"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, July 16, 2018

Trump as "Triple T"

Treacherous Traitor Trump
by Jim Horn

Long before Donald Trump publicly aspired to be President of the United States, back in the day when he was just another sketchy real estate mogul from Queens selling apartments at Trump Tower to Russian gangsters and the moneyed American nouveau-gauche, he had, even then, a fascination with professional wrestling.  Trump Casino and Resorts in Atlantic City hosted WrestleMania IV and V in the late 1980s, and since thenTrump has maintained a fascination with Vince McMahon’s multi-billion dollar reality-sport-theatrical soap opera business known as World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

Fast forward to WrestleMania XXIII in 2007, and Trump is no long just a spectator-sponsor but, rather, a body-slamming investor/participant in the Battle of the Billionaires, which pitted Trump against McMahon.  McMahon’s proxy wrestler in that contest lost the match, which was followed by, McMahon, himself, being thrown to the floor by Trump and forced to suffer the indignity of having his head shaved in the ring by the victorious future President.

Trump owes a lot to professional wrestling.  WWE’s CEO, McMahon, in fact, was the originator of the “You’re fired” line that later became Trump-the-reality TV star’s stolen trademark slogan.  

But Trump took from the WWE much more than a slogan.  From his time before the arena wrestling throngs, he learned what it took to excite and incite a crowd.  By the time Trump decided to run for President, he had learned what it took to fill an arena, to hold an audience, and to develop a following around a larger-than-life caricature. 

Trump identified, too, a natural connection between the fan base of the WWE and the poor and oppressed Tea Party loyalists, who found release for their pent-up aggression in the savage rhetoric of Koch-funded politicians and in the savage physical exploits of steroid-pumped violence demos in the WWE ring. 

The Tea Party base in 2013 was essentially the same base that had made McMahon a billionaire by filling the same arenas that Trump would come to fill on the campaign trail. The scripting techniques by Washington conservative elites to create a political fan base among poor people, with whom they had nothing in common, drew from the same psychological manipulation strategies that professional wrestling had already perfected over the last hundred years.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump loyally followed the story line of his corporate scriptwriters while learning to improvise his daily moves and becoming adept at re-arranging the script to manipulate the emotional tone and cathartic possibilities of the audience.  Foils were given wrestler-sounding nicknames like Crooked Hillary Clinton and Low Energy Jeb Bush or Crazy Bernie Sanders.  Consider, for instance, The Bionic Redneck “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, or the Mouth of the South Jimmy Hart.  Trump’s foils were caricatured, berated, and turned into characters that even the oppressed could oppress.  It was the perfect political stage for a narcissistic bully with an unquenchable thirst for adoration, even if that adoration was the theatrical product of an audience swept up into the farcical production that replaced the reality outside the arena.

The dramatized violence, blatant racism, and hate-mongering of a Trump rally would be less of a problem if the American Presidency were a fictional creation produced for the benefit of venting and even purging, perhaps, the negative emotions of an arena audience come to be entertained.  Trump, however, has become in the White House his stage persona that sought and received the adulation of a theatre audience.

The audience, in turn, loyally remains in character, too, and their daily grievances are given steady Twitter injections of targeted hatefulness by the “Domineering Donald” they came to adore during his arena performances.  Instead of reality TV, Trump has invented a form of reality-reality, and unfortunately, all signs indicate that the Trump audience, too, has lapsed found a cozy seat for Trump’s own permanent show of reality-reality, in which Trump channels a permanent state of vengeful arousal among his fans, which he uses to serve his own unquenchable thirst for the power and prestige that can never legitimately be his.

That this mutually exploitative spell has spilled over into public life can be seen every day, as the dimensions Trump’s reality-reality expand its hateful and poisonous bravura throughout the commons.  Whether it’s the marching by Neo-Nazis in college towns or the beating of elderly citizens with foreign-sounding names or the hyper-vigilant racism of white women calling the cops on children for selling lemonade or candy, or the daily abuse by Trumpian police goons, the signs are clear that the theatricized violence of the Trump rally has spread across the Republic.

Trump, himself, emboldened by his ranks who celebrate his cruelty and craziness, raises the ante by moving further and further from factual reality and deeper and deeper into Trump’s reality-reality.  The Washington Post notes that at Trump’s last rally in Montana 76 percent of Trump utterances were false, misleading, or lacking evidence.

Today, Donald Trump is the only President of the United States to be a member of the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame. And each political rally that Trump holds in an arena is a reminder of why.   Every Trump rally is a replayed celebration of a political WrestleMania, whose main event was decided in 2016 when the evil Hillary Clinton/Barack Obama had both of their heads shaved.  Each rally, then, becomes a tag team of Trump and the Audience facing up against the projected reemergence of those foes, allies of those foes, or any ideas they supported.  Trump basks in the warmth of political fandom on steroids, and he repays that allegiance each time with a mash-up of the same great moves that brought him and his base to the championship. 

