This Week in “Help Me Not Be Such as Ass”: March 23-30


Here’s what I’ve turned to for help this week:

Hallelujah for the Ghosties, a book of poems by Melanie Jordan…I love this all the more, though not because, Melanie is my friend! I brag freely! It is much help in not being such an Ass to have friends who make art; these are the kind of poems that change the way the words in my own thoughts organize themselves. My favorites are “Why Astronomy Matters” and “The Winter Survivor.” Go buy it!

Jacobin: it’s a beautifully graphically designed socialist magazine and I love it. Here’s the part that might help me be not such an Ass: it problematizes things I realize upon reading I’d totally assumed were unobjectionable. In this issue, there’s a critique of Design Thinking in education! Not as being ineffective, but as being just like every other “modern managerial philosophy that stake[s] their name on innovation”: insufficiently aware of the macro-level barriers to quality, free education for all, and overly faithful in micro-level inputs. I only know that people I love love Design Thinking, especially for educators, and are also people considerate of macro-level barriers… and now I really want to know what they think of this critique.

What White Children Need to Know About Race: As Romey said when she shared this with me, it’s both excellent on the advertised topic and on what white adults need to know about race. A taste of the former: Regarding race, the messages that white teens in the Bartoli et al. study received were contradictory and incomplete. While they believed that everyone is the same, that race is superfluous, and that hard work determines where one gets in life, they also professed beliefs about differences among racial groups, including that black people are lazy or poor, that poor black neighborhoods are dangerous, and that black people are physically stronger than whites. Because these white teens lacked a systemic analysis of racism, they had no way of understanding the impact of the structural racism they observed around them, such as the de facto segregation through academic tracking in their schools or in the geography of their cities. Thus, in spite of the fact that they had been taught that race does not matter and that they should be color-blind, when faced with a question that challenged them to explain structural racism, the only answers available to them were ones that relied on racial stereotypes. Overall, the teens did not seem to be able to differentiate between what is racist and what is, simply, racial. They tended to classify any mention of race as racist.

Vernā Myers’ “What If I Say the Wrong Thing”: this short book is one of the best things I’ve read on cultural competence so far, and if that is something you value, I really recommend the book (and so does Romey, who told me about it). It’s both gentle and rigorous–it assumes we really don’t want to be the such-Asses that we are, and that we are despite these good intentions, and that there is so much hope for us. Two things I really liked: She has language I love and prefer to what I keep calling and linking to as “the defined norm”: historically “one-up” and “one-down” groups according to various categories. And she has a great chart.



Also this:

Extra please don’t sue me, Vernā Myers, Esq.

Relatedly: A Snail and a Caterpillar Perfectly Explain How to Deal with Our Own Privileges. Lovely. 2 minutes. (Thanks, Carol!)

Why Is So Much of Our Discussion of Higher Ed Driven by Elite Institutions? by Corey Robin, on the subject of the “elitism” line of Myers’ table. A taste: As any professor at CUNY will tell you, the telltale signs that the author of [this piece] attributes to prison—rickety tables, tangled blinds, no chalk, loud heating systems—are ubiquitous features on our campuses. I have a very strict no-gifts policy for my students: at the end of the semester, I only accept emails or cards of thanks. But one day a student gave me a gift, and as I protested to her that I don’t accept them, she gently pressed it into my hand and said, “Just open it.” It was a box of chalk: I gratefully accepted it. That’s how bad things can get at CUNY. Now college is not prison; a seminar room is not a jail cell. I’m not making that argument. I’m making a different claim. Two actually. First, the way that elite institutions dominate our media discussions really skews how the public, particularly that portion of the public that is not in college right now, sees higher education. There is a war being fought on college campuses, but it’s not about trigger warnings or safe spaces; it’s about whether non-elite students will be able to get any kind of liberal arts education at all—forget Shakespeare v. Morrison; I’m talking essays versus multiple choice tests, philosophy versus accounting—from mostly precarious professors who are themselves struggling to make ends meet. (Thanks, Erin!)

Bernie Wong’s Sunday flowers: If you were at my house last June 20, you know Bernie as an inspired cook and super dancer, and you might have become his facebook friend, so you frequently see photos of the insane gorgeousness that he has prepared, arranged, or just walked by. I find what Bernie shares, and how Bernie moves through the world, such a compelling argument for the beauty of both being and sharing oneself.


That’s it for this week. If you have suggestions for not being such an Ass, I’ll always take them.



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