from every gang.

Given the tight-knit family, the young Oscar had many dreams of what he wanted to be when he grew up. One dream was to become an astronaut. He had aspirations for military life, even wanting to join the Army when the Gulf War began.

Life hit him like ice water to the face several times, the first one being the death of his father when he was killed by a hit and run driver in Juarez when the family was there for a quinceanera.

His mother was 38 years old left alone to raise five boys and a daughter.

Speech Therapy, Learning to Persevere

That’s when my impediment started,” Oscar says. This is one form of trauma precipitated by witnessing his old man die – stuttering, or stammering. “My siblings went to counseling after our father’s death. I was so young I guess they thought I didn’t need to get counseling.

His family was wrong about that. Consequently, his family believed Oscar was faking the stammering, or that he was imitating a cousin who stuttered.

It’s been a blessing for me. It changed my attitude. It made me realize others’ suffering, and to put myself into other people’s shoes.

The “it” is more than a speech challenge/disability – he sees life as a process of challenging any individual to live outside the box.

He was evaluated in fourth grade, received an IEP (Individualized Education Plan), and a speech therapist. For Oscar, during his senior year, the therapist told him his plans for the future – Air Force Academy – were not typical of others with this impediment. “She was telling me how much strength I had by not letting this limit my life, my dreams.”

I took it as a challenge. I never wanted the easy road. It would have been easier to just shy away from public speaking events. I was fortunate I had a few good teachers who made the difference for me.

Teaching is in his Blood

Ironically, it was his family of five children – Clara, 22; Yasmine, 21; Jesus, 18; Oscar, 14; Alicia, 11 – and his wife who chose Newport over a more lucrative offer of an associate professorship (with more pay) at New Mexico State University (his grad school alma mater) in Carlsbad (still close to his large clan in El Paso).

’Let’s get out of our comfort zone,’ Teresa said. ‘We’ve been playing it safe for so long, let’s gamble.’

That gamble means a win-win to the third power for Newport. He says he is really motivated to help transform Oregon Coast College into “the community’s school.”

His multicultural class is helping early childhood instructors see their students’ lives from a broader and multifaceted lens and narrative frame. “I feel I have to be more of an advocate for the college. Being here does provide me with a venue. I want this college to be more inclusive. I tell my students, ‘This is your community college. I am only a steward of the college.’”

He’s all about teaching, even though he was headed for an academy, which didn’t work out. He was a chemistry major at UT-El Paso. He was one semester away from heading to a lab. That didn’t work out.

In fact, Oscar Juarez’s presence in Newport – as he spreads his knowledge, passion and inspiration – is largely because he dropped out of college to take care of an ailing mother. In doing so, he worked odd jobs, including custodian at a Head Start in El Paso. And that’s when the teaching bug hit him hard.

The Benito Juarez Connection

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Entre los individuos, como entre las naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz
Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace.
— Benito Juarez, Zapotec Indian, president of Mexico (1861–72)

This quotation Oscar recites while we eat our veggie burrito and chicken wings. It was the second Mexican revolution, against the French (1864–67) – essentially a foreign occupation under the emperor Maximilian.

That was the Battle of Puebla, which Mexico under Benito Juarez won. Think of Cinco de Mayo (5th of May).

He relates how his father spoke no English but opened up a business in both Juarez and El Paso. In fact, Oscar worked in both carpet stores in the summer. And it was his father who told him that he wanted his son to “not work on his knees but with his head” — no trabajar de rodillas sino con la cabeza.

Persistence is another trait Oscar attributes to his father and to the indigenous hero Benito Juarez. As the last child of six to still be at home, Oscar was asked to undertake caring for his mother.

His mother’ one side of her face was hit with Bell’s Palsy, then the other side was also paralyzed, on top of bouts of painful arthritis. He ended up dropping out of college to work odd jobs to support them both.

Those jobs and supporting his mother led her to ask him if it was okay if she married another man.  Oscar speaks fondly of both his mother and step-father, who miss them dearly now that the five grandchildren and daughter-in-law are so far away.

Starting a Family Young

He was working odd jobs when he answered the request to be a volunteer at his daughter’s Head Start. He then got the job as custodian. Then one day one of the teachers asked him to assist with an unruly child. Oscar was a natural mentor. This Head Start mental health provider witnessed Oscar’s calming and instructive response and so asked him to apply to be a teaching assistant.

It was the assistant director of the program who “saw me interacting with my son . . . it wasn’t a classroom setting.” One week later he was offered the job of teacher’s assistant.

