Archive for June, 2018

I recently had the privilege of reading Dufresne’s powerful illustrated history of educational and institutional racism in the United States. Dufresne blends written narrative (which includes both research as well as personal experience) with the language of visual aesthetics. The result is a bittersweet composition of unspeakable sadness and indelible hope. The story unfolds not only in text, but in the lines, color, and style of her artistic talents. In recent decades graphic novels have developed increasing “legitimacy” in the halls of academic literature (not to mention dissertations- see Sousanis, 2015). Dufresne book has earned its place in the halls of this burgeoning “cannon” of alternative storytelling; alternative in the genre, as well as the narratives it chooses to include. In the case of The History of Institutional Racism, the aesthetic is the intellectual and the aesthetic is the lived experience.

The book is a visual journey, comprised of a series of brightly-colored highly stylized panels, each unfolding a moment in our oppressive and unjust history. Occasionally the panels are accompanied by a quote by W.E. Dubois or another significant scholar/activist. My favorite panel of all is this one:

The series of 18 panels are followed by process-oriented reflections from the artist herself, and a thoughtful collection of questions for the reader. I appreciate this second section not merely as an addendum, but as a powerful compendium to the images, because it brings the artist in direct dialogue with her reader, and deepens our own reflections/responses to the artwork itself. Dufresne writes, “painting the panels became all-consuming and when I had more ideas than I could fit in the paintings I quickly picked up a marker and jotted down the research notes that I did not want to forget around the edges of my paintings.” The process and end-result reminds me of the creative process of “underpainting” coined by Sumara and Dennis (1998). As Irwin describes the process, “these paintings and the space between them, that is the underpainting, and the final paintings, illustrate an unfolding in/sights” (2003, p. 66). In underpainting, nothing is “erased.” Instead, the artwork, just as Dufresne does with the historically marginalized narratives of oppressed persons, is to scrape away at that top painted surface to reveal, “those ghosts and formerly rendered shapes that the artist (in this case, our dominant narratives) had intended to paint out forever” (Fraser, in Irwin, p, 66)

The result is a layering effect — of ideas and concepts, as well as layering of colors, words and images that evoke emotion. Dufresne embraces her creative process as a valuable piece of the understanding of the work itself… the process, not merely the product, strikes the reader as an important facet of examination. The work creates transformative and re-combinant aesthetic arrangements that lead to a reading/visual experience that “feels risky, dangerous, forbidden-for within it, we are able to imitate nothing but who we are” (Sumara and Davis, 1998, p. 2). The artwork renders the complexity of our collective experiences without reducing painful histories to platitudes.

Dufresne’s strongest aspects of this work are her intellectual passion and artistic integrity. What I mean is, she committed herself to the research and allowed emotion and intuition to move her hand across each piece of canvas, allowing the stories of the individuals included in each panel, to speak their truth to power. The story told through the creative lens of Dufresne influences the story being told, and offers a new way of seeing history so often discussed but so rarely understood (much less celebrated in any radical or authentic sort of way).

Going back to Maus (Spiegelman, 1996) the arts have been a means for telling powerful and painful narratives. Images, being synchronous, allow the reader to be a “viewer” taking in an entire image (thought, story, idea, or perspective) immediately (visually). Images offer a synchronicity of ideas rather than a diachronicity (linear over time). This matters imagistically; creating effective and compelling images where color, line, and flow “speak” to the reader/viewer in a unique stylistic fashion. Conceptually this also matters, because what was historically “then” is simultaneously what is “now,” and all historical moments are interconnected. We need to rethink time as “that was then…” and juxtapose moments across time and space as the reminder that everything we have been is eternally with us…now. What shall we do about it? The synchronous juxtaposition of different ideas in one image conjure, as Sandy Grande in the book’s Foreword says, “connecting the dots between racial difference, economic inequality, and the accumulative logics of capital.”. For example, Dufresne illustrates on p. 3 the corrupt neoliberal relationships between Bill Gates and the land grab – the panel asks us to consider what new connections can we make between the two, important connections which linear history limit us from imagining — and therefore limiting our possible actions is response. I found the “possible actions” section which is very useful.

