Letter to My Representatives on the Tax Bill

An estimated thirty-six million middle-class families face a tax hike under the GOP tax bill. Not so for corporations. Families get a hike while huge corporations get a massive giveaway.

The end of the SALT (State and Local Tax) deduction means we families will be paying taxes on the money we’re paying in taxes. Further, there will be cuts to firefighters, schools, roads, and libraries in our towns and states, especially in states that have higher SALT taxes in order to pay for these necessary services.

One-third of the corporate tax break goes to foreign investors. That break plus the end of SALT is a transfer from blue states, in particular, to the transnational economic elite. A permanently lower tax rate on overseas operations & profits than on U.S. operations & profits plus new loopholes will encourage even more offshoring.

So, families are punished and blue states are punished. Who else?

Students, ex-students, and teachers are punished. Students lose help paying off their loans. Teachers can’t deduct the significant costs of buying classroom supplies. Graduate students get taxed on their scholarships. Head Start, Pell Grant, and other programs receive cuts.

The end of SALT will pressure states to cut services, particularly education. We’ve seen this over and over in states that have obliterated their tax bases—Oklahoma, Iowa, Maine, and Kansas, notably.

Disabled people will also be punished. Health care costs will skyrocket. Families won’t be able to get a deduction for large out-of-pocket medical expenses. With the loss of the adoption tax credit, fewer disabled kids will find homes. Giant cuts to Medicaid & Medicare and repealing parts of ACA will kill people and drive disabled people from in-home care to more expensive—and very abusive—institutional care. The lives and futures of my children are on the line.

With a one trillion tax cut for corporations, 200 billion for wealthy heirs, and 300 billion for individuals, this plan enormously favors the richest. It brashly and unapologetically favors kleptocracy.

This plan is wildly unpopular in both parties. Voters in deep red states are rejecting slash-and-burn tax policy. Americans do not believe they will receive any benefit from these policies, quite the opposite. Our lifelong experience is one of wages remaining static as corporate profits soar to historic levels. This will be no different.

The GOP is betraying the people they are supposed to serve. This long con is the selling out of America. This bill straight up takes away our health care to give tax cuts to corporations, oligarchs, and kleptocrats. We are witnessing the systemic poisoning and dismantling of America by a party that has irredeemably given itself to kleptocracy, white supremacy, and Christofascism.

October Education Reading

Interesting books and articles I read in October:

  • ‘The Brave Little Surveillance Bear’ and Other Stories We Tell About Robots Raising Children “no matter the stories we tell about innovation, no matter the predictions we make about disruption, in time everything in ed-tech becomes indistinguishable from the learning management system.”
  • Autism 101 – Erin Human “Autism is type of brain wiring (neurological type) that processes information differently than typical brains do. This means that autistic thought patterns, sensory perceptions, social interactions, language processing, and emotional regulation all develop differently than those of people who are not autistic. Modern societies operate in ways that often disadvantage autistic people, which makes autism a developmental disability.”
  • The Cult(Ure) of Strength | USENIX “Strength is a tax paid with emotional labor.”
  • A perspective on modern schooling in WEIRD (Western Educated Industrial Rich Democratic) societies. – Educating The Young Heart “WEIRD societies not only are not representative of humanity as a whole, they are, in fact, among the least representative populations one could find for generalizing about humans.” / “Our approach to education is extraordinarily authoritarian. It is obsessed with compulsion and control.”
  • Why I Don’t Grade | Jesse Stommel ”grades are the biggest and most insidious obstacle to education. And they’re a thorn in the side of Critical Pedagogy.” / “Grading is a massive co-ordinated effort to take humans out of the educational process.”
  • Principal: ‘Money matters. Race matters. Grit talk makes me angry.’ – The Washington Post “I believe deeply that we can actually teach anti-racism. And we must.” / “Money matters. Race matters. Grit talk makes me angry. We have to stop making everything about the individual.”
  • When Grit Isn’t Enough: A High School Princ… – Kindle ‘”If I could do it, so can you” is an echo of the “just work harder” assumption. It is the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” ethos to which so many generations of Americans adhere. Yet data repeatedly show how poverty, social class, race, and parents’ educational attainment more directly influence an individual’s success and potential earnings than any individual effort. We clearly do not yet have a level playing field, but this belief is all but impossible to challenge.’
  • Grit: A Skeptical Look at the Latest Educational Fad (##) – Alfie Kohn “When you hear about the limits of IQ these days, it’s usually in the context of a conservative narrative that emphasizes not altruism or empathy but a recycled version of the Protestant work ethic. The goal is to make sure kids will resist temptation, override their unconstructive impulses, put off doing what they enjoy in order to grind through whatever they’ve been told to do”
  • Rejecting Growth Mindset and Grit at Three Levels | radical eyes for equity “growth mindset and grit speak to and reinforce powerful cultural ideologies and myths about meritocracies and individual character—ones that are contradicted by the evidence; and thus, growth mindset and grit contribute to lazy and biased thinking and assumptions about marginalized groups who suffer currently under great inequities.”
  • How to Improve Math Class “The problem is the performance culture in our schools, more present in math than in any other subject. Students believe that the purpose of math class is to demonstrate that they can quickly find the answers. An undergraduate recently told me that when she writes down her ideas, even when working alone, she expects someone to judge her.”
  • A Call for Critical Instructional Design “Operant conditioning and the manipulation of response to stimuli are at the heart of theories that support instructional design. But more, they form the foundation of almost all educational technology—from the VLE or LMS to algorithms for adaptive learning. Building upon behaviorism, Silicon Valley—often in collaboration with venture capitalists with a stake in the education market—have begun to realize Skinner’s teaching machines in today’s schools and universities.”
  • To Ban or Not to Ban? Technology, Education, and the Media – EdTech Researcher – Education Week “The final assumption guiding these editorials is that everyone learns in exactly the same way. Research on accessibility in higher education (as well as K-12) and Universal Design for Learning clearly contradicts this assumption.”
  • Hack Education Weekly News “I sense a theme in this week’s stories about profiting from preschoolers, don’t you?”
  • “Why Don’t Students Like School?” Well, Duhhhh… | Psychology Today “Children hate school because in school they are not free. Joyful learning requires freedom.” / “In school they are told they must stop following their interests and, instead, do just what the teacher is telling them they must do. That is why they don’t like school.”
  • The Business of Ed-Tech: October 2017 Funding Data
  • A Teacher’s Dilemma: Take a Stand Against Testing or Keep Abusing Children | gadflyonthewallblog “These are the kinds of students I have – victims of generational poverty, malnutrition, childhood trauma, violence, drug abuse and systemic racism and prejudice. Strong-arming them into another standardized test isn’t doing them any favors.” / “What purpose do I serve enforcing policies I know to be detrimental?”
  • THINKING PERSON’S GUIDE TO AUTISM: Why Autistic Students Need Autistic Role Models “We realized that the people society says are the most qualified to help him are the people least equipped to understand him.” / “Everything that the school’s professionals tried was behavior-related, and it wasn’t working. So we implemented a root cause approach instead. I asked everyone in the room who had worked with Nick if there was anyone there who didn’t believe that at his core Nick was a good kid and wanted to succeed. And everyone raised their hands. So, working from that point of trust, I asked everyone to support efforts to help Nick succeed, items that empowered him to make good choices.”
  • WBEZ Investigation: CPS Secretly Overhauled Special Education At Students’ Expense | WBEZ “The overall effect is really to wear parents down in every way that they can, and wear the staff down in every way that they can, so that the ultimate outcome is giving less”
  • Why Students of Color Don’t Take Latin – EIDOLON “The challenge that the grammar-translation approach poses to inclusivity is that it takes language, something universally accessible to all, and creates a series of unnecessary and onerous roadblocks that render it accessible to only the few.” / “Grammar-translation and its demands have served as something akin to voter I.D. laws in the United States.”
  • The Cost of Success: How Letting Billionaires Shape Early Childhood Education Harms Kids—and Democracy | Alternet ”Child-centered, experiential learning, on a timeline that allows for the natural variability of development, has become a province of the elite.”
  • Why a key research finding is ruining teaching in Texas – The Washington Post “when classrooms are too rigid, controlled and task driven, students cannot initiate and continue conversations with their peers”
  • Why I Don’t Have Classroom Rules | Edutopia “I wanted my students to do more than just follow rules handed down to them. I wanted them to understand why those rules exist, and be willing to interrogate ones that didn’t seem valuable, meaningful, or useful.” / “The reason I find this strategy better than rules is because it teaches students to become active participants in the formation of a community. Rules alone tend to condition the students to become dogmatic followers, while broader imperatives guide them to be critical and reflective participants.”