That opportunity came with a cut in pay, but Head Start offered him free schooling. Again, baptismal by fire – “The first day on the job the classroom teacher was out on a training and I was left with the classroom all day. I didn’t know the children’s names or the lesson plans.”

He did the TA job for two years, and then he ended up getting two AA degrees, and finally, after one and a half years of on-line school, he finished his bilingual early childhood education bachelor’s degree (2013).

He then found the time and opportunity to go to graduate school in 2016. Back to UTEP, in their grad program in education and curriculum development. He worked at Head Start full=time as a teacher.

Barrage of Applications

He tells me with a smile that in December 2017 he started sending out applications for full-time college gigs in early childhood education. Over 100 were sent out all over the country. One landed an on-site interview, Grays Harbor College.

On his way back to El Paso, he got the call he didn’t land the Washington job. He emphasizes most colleges and universities were looking for PhD applicants.

He was exhausted, and he got one call from NMSU. He then was asked by OCCC for a remote interview. He did so well they invited him out to Newport for a face-to-face interview. He and his eldest daughter drove to Newport, met his (future) boss, teachers and others. He believes a training video Head Start had made of Oscar teaching in the classroom (age 3 to 5) won them over.

In the video Oscar shows how he can easily impart concepts of math and physics to 3-to 5-year old’s, ideas much older students have a difficult time grasping. He attributes his math and chemistry background to that success.

His trip back – he emphasizes how his family was strapped for money – included a blowout in Kingman, Arizona. Luckily, the spare tire was good. He got home on a Wednesday, got an offer from NMSU-Carlsbad, but then he wondered: “I saw the need of this community were high. I also would be in charge of starting the program – bilingual early childhood education. I wanted to leave my fingerprint on a program.”

Challenges and Changes

He tells me about how his Waldport neighbor Rick, two houses down from the duplex the Juarez family is renting, wrote a little piece for the local paper inspired by Oscar, emphasizing how local residents can take many things for granted.

What do I like about the coast? The weather. The scenery, and the green. I like the small things that people might not see. When driving to and from work, I get to see this amazing area. Even the dandelions. I look at them on the ground and I am truly amazed.

Those conversations with Rick from Waldport made Rick realize how much coastal beauty he takes for granted.

This brings up the fact Oscar Juarez and his family’s presence here – as well as all the other new residents from all parts of Mexico and Central America – could be transformative for dyed in the wool locals who are skeptical of outsiders, especially from countries south of the US border.

In fact, the Chicano-Latino connections Anglo residents are making and continue to make could be yet another story in the legacy of this country’s philosophy of being a welcoming country for immigrants. In 2011 the Mayor of Newport signed a Proclamation stating the city is a Welcoming Community – part of a large initiative called, Welcoming America movement, which has spread to more than two dozen states to promote immigrant inclusion, respect and integration.

The reasons I came to Newport and the Oregon Coast College involve my philosophy of making change where it really counts, Oscar tells me.

He sees the need for early childhood educators to be much more attuned to the shifting demographics of America – no matter how insane and inaccurate the current POTUS and his rabid followers are when discussing immigrants in this country.

Increasing the numbers of bilingual teachers across America is a win-win situation, and Oscar is of a generation of adults who was raised to fight for social justice and human dignity. We talk about his Catholic upbringing and beliefs, and we quickly launch into liberation theology, which is centered in activism by nuns and priests supporting indigenous, poor, farming and working communities throughout Latin America in their struggle to break the chains of oppression, structural violence and austerity measures dictated by transnational financial organizations.

We talk about how Lincoln County’s young minds need to be exposed to the big ideas, the big social justice tools, and how to create a more diverse and respectful world.

Advocate for the Young People

I’m at Oscar’s multicultural and early childhood ed classes at OCCC to give my own presentation on an anti-poverty program I am helping direct in Lincoln County.

The young people obviously open up their minds and hearts to the big ideas I am presenting around social IQ, social capital and communitarianism. The principles Oscar brings to the classroom align with my work for Family Independence Initiative: allowing people or families to make decisions in their lives about what progress should look like.

Investing in families is key to raising smart, resilient and resourceful youth. Having early education students understand the overlay of how young kids end up struggling with reading and writing and their behavior is a must for the new crop of teachers of the 3 to 5 year olds.

Oscar has invited many professionals to his class to talk to his students. I was there when Sommer McLeish, Community Health Improvement Program Coordinator for Samaritan Hospital, gave a presentation on early childhood principles and parenting programs. She too is all about building communities within communities.