Trump’s stage performance is the political equivalent to professional arena wrestling.  Writing about his own performance art of wrestling, professional wrestler and reporter, KrackerJak, describes arena wrestling as part complex choreography and part improvisation, with wrestlers “feeding off each other and  the crowd to create a unique work of art.”

Now if you find this wrestling analogy to Trump’s arena politics worrisome, then read how KrackerJak sums up his analysis:

As a wrestler, I'm able unleash elements of myself that would have me arrested should I cut loose in a similar way on public transport.

For the audience, wrestling plays out all manner of cathartic fantasies that would see you sitting in a cell next to me were you to indulge them.

This is where the analogy breaks down, for while professional wrestling fans may be purged during the staged events by hissing, booing, and throwing popcorn at their enemies, Trump fans are not assuaged by just screaming “Build the Wall” or “Fake News” or “Lock Her Up.” They are compelled by the poisonous talents of their hero to take their violence into the streets, shopping malls, job sites, and even churches, where catharsis is rendered through innumerable examples of mistreatment, mayhem, and violence.

Now as the Mueller investigation closes in and Trump’s enemies become the lawful institutions that have thus far assured the survival of a constitutional republic, the next aggressive moves by Trump and his fans will require a determined and ongoing political deftness with unyielding courage to avoid the chaos upon which Trump’s survival depends.

Right before our eyes, “Domineering Donald” has morphed into “Triple T” (Treacherous Traitor Trump).





Saturday, July 14, 2018

Minding Our Health: The Nudge, Part Two

from Wrench in the Gears
July 13, 2018


This piece expands upon my prior post about digital nudging and behavioral economics. Disruption in the healthcare industry mirrors the ed-tech takeover that is well underway in public education. If you explore the webpage for Catalyst, the innovation PR outlet for the New England Journal of Medicine (remember, social impact policy makers and many investors are based in Boston), you’ll notice the language being used to direct health care providers towards big-data, tech-centered solutions is eerily similar to the language being used on educators and school administrators.
The FCC’s “Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan” of 2010 outlined seven “national purposes” for broadband expansion. Healthcare and education were the first two topics covered in that report. Both chapters focus on “unlocking the value of data.” Who will the big winners be as we further digitize our lives? My assessment is the telecommunications industry and national security/police state will come out on top. Locally, Comcast and Verizon are key players with interests in both sectors.
Education and healthcare fall under the purview of Lamar Alexander’s Senate HELP (health, education, labor and pensions) Committee, so the similarities in tactics shouldn’t come as a surprise. In researching the $100 million federal Social Impact Partnerships Pay for Results Act (SIPPRA) launch I attended in Washington, DC last month, I noticed one of the Republican Senators who presented, Todd Young of Indiana, had attended the Booth School of Business MBA program at the University of Chicago. Recent Nobel Prize winner in behavioral economics Richard Thaler teaches there, and I was curious to see if Thaler’s thinking had influenced Young. Interactive version of Young’s map here.





 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

NEA Approves Spending a Whopping $1,250 to Establish Labor Action Fund

In what can only described as a whimpering response to the hammering that public service unions just received from the Supreme Court, NEA delegates passed a resolution that allows the collection of $3 dollars from each member in a voluntary donation fund for future job actions by state affiliates.  The resolution
. . . directs the NEA to establish a voluntary membership donation of at least $3. The donation would establish a fund to support strikes or other statewide labor actions, such as a short-term work stoppage. This new business item, which will cost $1,250 to implement, asks for state and local affiliates to collect the donations and then transmit the funds to the NEA for disbursement when there is labor unrest. 
In 2016, NEA had $300,000,000 in the bank, and it collects over $400,000,000 each year in member dues.  

If NEA used a tenth of what it spends to prop up neoliberal politicians who support corporate ed reform, that would be a monumental.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Digital Nudging: Data, Devices & Social Control



from Wrench in the Gears
July 8, 2018
The way we live our lives generates enormous amounts of data. Keystrokes; online payments; photos with embedded meta-data; cell tower pings; fit bits; education management apps; search histories; avatars; social media posts all contribute to a cloud of digital exhaust that threatens to engulf us. Our world is being increasingly data-fied as smart phones mediate our daily activities, and Internet of Things (IoT) sensors become integrated into our homes and public spaces.
In the coming decade we’re going to have to navigate environments defined by ubiquitous computing and surveillance. Virtual and real worlds will meld in unsettling ways. The threat of state repression will intensify, especially for black and brown people, immigrants, refugees, the poor, and dissidents. As the former CIO of the City of Philadelphia Charles Brennan noted at the end of an October 22, 2017 meeting, the future of policing will encompass predictive analytics, facial recognition software, and drone surveillance.
With UPenn’s GRASP lab currently managing a $27 million contract with the US Army Research Lab to develop distributed intelligence, autonomous weapons, it’s not too soon to be thinking about what comes next. To get a feel for where we could be headed, the write up, “Singapore, City of Sensors” describes what it’s like to live in a “smart nation”  where EA3 devices track “Everyone, Everywhere, Everything, All The Time.”