Selected Tweets

Favorite tweets collected in Twitter Moments:

Selected Quotes

More quotes from the pieces listed above:

“Strength,” “Courage,” and “Bravery” are virtues often heaped upon individuals undergoing hardship. These compliments come from a deep-rooted cultural value that sacrifice should be praiseworthy and that performing in the face of difficulty is a sign of virtue. In tech, strength is valued to the point of caricature, creating a culture of depersonalization and overwork that disproportionately affects people who by their identities or job descriptions are asked too often to “take one for the team.”

Through the lens of my 15+ year journey through the STEM pipeline, I’ll talk about the culture of strength and how we can better set expectations to manage hardship and workload in the workplace or community.

 Strength is a tax paid with emotional labor.

Tech is full of hero worship; heroism is only achievable through sacrifice.

Strength becomes an easy thing to assign deficit to and to use as a scapegoat.

If your process requires regular sacrifice, your planning sucks.

Over-emphasizing extraordinary acts of sacrifice normalizes them and turns them into expectations.

We are workers. And expectations of strength compel us to perform free labor.

Source: The Cult(Ure) of Strength | USENIX

Operant conditioning and the manipulation of response to stimuli are at the heart of theories that support instructional design. But more, they form the foundation of almost all educational technology—from the VLE or LMS to algorithms for adaptive learning. Building upon behaviorism, Silicon Valley—often in collaboration with venture capitalists with a stake in the education market—have begun to realize Skinner’s teaching machines in today’s schools and universities.

And there’s the rub. When we went online to teach, we went online almost entirely without any other theories to support us besides instructional design. We went online first assuming that learning could be a calculated, brokered, duplicatable experience. For some reason, we took one look at the early internet and forgot about all the nuance of teaching, all the strange chaos of learning, and surrendered to a philosophy of see, do, hit submit.

The problem we face is not just coded into the VLE, either. It’s not just coded into Facebook and Twitter and the way we send an e-mail or the machines we use to send text messages. It’s coded into us. We believe that online learning happens this way. We believe that discussions should be posted once and replied to twice. We believe that efficiency is a virtue, that automated proctors and plagiarism detection services are necessary—and more than necessary, helpful.

But these are not things that are true, they are things that are sold.

Source: A Call for Critical Instructional Design

Agency, dialogue, self-actualization, and social justice are not possible in a hierarchical system that pits teachers against students and encourages competition by ranking students against one another. Grades (and institutional rankings) are currency for a capitalist system that reduces teaching and learning to a mere transaction. Grading is a massive co-ordinated effort to take humans out of the educational process.

Learning Outcomes: More and more, we are required to map our assignments, assessments, and curricula to learning outcomes. But I find it strange that teachers and institutions would pre-determine outcomes before students even arrive upon the scene. I have argued, instead, for emergent outcomes, ones that are co-created by teachers and students and revised on the fly. Setting trajectories rather than mapping in advance the possible shapes for learning.

Require teachers to give more B and C grades and they give more B and C grades disproportionately to black students. In education, I think we should be creating opportunities, not limiting possibilities for success.

Grades as Motivators: Alfie Kohn writes in “The Trouble with Rubrics,”“Research shows three reliable effects when students are graded: They tend to think less deeply, avoid taking risks, and lose interest in the learning itself.” Grades do motivate, but they don’t motivate the kinds of peak experiences that can happen in a learning environment. Something like “have an epiphany, communicate an original thought, sit uncomfortably with your not knowing, or build something that’s never been built before” can’t be motivated by a grade.