Sommer brings up ACES — Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, which looks at the variables in a child whose upbringing is rough. The more precarious the parenting, the higher the child’s risks are for later health problems. Abuse, Neglect and Household Dysfunction are just three ACES. Both Oscar and Sommer are looking at arming parents with the tools to make sure the household is one of enrichment, lowered chances of abuse and neglect, and where the children can thrive and get a head start in education.

As I leave his two classes, Oscar runs into a few students – Spanish speaking young men and women who are animated and confident around him.

That is a picture worth more than a thousand words. As more people in our county come to understand the power of the journeys people are making today – sacrifices to leave behind their homelands, communities, families – to live and work here, the more powerful the story of diversity is when traditions and cultural signposts and activities are then shared among all in our community.

A few days earlier, Marco of Flip ‘n’ Chicken showed me the Oceanlake Elementary School Day of the Dead celebration his wife and others in the community put on. Here I was, in this little restaurant, while the Mexican showed me on his android phone the costumes and the dancing and drumming and guitar playing.

Oscar nodded, affirming his role in this county will have a lasting impact for some of those offspring of the Latino and all the other ethnic communities when they take his early childhood education courses to become mentors and guides in the classroom for the next and the next generation of children.

Riffing with the El Pasoan in Ten Easy Questions

My alma mater NMSU called me with the same type of position at almost the exact same time as I heard from Oregon Coast Community College. I felt this was a community that needed me more, and now that I’ve been here for a bit, I feel I made the right choice. I have a lot of experience working with low-income families, and as a Hispanic person, I’ve heard from people that said they were excited to see someone with their skin color that can speak their language, and others saying that seeing me in this job gives them hope.

Paul Haeder: What defines you as a teacher?
Oscar Juarez: I have to give all my best every day. I know being a teacher is my vocation and I enjoy what I do. Another key thing to define me has a teacher is the ability to take a complex problem and break down to its basic element and teach it to my students. I must also have compassion with my students.

PH: What defines you as a father?
OJ: This is somewhat a difficult way to describe. I was fortunate that we had a nuclear family at home with my dad providing the example, but when he passed away my eldest brother took his role. Imagine a 20-year-old being the main male figure in our household but he tried his best and carried a great burden on his shoulders. My wife Terry is the person who has made me a better father. She reminds me when I am wrong and what I did right. Seeing the births of all my children brought me a new sense of security. I will be the first to admit that being a father is difficult and we don’t provide a support system. I always hoped that being a good father made me a better man, and being a good man made me a better father.

PH: What is the best definition of a good teacher?
OJ: A good teacher is a person who has embraced their vocation. Like I explain to my students, teaching is a vocation, meaning you enjoy every single moment and wake up energized each day. As a teacher we make many sacrifices for our families and children. I must emphasize when I mention children, they were my students. I say this because at times I was a stable figure, role model, and sometimes a parent to them after spending 9 months together. A teacher will use their own resources to help provide students the opportunity of giving them a toy or so forth to those who may not have what we all have. There were times, and still currently, financial hardships teachers face but we put a brave face.

PH: What is the main difference being a Latino in Lincoln County vs your life in El Paso?
OJ: The biggest difference is the change in demographics. In El Paso Latinos are the majority group in the city, and in Lincoln County we are the minority group. The food, produce, and language are very distinct from back home. We have found it very difficult to find food and produce that make up our diet. Mexican produce is very limited and expensive here. Another major difference is not being able to speak Spanish with other people. Being bilingual is great, but I still feel the urge to speak my native tongue or even joke around with friends and coworkers.

PH: What are some of the key issues in your multicultural class students might struggle with?
OJ: One of the biggest issues my students are facing is the financial struggle. Poverty has no racial line. Another issue is understanding the views and pressures other cultures have and understanding the similarities of each group. Finally, speaking about the elephant in room, white privilege.

PH: You have seen in your lifetime a real spotlight on Americans’ supremacist history, no? How do you have that conversation with your 5 children about how they might be greeted by cops, officials and even just the public based on the color of their skin?
OJ: Yes, I have seen the American supremacist history in action. Growing up in a majority Latino community, I was still called “wetback” and “illegal.” The attitudes by white Anglo people were very disheartening. Being subjected to injustices and discrimination in school, work, and in society would hamper my ideal of equality, but I became resolute in what needs to be done. When I drove to Newport the first time around, I noticed the same discrimination in Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Idaho. We have been able to avoid some of the discrimination towards our children. We have taught them we all are equal and have the same value in society, but society has not kept up to the times. I still get the look when I’m driving and notice a police car following me. Or even walking into a store and I hear the “keep an eye code” over the intercom. Yes, I did work in retail, do understand the codes to be vigilant with certain customers. On several occasions, I had sheriff’s deputy officer and Customs and Border agent berate me due to the color of my skin. All of these experiences have only made me more of an advocate for social justice.