The entire project was framed by the philosophy of the radical imagination citing the ideas of Max Haiven (2014) who states, “Our crisis of power is linked to our crisis of imagination: how can we envision and actualize resilient and powerful alternatives?” Stylistically and socially/politically it could be no other way. Dufresne is writing on the edges of our collective memories and marginalized histories — intersecting the creative process with re-imagining whose stories ought to be told. Dufresne committed her process to a radical imagining of “the possibilities of relational, transitive, and creative solidarity as a strategy for recasting not only human relations but also the very notion of what it means to be human,” which is “crucial for decolonization” (Gatzambide-Fernandez, 2012). Each panel in this books unfurls the deep emotional connection to destructive polices of segregation and violence done to the bodies and minds of people of color since the age of Columbus.

I feel it would have benefited from a brief explanation (an index in the back, or a footnote. Or…) of certain concepts unfamiliar to readers new to education history or policies, such as the Bell Curve or Common Core (What is it? Where did it originate? How does it connect with other concepts in that panel?) … Or, “the opt out movement”. Some readers may need to contextualize what these concepts are (i.e. Opt out of what? Why?). Without context or definitions, it’s more difficult to appreciate the connections Dufresne is making. I realize the design/scope of this book would make an addition such as this a challenge. But the book is immensely valuable and powerful and I would love to see it read by/reach people beyond those of us who already have an understanding of the general scope of racism as it intersects with education policy. In tandem with this observation, I believe the book would have benefited from a reference list at the back end of the book which lists all the sources used by Dufresne in her own research and those which are quoted in the panels/text themselves. Readers may be inspired to continue their own research and wish to pursue the same readings as the artist herself. As a work which I believe must be treated as an important scholarly contribution in academic settings (k12 and college classrooms), a reference list of sources cited/used is important.

Dufresne’s commitment to this project shows in every aspect of the work. It is evocative, provocative, and effective. It is a must-read for every classroom. By embracing the experience of underpainting her process, in the vein of the radical imagination, Dufresne gives of her talents and of herself; mind, body, and spirit. She invites us to take a journey to “underpaint” our own assumptions, our own distorted histories, and our subjective identities – to “read” her artwork “through the act of being and becoming, the process of living an aesthetic of unfolding” (Irwin, 2003, p. 73). I encourage you all to join her.


Gatzambide-Fernandez, R. (2012).  Decolonization and the pedagogy of solidarity.           Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 1 (1), 41-67.

Haiven, M. (2014). Crisis of Imagination, crisis of power: Capitalism, creativity and the     commons.  London, UK: Zed books.

Irwin, R. (2003). Toward an aesthetic of unfolding in/sights through curriculum. Journal of Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies, 1(2), 63-78.

Spiegleman, A. (1996). The Complete Maus. New York, NY: Pantheon Books

Sousanis, N. (2015), Unflattening. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Sumara, L. & Davis, B. (1998). Underpainting. Journal of Curriculum Theorizing, 14 (4), 1-5.

NOTE: This is a full-length book, being published chapter by chapter with a new chapter posted every two weeks. Readers will have to stay tuned for “what’s next.” The story is copyrighted by the author (Morna McDermott) but may be freely shared and re-blogged/posted (with citation to the author). The purpose of the story was to create a thought experiment. What will happen if/when the corporate destruction of public education and society is complete? Can we begin to imagine/enact a different set of societal structures that are more equitable, anti-racist, sustainable, and democratic? Do we have the collective will to manifest such a future? What can we learn from good examples in the past? Can we take some cues from the world of fiction to begin the conversation? This is a story of hope.

Please join us and enjoy the story! Feedback/comments welcome in the comment box. 


Story Summary

Ryder, Keesha, and Deacon, three lifelong friends, now in their teens have been named the leader-futures for Interregnum City, the first city to decolonize itself from the script of corporate enslavement. The city has gone “off-script.” They, along with their friends and families take the reader into a hopeful landscape of what might yet be possible if, and when, communities embrace the revolutionary power of the collective will, imagination and love. It is fiction of hope; representing any city in America and set in an unknown future time. This is a tale of what could be. Ryder, Deacon and Keesha confront obstacles such as the looming data pods built along the Interregnum Mile, and their secret discovery of the terror that lies waiting for their community if they cannot stop the colonizers secret mission in time. With the help of Ryder’s Uncle Kelley, Deacons grandfather Pops, and Keesha’s mother Susan, these three youth lead their city on a mission for reclamation, resurrection, and resurgence.