Source: Why I Don’t Grade | Jesse Stommel

1. Money doesn’t have to be an obstacle

2. Race doesn’t matter

3. Just work harder

4. There is a college for everyone/everyone can go to college

5. If you believe in yourself, your dreams will come true

Taken together, the five assumptions listed above can be dangerous because they reinforce the deeply held American belief that success is individually created and sustained. “If I could do it, so can you” is an echo of the “just work harder” assumption. It is the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” ethos to which so many generations of Americans adhere. Yet data repeatedly show how poverty, social class, race, and parents’ educational attainment more directly influence an individual’s success and potential earnings than any individual effort. We clearly do not yet have a level playing field, but this belief is all but impossible to challenge. Whenever we hear of another bootstraps story, we want to generalize. We disregard the fact that luck often plays a major role. And in generalizing and celebrating the individual nature of success, we disregard the imperative to rethink social and economic policies that leave many behind.

Source: Nathan, Linda F.. When Grit Isn’t Enough: A High School Principal Examines How Poverty and Inequality Thwart the College-for-All Promise (p. 6, p. 8). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.

Money matters. Race matters. Grit talk makes me angry. We have to stop making everything about the individual.

But as I began to visit more schools and talk to my alums who were incredibly “gritty,” I became actually disgusted with the “movement.” It is a movement, for the most part, “owned and operated” by white folks and executed onto black and brown bodies.

Of course you don’t get ahead without determination and persistence, and it’s one of the reasons I’m such an arts advocate. That’s what you learn in the arts: how to practice, how to work together, how to persist through difficult scenes, lines, choreography, etc. . . . but this notion that “if we show grit by having strict behavioral codes/rules, all will be well” is ridiculous.

I’ve seen too many boys (especially black/brown boys)  suffocated by what has become grit pedagogy. Kids need to jump and play and yell and run. Of course not in the classroom all the time, but we must ensure that there are multiple methods to reach and teach our students. I think this “movement” needs to be curbed and I am pleased that even some of the “worst” offenders are now questioning their tactics.

Source: Principal: “Money matters. Race matters. Grit talk makes me angry.” – The Washington Post

Consider the current buzz about self-regulation: teaching students to exercise self-discipline and self-control, to defer gratification and acquire “grit.” To discipline children is to compel them to do what we want. But because we can’t always be there to hand out rewards or punishments as their behavior merits, some dream of figuring out a way to equip each child with a “built-in supervisor” (as two social scientists once put it) so he or she will follow the rules and keep working even when we’re not around. The most expedient arrangement for us, the people with the power, is to get children to discipline themselves – in other words, to be self-disciplined.

Proponents of this idea like to point out that cognitive ability isn’t the only factor that determines how children will fare in school and in life. That recognition got a boost with science writer Dan Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence in 1996, which discussed the importance of self-awareness, altruism, personal motivation, empathy, and the ability to love and be loved. But a funny thing has happened to the message since then. When you hear about the limits of IQ these days, it’s usually in the context of a conservative narrative that emphasizes not altruism or empathy but a recycled version of the Protestant work ethic. The goal is to make sure kids will resist temptation, override their unconstructive impulses, put off doing what they enjoy in order to grind through whatever they’ve been told to do – and keep at it for as long as it takes.

Good grades, in other words, are often just a sign of approval by the person with the power in a classroom.  And even when they serve other functions, grades suffer from low levels of validity and reliability.  Moreover, students who pursue higher grades tend to be less interested in what they’re learning, more likely to think in a superficial fashion (and less likely to retain information), and inclined to prefer the easiest possible task whenever they have a choice — because the goal isn’t to explore ideas but to do whatever is necessary to snag the A.  Those who snag a lot of them seem, on average, to be overly conformist and not particularly creative.  So if students who are more self-disciplined or persistent get higher grades, that doesn’t make a case for grit so much as it points up the limitations of grades as an outcome measure

In her recent research, she created a task that’s deliberately boring, the point being to devise strategies so students will resist the temptation to do something more interesting instead.

This is the mindset that underlies the campaign for grit and self-discipline, even if it isn’t always spelled out. Which is why it’s critical that those of us who don’t share Duckworth’s values – and are committed to changing the system rather than just making kids adapt to it – maintain a healthy skepticism about that campaign. While we’re at it, we might bring that same skepticism to bear when the next bandwagon rolls through town.

Source: Grit: A Skeptical Look at the Latest Educational Fad (##) – Alfie Kohn

At the first level, I question the ideological motivation for doing research to find the source of success and failure within individuals-assuming that individual character and behaviors are primarily or solely the source of both success and failure.