PH: What are the key changes need to be made in the entire early education framework?
OJ: The changes I would love to make are “to learn through play,” community involvement, local curriculum needs, and better training of teachers. Learn through play is the easiest change we need in order to allow teachers the freedom to have fun with children. We are teaching children as if we are factory workers. Federal and state mandates have pushed out the ability to have fun. My fondest memories when I taught was when my students and I had fun learning. Allowing them to use their natural curiosity to investigate and develop the correlation of a solution while having fun. I often ask people what is your fondest memory of school. Almost 99% will say when they had fun in a class. The community input is very important in the classroom and outside the classroom. But we have built a wall around schools. Parental involvement is vital to the success of their children. We need them to volunteer in the classroom, we need them feel invested in their child’s learning. They are the experts on their children, not us. When we create an inclusive environment with the community, they will help us identify curriculum needs for their children. If we have a multicultural community, we need to hear and understand their needs. This will go along with using their cultural strengths in school. Lastly, we need to encourage teachers to step out of their comfort zone. We need to bring teachers to use their talents into the classroom by changing how we train teachers. Teacher training usually involves sitting down and listening to a speaker. This is sometimes boring. We need to create training that will foster their skills with hands on activities, learn through play.

PH: What is your favorite thing to do in Lincoln County, on the Coast?
OH: My favorite thing to do in the county is walking on the beach with my family. We are trying to go out every weekend to Seal Rock or Waldport beach and enjoy being together as a family. My wife and I enjoy watching our kids running or enjoying themselves in the natural beauty of the beach. This is a major contrast to our former Chihuahua desert view.

PH: Define community for me.
OJ: A community is helping your family, friends, and neighbors. The mutual cooperation to help each other in a time of need. When I used to be at catechism for confirmation, I had my candidates share the Christmas joy by buying presents to under privileged children in the community. Understanding the hardships and how we could help make the difference in people lives.

PH: Why would you make a good governor of Texas, or Oregon?
OJ: First all is the understanding the daily struggles everyone has. I do not come from a family of wealth or a generation of privilege. In Texas the challenges include affordable housing, Medicaid expansion, education funding, and safety net plans. I know how it feels to live in poverty and the challenges to make ends meet. We have programs that are meant to help families from low socio-economic status with food, housing, and so forth. But when a family is trying to overcome their challenges, the programs that are meant to help instead push families away. For example, if a family is making more money, their SNAP benefits are reduced. We create more obstacles for those families. In education, the funding would go to the Education Agency, in Texas it’s the TEA. They would give the monies according to each district; now the problem here is that more affluent districts would get a greater chunk of the monies and poor districts would get the least.

I wrote some of my graduate work on the importance of changing the formulas to better match the needs of the community by providing more funds to school with high rates of reduced or free lunches. Another issue tied to this is providing more funding to rural communities. I believe that every family that makes $70,000 or less should receive SNAP. Families are struggling to make ends meet, and food takes a big chunk from family budgets. Giving them more for their food will allow them to build up wealth and not live paycheck to paycheck. I believe families should free high-speed internet. We need to build new infrastructure that benefit both rural and urban communities. The one program I would implement is affordable housing. I would take land and old buildings and create new homes. The use of eminent domain in certain areas is necessary to help reduce families living in poverty or homeless. For example, I would take 10 acres of land and build 4 houses on every 1 acre. I would state that companies bidding for contracts must pay a living wage, be local, hire locally, and purchase from local vendors. We would offer homes to low income families and allow them to borrow $20,000 for the closing costs and down payment. The caveat to this would be families would need to live 10 years there and be forgiven the first $10,000; if a family lives in the house for 20 years, the other $10,000 would be forgiven. We would continue to do this for several years. By providing affordable housing, rent prices shall fall. Imagine if we could build homes in rural communities that need the most? It may sound odd, but we would be building new infrastructure in rural and urban areas. And yes, this includes creating partnerships with local native tribes to be included in the infrastructure. Our fellow communities should share the same benefits as everyone in our society. Imagine if we could build homes in rural communities that are in dire need the most? This is why I think I would be a great asset as governor. Hopefully, one day I shall take that bold step.

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Oscar Juarez leads an Early Childhood Education course at Oregon Coast Community College in Newport. (Courtesy photo)