Thursday, July 05, 2018

Dweck's Brainology = School Budget Drainology

Largely in response to the demands of paternalist school reformers fixated on training the poor and children of the poor to be immune to their own poverty, non-cognitive behavioral interventions aimed at "character building" have proliferated within the education industry.  "Grit" and "resilience" hucksters like Martin Seligman, David Levin, and Angela Duckworth, along with "growth mindset" marketeers like Carol Dweck, essentially hijacked the term "social-emotional learning" (SEL) as a way to add respectability for what amounts to neurological tampering and behavioral neutering of poor black and brown children.

With bogus promises that "character growth scores" will lead to increased academic test scores, charter chain gangs and unwary public school systems have invested millions of public dollars in unproven classroom practices aimed to neurologically rewire children.

Now researchers at Case Western Reserve cast new new doubts on the claims made by Carol Dweck and her salesmen for Brainology:
Our findings suggest that at least some of the claims about growth mindsets – such as how they supposedly have profound effects on academic achievementbenefit both high- and low-achieving students, or are especially important for students facing situational challenges– are not warranted. In fact, in more than two-thirds of the studies the effects were not statistically significantly different from zero, meaning most of the time, the interventions were ineffective.

Below is an excerpt from Work Hard, Be Hard. . . that provides some context for the current fascination with SEL:

           Growing interest among corporate foundations and their think tanks (Center on Children and Families at Brookings, 2014) for “character” building through social-emotional learning (SEL) interventions suggests the KIPP Model is likely to be repackaged for another generation of No Excuses schools. Once again, psychologists of the developmental variety are coming to dominate this social and emotional learning (SEL) niche (Steinberg, 2014; Farrington et al, 2012), and they are joined by new paternalists who are fixated, as they always have been, on self-regulation and self-control.  
As a solution to their character deficiencies among the disenfranchised, SEL will likely have a dominant role in the next phase of the crusade to fix the poor.  In a recent research review (Dweck, Walton, & Cohen, 2014) sponsored by the Gates Foundation, the authors examine studies that support the Duckworth thesis that non-cognitive, or motivational, factors like “academic tenacity” can have more effect than “cognitive factors” on “core academic outcomes such as GPA and test scores” (p. 2):
At its most basic level, academic tenacity is about working hard, and working smart, for a long time. More specifically, academic tenacity is about the mindsets and skills that allow students to . . . look beyond short-term concerns to longer-term or higher-order goals, and withstand challenges and setbacks to persevere toward these goals (p. 4).
                   The philanthrocapitalists and their think tank scholars quote liberally from the work of Walter Mischel (1989, 2014), whose experiments with delayed gratification among preschoolers provide the dominant metaphor for another generation of paternalist endeavors.  In Mischel’s experiments, children were offered a single marshmallow immediately or two marshmallows later if they could delay their reward.  The test, which came to be labeled “The Marshmallow Test,” represents the potential to delay gratification in order to gain a larger reward later on. 
                   At many of the KIPP, Aspire, Achievement First, and Yes Prep schools, children wear t-shirts emblazoned with “Don’t Eat the Marshmallow.” Mischel’s (2014) latest work, The marshmallow test: Mastering self-control acknowledges KIPP’s prominent role and places it within the context of recent research on improving self-control.  David Levin has made Mischel’s book a central component in his Coursera massive open online course (MOOC), Teaching character and creating positive classrooms, which was first offered with co-instructor, Angela Duckworth, in 2014. 
                   Levin and Duckworth are two of the co-founders of Character Lab, which uses Duckworth’s experimental work at the Upper Darby School District near the University of Pennsylvania to fine tune the character performance interventions that Levin initiated at KIPP schools in the early 2000s. Interestingly, much of the research that is used to justify the use of the Seligman-Duckworth resiliency improvement methodology is the same data offered to justify the Seligman deal that cost the U. S. Army $145 million (see Chapter 1) for interventions that brought no benefit to GIs suffering from the stresses of war.  We may wonder how much these alleged remedies for children might cost federal and state education departments, whose bankrolls are much smaller than those at the Pentagon.
            A related character approach that operates under the trade name, Brainology, claims that 1,000 schools are now using its “growth mindset” based on Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset (2006).   Dweck’s work is included on the suggested reading list used by Levin and Duckworth for their online course mentioned above.  Brainology cites unpublished research that shows teaching the growth mindset “boosts motivation and achievement” and narrows both the gender and racial achievement gaps (Mindset Works, Inc., 2008-2012) A license for 300 students is available for $5,250, or the program may be purchased for $79 per student.  A separate site license for professional development is sold for $1,500.
The Brainology website has links to a handout that summarizes finding for a short list of preliminary studies showing Brainology’s effectiveness in increasing motivation, although none of the findings has appeared in refereed journals.  Even so, the enthusiasm among reformers is strong and growing stronger as the debilitating stresses from poverty rise, and the spread of educational austerity measures calls for the ramping up of strategies that might mollify those affected children whose promised rewards become even less certain.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Is your DNA alright? How much value will YOUR data unlock? Your child’s? Your students’?