As a colleague noted during comments after the keynote, this is a “very American” way of thinking; and I would add, a flawed view of the relationship between human behavior and social forces.

At the second level, I am cautious about the quality of growth mindset and grit research as valid, and that caution is grounded in the first level-both concepts fit well into American myths about rugged individualism and the Puritan work ethic; thus, even so-called dispassionate researchers are apt to see no reason to challenge the studies (although some have begun to unpack and question Angela Duckworth’s studies on grit).

Scarcity, mentioned about, is a compilation of powerful studies that make a case unlike what most Americans believe about success and failure: those living in scarcity struggle because of the scarcity (think poverty), and those living in slack are often successful because of the slack. This work has not been embraced or received the celebrity of growth mindset and grit because it works against our narratives.

Privileged researchers blinded by their own belief in American myths as well as trust in their own growth mindset and grit, I fear, are not apt to challenge research that appears even to a scholar to be obvious.

The third level is the most damning since growth mindset and grit speak to and reinforce powerful cultural ideologies and myths about meritocracies and individual character-ones that are contradicted by the evidence; and thus, growth mindset and grit contribute to lazy and biased thinking and assumptions about marginalized groups who suffer currently under great inequities.

K-12 applications of growth mindset and grit have disproportionately targeted racial minorities and impoverished students, reinforcing that most of the struggles within these groups academically are attributable to deficits in those students, deficits linked to race and social class.

All three levels, then, are born in, protected by, and prone to perpetuate race and class stereotypes, and as a result, work against inclusive pedagogy and culturally relevant pedagogy.

Finally, stepping back from these levels, I also remain skeptical of growth mindset and grit because they are very difficult to disentangle from deficit perspectives of students and from monolithic, thus reductive, views of identifiable groups by race, class, gender, or educational outcomes.

Source: Rejecting Growth Mindset and Grit at Three Levels | radical eyes for equity

Until we change the way we teach math to emphasize learning and exploration, rather than performance, we’ll continue to produce students who describe their math experience as a hamster wheel, or worse, a prison. We’ll continue to produce anxious students who experience fear when they see numbers. The performance culture of mathematics has destroyed a vibrant, essential subject for so many people. As schools have worked to encourage a few speedy calculators, they’ve neglected to teach the kind of creative, quantitative thinking that can open new worlds. If we encourage new generations of students who love learning and love math, we’ll raise up kids who are prepared to take their place in society as free, empowered thinkers.

Source: How to Improve Math Class

Operant conditioning and the manipulation of response to stimuli are at the heart of theories that support instructional design. But more, they form the foundation of almost all educational technology-from the VLE or LMS to algorithms for adaptive learning. Building upon behaviorism, Silicon Valley-often in collaboration with venture capitalists with a stake in the education market-have begun to realize Skinner’s teaching machines in today’s schools and universities.

And there’s the rub. When we went online to teach, we went online almost entirely without any other theories to support us besides instructional design. We went online first assuming that learning could be a calculated, brokered, duplicatable experience. For some reason, we took one look at the early internet and forgot about all the nuance of teaching, all the strange chaos of learning, and surrendered to a philosophy of see, do, hit submit.

The problem we face is not just coded into the VLE, either. It’s not just coded into Facebook and Twitter and the way we send an e-mail or the machines we use to send text messages. It’s coded into us. We believe that online learning happens this way. We believe that discussions should be posted once and replied to twice. We believe that efficiency is a virtue, that automated proctors and plagiarism detection services are necessary—and more than necessary, helpful.

But these are not things that are true, they are things that are sold.

The critical instructional design approach prioritizes collaboration, participation, social justice, learner agency, emergence, narrative, and relationships of nurture between students, and between teachers and students. It acknowledges that all learning today is necessarily hybrid, and looks for opportunities to integrate learners’ digital lives into their digitally-enhanced or fully online learning experiences.

Importantly, in keeping with its social justice roots, critical instructional design seeks to create learning and educational opportunities for students of all backgrounds, leveraging techniques especially to give platforms for those voices most usually suppressed or oppressed, including the voices of women, people of color, LGBTQ folk, people with disabilities, and more. It works against the standardization of so many educational technologies, and aims for the fullest inclusion possible.

