Saturday Links

I am months overdue for my tests because I lost my job and health insurance in July. I am resigned to paying out of pocket for the tests. (I got this healthcare-only credit card when I got my teeth fixed a couple years ago and I’m planning to use that.) However I have been stymied because the labs I’ve contacted simply will not give me straight answers about how much it will cost.

I have always tried to be someone with an expansive moral imagination – that is, to try and understand the other side’s perspective even when I viscerally reject that perspective. But I cannot understand the mindset of people who defend the current system, or those who preserve it by opposing change even if they will not defend the current system explicitly. I cannot occupy that point of view. The system seems indefensible, and the most likely short-term change to the system will be to make it even worse. All here in America, the world’s shining city on a hill.

In 1919, only 31 percent of 14- to 17-year-olds were enrolled in high school. By 1980, enrollment had reached 90 percent. High school graduation rates rose from 16 percent to 71 percent during this same period. As a result, the school became an avenue through which policymakers could reach the vast majority of U.S. citizens, allowing them to enlist public education in the ideological contest with authoritarianism. By building a model of education that emphasized critical thinking and a humanistic view of individual freedom, U.S. policymakers explicitly tried to eschew educational practices they considered to be “indoctrination,” “propaganda,” or “authoritarian.”

But this approach to education began to change once the threat of authoritarianism seemed to diminish in the 1980s. Educators began to place the needs of the market over the imperative of civic-mindedness. That turn has gradually transformed the role of schools in American life from incubators of democratic citizens to engines of economic aspiration.

American educators first began to discuss the perils of authoritarianism during World War I, with the rise of an aggressive, expansionist Germany under the helm of Prussian Kaiser Wilhelm II. When the United States entered the war against Germany in 1917, U.S. scholars cast “Prussianism” as an authoritarian ideology, and they denounced its centralized approach to schooling and governance; the United States, on the other hand, administered schools locally. Studies of German schools published during the war, such as Victor Friedel’s The German School as War Nursery and Thomas Alexander’s The Prussian Elementary Schools, described how the Prussian schoolmasters had distorted German life and steered German culture toward the imperialistic goals of the state.

As Alexander, a professor of education at the George Peabody College for Teachers (Vanderbilt University), explained in 1918 “the Prussian is to a large measure enslaved through the medium of his school . . . his learning instead of making him his own master, forges the chain by which he is held in servitude.” By contrast, he argued, American education ought to take a more student-centered approach in accordance with “the democratic principles for which we are aiming.”

"A computer as a research and communication instrument could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organization, retrieve the individual's encyclopedic function and flip it into a private line to speedily tailored data of a saleable kind."

McLuhan was not concerned primarily with the upsides of the internet. He warned that surrendering to private manipulation would narrow down the availability of the information we receive based on what marketers and advertisers choose for consumers and voters to see. And nowhere is that more evident than in our addictions to social media platforms and our need to be connected 24/7. 

In the late fifteenth century, Spanish colonizers in the Caribbean were starving in a land of plenty. They had just established their newest settlement, La Isabela, in what is now the Dominican Republic. The Spaniards planned to survive by exploiting the area’s indigenous people, the Taínos. But the Taínos refused to plant their annual crops, in protest of the Spanish invasion and appropriation of their lands.

From the long-lasting impacts of redlining in the US to the falling proportion of female graduates in computer sciences since 1984, the examination of unequal power forces runs as a central theme in the book.

The authors focus on data justice, as opposed to data ethics. They argue that data ethics and its focus on fairness and biases create structures that protect power. A great example of this is the rampant use of artificial intelligence for a ‘fair’ hiring process. As AI pulls from existing datasets (in which white, rich men are overrepresented), it can hamper the chances of women and minority communities getting past resume screenings. Conversely, datasets in which marginalised communities are overrepresented, such as policing or access to government aid, lead to situations where algorithms will predict them to be more of a threat, making it more difficult for these groups to access credit or producing a higher probability of individuals being incarcerated.

Missing from this commentary is the acknowledgement that young people have been found to have a high rate of compliance with regulations. They are also at a particularly high risk of contracting COVID-19 due to things like their over-representation in jobs dealing with customers face to face, and being more likely to reside in shared living spaces and rely on public transport than older adults.

So the suggestion that spikes are entirely due to reckless rule breaking and that young people are the root cause of a second wave of COVID-19 is problematic and unhelpful, particularly when used to justify the implementation of unique measures for students who are effectively living in isolation across Scotland right now.

The seriousness of COVID-19 and the importance of containing it is not in question. But these restrictions have been uniquely and unhelpfully couched in the rhetoric of blame and punishment. This has contributed to an image of young people as reckless and substantial risks to public health, with media coverage of parties in student halls focusing on a minority of rule breakers.

"Right now, the president might be the victim of a well-described medical phenomenon called the VIP syndrome."

If you looked at this treatment regimen, not knowing the patient, you’d assume this was someone on the brink of death – ventilated. Last ditch effort time. Of course, the president does not seem to be particularly sick. So, let’s face it – if you or I had COVID and were as sick as the president, there is no way we would be getting this kind of treatment. And here’s the thing – we’re probably better off.

Look, I’m not going to go hardcore egalitarian here. If we had a magic pill that cured COVID with no side effects, but cost 10 million dollars – sure give it to the president even though the rest of us can’t get it. The unfairness is not really what the VIP syndrome is about. It’s the risk the VIP faces getting medications – and combinations of medications - that we don’t know enough about. Doctors know that standard care is the best care. That’s why it’s standard. The Hail Mary Pass is for the 4th quarter when your team is about to lose. It’s not your opener. But for VIPs, these essential truths get forgotten.

About Me

Developer at Brown University Library specializing in instructional design and technology, Python-based data science, and XML-driven web development.