The preacher man’s hands shook fiercely as he held the tool deftly over the nano sensor, as he had done hundreds of times over the last several years. He strained to keep them steady, knowing that all these years of work, of sacrifice, could be blown with one wrong twitch. The man emptied his mind of the boy so he could focus on the task at hand. While he imagined the scenario over and over, knowing that some day, somewhere, this would all be over and he could return home — nothing had truly prepared him for seeing Ryder. He was so much a man and still so much the infant boy he had remembered.

While he had not anticipated the strange turn of events that had transpired these last few weeks, the preacher’s soul trembled with joy that universe had conspired to bring these series of events about. He looked at the nano sensor resting so benignly under the high powered microscope. This. This could change everything. This was power in the right hands. Wasn’t that what all this had been about? He knew as a preacher that sometimes words must be followed by actions. And as a man of God he knew such action would require sacrifice. He didn’t see any other way. His faith convinced him that forgiveness was also possible. Would Ryder and Kelly forgive him for his deception? They had to. Only his wife and English knew of his whereabouts. To tell anyone else would compromise the project, not to mention their very physical safety. Ryder, being a child, would not have understood. He would have defied any rules to go and find his father. The man laughed under his breath, still steadying his hands at work. Well, he wound up here anyway, on his own accord. Ironic maybe. Destiny? Didn’t matter. What mattered was that now he knew what was possible. The moment he saw Ryder posing as a food server across that large ballroom standing dutifully besides English, he knew that something transformative was going to happen.

His fondest memory of Kelly was as they stood as young adolescent brothers atop the data pods, together rallying the people toward certain victory all those decades ago. Kelly and the Black Hatters leading the charge. It was finally over, and they cheered to one another. Hope, like a rare gem, shone bright that day. But Preacher had studied the ways of power, domination, and human nature in seminary. The lingering possibility that in fact, even though they decolonized themselves, it wasn’t over, gnawed at his consciousness.

He had tried to talk it out with his community parish on the 10 year anniversary of their liberation. The room was packed because finally had people begun to believe again that change was possible. Things were going so well. He argued, “The colonizers have a playbook. They’ve had it for centuries. They force those that are not them, into a state of weakened dependency. And then they castigate those peoples for the same dependency they created. The colonizers lie, saying what they want is to free themselves of the ‘burden’ we seem to be upon them. They say that: We… cost them money. We….cause problems. We… are cause of our own demise …. For our poverty, for our lack of education, for our lack of ….well, you name it. Lack induced by their colonizing ways. But that story is powerful and it worked for a long time. But here we stand today, liberated from that never-ending sick pattern of domination. We remain vigilant over the data pods, protecting them from the grips of those that wish to reclaim us.”

People cried and cheered, clapping their hands. When the roar died down he continued. “Today we remember our freedom. We have finally extracted ourselves from their yoke. We are self-sustaining. We chart our own way. We no longer depend on the colonizers and their corporations for their education, for their jobs, their food, their housing. We own our future.”  He looked at the face of his infant son and wife, and imagined their future.

There were more cheers. His face then became overcast. “However, I have come to believe something else about those that have dominated us for long. For centuries we were taught to need them, to live in forced reliance upon them for our existence. And we proved them wrong…yes, we did. But here’s the twist. I fear that it is they– that need us. They need us in a subservient position of domination. They never wanted us to be free of their control even despite their snake oil promises for policies that would somehow “lift us up” from the very conditions they created. Now that we are free of them, they will do everything in their power to get us back. Why? Why can’t they live free themselves and leave us alone? We are no longer a so-called burden. Why? Because the opposite of what we have been conditioned to believe is true. It is this. They will come back for us because they need our dependency for their existence. They cannot survive without us under their boot.”

The room fell silent. He could hear shoes scuffing the wooden floor and the cry of a small baby echoing in the rafters of the high ceiling. No more cheers. This wasn’t the rallying cry they had expected. His heart sank. Even Kelly had a strange look that suggested, “What are you saying, man?” What they wanted to hear and what he knew to be true fell out of alignment. So he redirected his sermon back to the soaring poetry of hope and promise. Hadn’t they created a new life for 10 years already? A community on their own terms. In their own image. Yeah. It would be great.