One of the key principles of critical instructional design is that concept of emergence, that outcomes are determined by the learning process, and not as much predetermined. Jesse recommends that we don’t wield outcomes like weapons, and I usually give the advice that if you must include learning outcomes in your course, plan for everyone to meet them mid-term… and let the rest of the term emerge.

Source: A Call for Critical Instructional Design

The first assumption is that all learning is synonymous with memorization and facts. Certainly, students need to know information and facts before they can move on to higher order skills like synthesis and application, but there is so much more to learning than what Paulo Freire called the “Banking Concept” of education, where an instructor deposits information and students withdraw it for exams.

The second fundamental assumption inherent in these pieces is that learning is primarily an individual rather than a social endeavor. However, classrooms are social spaces, and our students are human beings who interact with each other — and with us — in order to build knowledge.

The final assumption guiding these editorials is that everyone learns in exactly the same way. Research on accessibility in higher education (as well as K-12) and Universal Design for Learning clearly contradicts this assumption.

Source: To Ban or Not to Ban? Technology, Education, and the Media – EdTech Researcher – Education Week

Ask any schoolchild why they don’t like school and they’ll tell you. “School is prison.” They may not use those words, because they’re too polite, or maybe they’ve already been brainwashed to believe that school is for their own good and therefore it can’t be prison. But decipher their words and the translation generally is, “School is prison.”

Let me say that a few more times: School is prison. School is prison. School is prison. School is prison. School is prison.

But I think it is time that we say it out loud. School is prison.

If you think school is not prison, please explain the difference.

The only difference I can think of is that to get into prison you have to commit a crime, but they put you in school just because of your age. In other respects school and prison are the same. In both places you are stripped of your freedom and dignity. You are told exactly what you must do, and you are punished for failing to comply. Actually, in school you must spend more time doing exactly what you are told to do than is true in adult prisons, so in that sense school is worse than prison.

Children, like all human beings, crave freedom. They hate to have their freedom restricted. To a large extent they use their freedom precisely to educate themselves. They are biologically prepared to do that.

In school they are told they must stop following their interests and, instead, do just what the teacher is telling them they must do. That is why they don’t like school.

There is no evidence at all that children who are sent to prison come out better than those who are provided the tools and allowed to use them freely.

Children hate school because in school they are not free. Joyful learning requires freedom.

Source: “Why Don’t Students Like School?” Well, Duhhhh… | Psychology Today

These are the kinds of students I have – victims of generational poverty, malnutrition, childhood trauma, violence, drug abuse and systemic racism and prejudice. Strong-arming them into another standardized test isn’t doing them any favors.

Because they knew what was expected on MY test, and they knew they could meet my expectations. I was there for the lesson. I made the test. I would grade it. I have a relationship with these kids and they know I will assess them fairly.

But not on this standardized CDT nonsense!

Data Recognition Corp isn’t there for the lesson. It has no rapport with students. Kids don’t know what the expectations are and don’t think they can meet them. And they have no sense that this multi-billion dollar corporation will grade them fairly for their efforts.

So they act out.

What purpose do I serve enforcing policies I know to be detrimental?

Source: A Teacher’s Dilemma: Take a Stand Against Testing or Keep Abusing Children | gadflyonthewallblog

“Strength,” “Courage,” and “Bravery” are virtues often heaped upon individuals undergoing hardship. These compliments come from a deep-rooted cultural value that sacrifice should be praiseworthy and that performing in the face of difficulty is a sign of virtue. In tech, strength is valued to the point of caricature, creating a culture of depersonalization and overwork that disproportionately affects people who by their identities or job descriptions are asked too often to “take one for the team.”

Source: The Cult(Ure) of Strength | USENIX

Compassion is not coddling. Design for real life.

Compassion is an essential tech skill that needs to be taught as an integral part of tech education.

Source: Get Ready for the Future – JavaScript Scene – Medium

People often mistake compassion for “being nice,” but it’s not. At A List Apart, the editorial team still says no when a submission isn’t a good fit. At MailChimp, Kiefer Lee’s colleagues are still quick to tell spammers, even the unintentional ones, that they can’t send more email.