from Wrench in the Gears
July 1, 2018


I’ve been doing a lot of research on social impact investing and digital identity recently and found the above image this morning. To say I’m still reeling from its implications would be an understatement. This venture capital firm, PTB Ventures (Project Trillion Billion) is one of the funders of the MIT spin-off, Learning Machine, which has begun issuing education credentials on the Blockchain (see the Learning is Earning video) through a partnership with Southern New Hampshire University.
Paul LeBlanc, President of SNHU, is an advisor to the education division of the public-private partnership merchant banking firm Ridge Lane, LLP. My friend Linda, who teaches music in Spokane, shared the insight below, which very much cuts to the chase. I’m grateful she’s allowing me to post it here to share with you. I will be writing more later, so consider this a teaser.
“I hope your DNA, RNA, and basic building blocks of protein, show you have grit and are conscientious. I hope you are measured and ranked and sorted and catalogued by tech companies, and big business, planning to turn individual humans and entire human social networks (called social capital) into a trillion dollar profit market –using the tools of data mining and the big 5 personality identification markers (used by Cambridge Analytica, to sway the election to Trump, but oh well) such that your shelf life is not SHELVED.
I hope the fusion of tech, with the surveillance state doesn’t ever ruin your day. I hope that as technology takes over jobs, and we face the very real possibility of an un-job world, that your value to the corporation, having been reduced to what your online data portals are worth in the new *impact markets*, that REQUIRE ***extensive measurement of humans***, (see Campbell’s law for the corruption that is inevitable) measuring things that can’t even properly be measured, are such that you are considered valuable by the algorithms that define you.
And I hope we can stop these new markets, that prey on anyone and everyone, –especially our children–while preaching their social justice venture funds– that are so far removed from REAL social justice– as to be exposed for the 1984 doublespeak it is.    Think this an outrageous post? Can’t imagine it? Follow the money. There is no conspiracy when money is involved. And follow Wrench In The Gears that has investigated and dared to stand up against their so called *trillion dollars of economic value,* because THIS is our battle.”

Thank you Linda.

Mr. Krasner, I have some questions about that Chan Zuckerberg arrangement.


from Wrench in the Gears
June 28, 2018 

Dear Mr. Krasner,

To understand our country, you have to recognize that black people were never meant to be free. It’s a phrase I’ve heard my friend Ismael say often. The weight of it, however, hit hard last week when he and his wife approached a manager at a local theater to resolve an issue with an incessant beeping that disrupted the family’s enjoyment of the movie. They waited over an hour; no one came. After finally obtaining a refund, they were told they could not go back in to retrieve their young sons.

The theater escalated the situation, and within moments eight police officers arrived on the scene. My friends were seen not as concerned parents, but as imminent threats because of their race. It was traumatic for the entire family, which included four young children. The Philadelphia Tribune covered the incident here. This comes a few months after Philadelphia was in the national spotlight over the unfounded and racially charged arrests of two black men in a downtown Starbucks.

 Our city doesn’t just have an incarceration problem; we have profound problems with policing, power and racism. Whiteness wraps many in comforting myths of freedom and justice for all under the law, but black and brown Philadelphians know the harsh truth. Our city embodies the Jimenez family’s 40th and Walnut Cinemark encounter more than the experience of the tourists who pass by the Liberty Bell and through the Constitution Center any given day. We must own that before we can move forward and do the work needed to transform our city for the better.

Ismael is a tireless advocate for racial justice and co-chair of the Caucus of Working Educators. Many dedicated teachers, whose work on Black Lives Matter at School drew national acclaim, canvassed for you last fall. They believed in your commitment to progressive change and your willingness to take on the intractable problems of our city’s prison industrial complex.

Yet now the District Attorney’s office has entered into a collaboration with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which leaves me wondering if the teachers’ trust in you was misplaced. I hope you will read Emily Talmage’s “Dear Mark” letter in which she shares her concerns about the “personalized learning” programs Facebook is promoting. These platforms are dehumanizing and grounded in surveillance, data-mining and predictive profiling. Anyone who truly cares about justice for oppressed people surely knows the manipulative oligarch Mark Zuckerberg can be no ally.

 Click here to read the rest of the post.