The point of compassion isn’t to soften bad news or stressful situations with niceties. It’s to come from a place of kindness and understanding, rather than a place of judgment. It’s to tell the truth in such a way that you’re allowing others to tell their truths, too.

Source: Design for Real Life

I recommend the book Design for Real Life to anyone making things for and with other humans. That’s pretty much all of us. Educators, for example, are always designing, particularly forms. Learn how to make compassionate forms that avoid inadvertent cruelty and exclusion.

A big part of compassionate design is recognizing stress cases. To design for inclusion and real life, look to the stress cases. They “put our design and content choices to the test of real life”.

Real life is complicated. It’s full of joy and excitement, sure, but also stress, anxiety, fear, shame, and crisis. We might experience harassment or abuse, lose a loved one, become chronically ill, get into an accident, have a financial emergency, or simply be vulnerable for not fitting into society’s expectations.

None of these circumstances is ideal, but all of them are part of life-and, odds are, your site or product has plenty of users in these moments, whether you’ve ever thought about them or not.

Our industry tends to call these edge cases-things that affect an insignificant number of users. But the term itself is telling, as information designer and programmer Evan Hensleigh puts it: “Edge cases define the boundaries of who and what you care about” (http://bkaprt.com/dfrl/00-01/). They demarcate the border between the people you’re willing to help and the ones you’re comfortable marginalizing.

That’s why we’ve chosen to look at these not as edge cases, but as stress cases: the moments that put our design and content choices to the test of real life.

It’s a test we haven’t passed yet. When faced with users in distress or crisis, too many of the experiences we build fall apart in ways large and small.

Instead of treating stress situations as fringe concerns, it’s time we move them to the center of our conversations-to start with our most vulnerable, distracted, and stressed-out users, and then work our way outward. The reasoning is simple: when we make things for people at their worst, they’ll work that much better when people are at their best.

Source: Design for Real Life

The products we create can make someone’s day—or leave them feeling alienated, marginalized, hurt, or angry. It’s all depends on whether we design for real life: for people with complex emotions, stressed-out scenarios, or simply identities that are different from our own.

Source: Sara Wachter-Boettcher – Design for Real Life (video)

Design for Real Life and the pathways principle from The End of Average will make you reconsider what you call an edge case.

Normative thinking— the belief there is one normal pathway— has fooled scientists in many fields.

The fact that there is not a single, normal pathway for any type of human development— biological, mental, moral, or professional— forms the basis of the third principle of individuality, the pathways principle. This principle makes two important affirmations. First, in all aspects of our lives and for any given goal, there are many, equally valid ways to reach the same outcome; and, second, the particular pathway that is optimal for you depends on your own individuality.

The first point is rooted in a powerful concept from the mathematics of complex systems called equifinality. According to equifinality, in any multidimensional system that involves changes over time— like a person interacting with the world— there are always multiple ways to get from point A to point B. The second point is derived from the science of the individual, which tells us that, because of the jaggedness and context principles, individuals vary naturally in the pace of their progress, and the sequences they take to reach an outcome. It is in understanding the why that we discover how to leverage the pathways principle to work for us as individuals and as a society.

Source: Rose, Todd. The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness (p. 129). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Design for Real Life is informed by and compatible with neurodiversity, the social model of disability, and structural ideology. I have more on developing compassion for the perspectives and stress cases of neurodiversity and disability communities in my primer on the social model for minds and bodies. Social model understanding is essential to every designer’s and maker’s education and work. The social model is essential to informed compassion. When we design from a social model mindset, we build pluralism into the world. When we design for stress cases and the margins, we build better things and benefit everyone.

See also,

 

Letter to My Representatives on Graham-Cassidy

Graham-Cassidy is a Medicaid abolition bill. It destroys Medicaid as we know it. It cuts up the safety net into 50 pieces and distributes those shreds to the states. The tatters get smaller and smaller each year until there is nothing left. Nothing left for my children or my grandchildren. Nothing.

Capping Medicaid hurts children with disabilities (such as my own), seniors, Medicaid expansion states, and even victims of natural disasters such as those affected by Harvey in our very own state. What does this preoccupation with destroying Medicaid have to do with stabilizing insurance markets?

This bill upends the bipartisan progress of the past couple weeks. The ACA should be stabilized with a transparent process through regular order. Join the process led by Senators Alexander and Murray. Reject Graham-Cassidy if it comes to a vote.

Letter to My Representatives on HR 620, the ADA Education and Reform Act

I am writing in opposition to HR620, the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017. HR620 further shifts the burden of compliance from businesses to disabled people. We disabled folks are expected to be civil rights lawyers laboriously advancing the public interest, whereas businesses and even public education are excused again and again for thoughtless non-compliance.

The ADA has been the law of the land for three decades, yet most businesses are still inaccessible. Even those that claim accessibility have done a half-assed job. They fail to meet the lowest bars of empathy and compassion. There is absolutely no excuse for this. None. Accessibility is not that hard. After 30 years, those still running inaccessible businesses do not deserve any more time or benefit of the doubt. Hold them accountable, and stop putting legal obstacles in the way of disabled folks trying to create a more inclusive society. We face enough obstacles at businesses and public spaces that have decided 20% of the population doesn’t matter.

My money and time are where my mouth is. Over the past twelve years, my company has grown from four to over six hundred people. We are committed to accessibility in our products and facilities. Thoughtful, accessible design benefits our employees and our customers. We should be designing for real life instead of excusing exclusion. Everyone doing business is responsible for doing so inclusively.

The social model of disability is essential knowledge for anyone providing goods and services to other people. This is basic business ethics. HR620 is ethical erosion in an environment of already poor business ethics. This is a bad signal to business owners. We’ve had decades to get our act together and have largely failed to do so.

The politics of resentment have turned the ADA into a means of vilifying marginalized people instead of promoting the accessibility that has brought us the biological pluralism of curb cuts, family bathrooms, and accessible public transportation. HR620 is more resentment. Oppose it. Instead, embrace the social model for both minds and bodies. It is good for business and society. An accessible society is more productive, resilient, joyful, and humane. The investments required of each business are trivial compared to the benefits.

Atypical and Autism Representation

The new Netflix show Atypical is not only really bad and harmful autism representation, it’s also misogynistic, racist, and fatmisic. It gets so many things about autism wrong while also getting sex and relationships wrong. Here are my tweets as I was working my way through the episodes. One of my biggest complaints with Atypical is that with a little social model awareness and non-misogynistic sex and relationship education, most of the plot goes away.

Collected below is feedback from actually autistic folks on the many problematic aspects of Atypical.

Continue reading “Atypical and Autism Representation”

Building creative culture at work and in the classroom

I’ve been working in distributed, self-organizing teams for a couple of decades and change. I’ve worked in startups, big corporations, and distributed open source teams. For the past twelve years, I have been at Automattic. Over the years, we have iterated fully-distributed work and creative culture into a 500 person company that has managed to survive over a decade, have low turnover, and rate well among freelancers.

The Top Companies WNW Creatives Would Kill to Work for Full-Time — Free Range

One of my driving motivations for helping build one of the first distributed companies was accessibility. I wanted a place to work compatible with my autistic operating system and my anxiety. Distributed work where I can work from the comfort of home and communicate mostly via text suits me well. It suits other neurodivergent and disabled folks too. Distributed work is a good base for building a culture compatible with neurodiversity and the social model of disability.

I’d like to share a peek at our culture using the writing of my co-workers and of journalists. The practices of distributed companies have lessons for classrooms, particularly regarding accessibility and inclusive communication. Bring your own comfort, backchannels, and psychological safety are important notions that benefit teams of adult creatives as well as teams of creative kids. We parents and teachers must recognize that kids need digital skills if they’re going to thrive in a digital world. We can develop those skills in an inclusive way that uses technology not for remediation and assessment, but for collaboration. Communicate, collaborate, iterate, and launch. The best of inclusive hacker culture coupled with the social model is powerful. To fulfill the promise of a public education that is “free, life-changing, and available to everyone”, adopt a hacker mindset of flexible improvisation and passion-based maker learning and a social model mindset of inclusion and acceptance. When we use technology to collaborate in default-to-open cultures, we create serendipity.

How we communicate

How we hire

How we organize

How we include

And how we flow

The business world is changing. It seems I’m riding the wave. High.