It was the preacher’s job to make sure they succeeded. So he sacrificed his life in order to create an insurance policy against future attacks. He knew in his gut that RO wouldn’t give up. Their dependency on the dependency of others was a sick addiction to power and control. And addicts don’t simply walk away from the tongs they need the most. RO simply had to rethink their strategy for scoring their dope; the people. Atop the data pods, groaning in defeat, Kelley was on patrol of the data pods that evening. The preacher took one last look at his brother, and quietly slipped behind the machines into the back side streets and up toward his home, for one last goodbye. English was waiting for him at the edge of the fields beyond the community gardens. They had to move quickly. Ryder was still a baby. In despairing whispers under the soft lamp light, he and his wife agreed this must be done. She would keep his secret. They would stay in touch. English would send messages routinely between them. It won’t be forever, they promised each other. “Stick to the story” he said. Yes she nodded, “You went out, off grid, to do mission work with a bourgeoning decolonizing zone. They were attacked. You never returned. MIA.” Her words tightened around the airway in her throat. He kissed his infant son gently on the forehead, slung his knapsack over his shoulder and winnowed his way like a shadow through the streets.

It felt like a lifetime ago, when he was young and fearless. Now at 42, he was feeling is age. And ten years away from his wife and child, who was now a young man of fourteen, felt like an eternity of absence.

What he hadn’t planned on was the brilliance and organizing capacity of the young people of Interregnum City, notably among them his own son. They had figured out, without his aid, what RO’s next steps would be. And they came here to stop it, not really sure how they would, but knowing they had to find a way. English had filled the preacher in on how Ryder and Keesha had hacked Susan’s computer and discovered the evidence to confirm their theory: that the data pods were a distraction. Attempts by RO to reclaim dominance over them would be acquired not through obvious force, but through a manufactured crisis — through the very resources that make life itself possible: food and water. Once Interregnum City’s self-sustaining supply of food and water were destroyed they would have no choice but to rely on RO for their survival. But food and water dependency weren’t enough. They weren’t merely trying to profit from sales of goods. RO had learned their lesson—that people will claw their way to freedom eventually and with new technologies being developed in Arizona and elsewhere for cities to hope for decolonization, RO knew the city and its people would never stop trying, and possibly succeeding. What they needed was a permanent, invisible, indelible source of surveillance and control to develop indefinite dependency.

For ten years Preacher had found a way to infiltrate the RO laboratory; working his way up from lab technician now to project leader with access to every top secret project. He had paid close attention in his youth as his brother Kelly moved up the ranks of the Black Hatters. He knew enough just from listening and watching Kelly to make himself a believable “tech guy” and with a recommendation from English to Mr. Parks, he was in.

Then all he had to do was continue to prove himself, and to keep his subterfuge under wraps. It was a close call, when he infected the fetus tracking project with a virus that left the embryos successfully tagged with genetic modifications yet impossible to track. He had been successful but one slip up and he would have been exposed. But the risks had been worth it. From that trail experiment Preacher was able to accomplish what he called Phase Two, which he was now perfecting. He kept his hands steady under the microscope. Seeing Ryder with English at the ballroom where RO announced to its investors that they had the “next big thing” in data surveillance, he knew that this Phase two was possible.

As he had explained to English, the evening after he had passed out and recovered without notice thanks to Ryder, they could make a real plan — one that, if it worked would end this battle for freedom from corporate control once and for all. While he had successfully altered the genetically modified microscopic nano sensors without RO knowing, he still had not figured out what to do with this secretly modified material. Now he knew. Thanks to the plan crafted by Ryder. English had told him everything. Preacher knew about RO grand plan, about the use of machine to destroy the water and land of all decolonized zones. But it was Ryder, with Keesha and Deacon who had imagined how to use this as a strategy of their own. Like an incomplete puzzle, each had a missing piece (the kids had a plan but no weapon and Preacher had a weapon but no plan). Fate had bought them together one not knowing what the other had, or knew…and now they could come together and end this once and for all.

But even as much as Preacher worried about the logistics of the execution of this plan which would require the entire community, he worried about the reaction Ryder would have when he was reunited with the father he thought he had lost.

Wherever I go, I discover how few people have heard the term “social impact bonds” and for those who have, they usually have received little more than the glossy sales pitch offered by social impact bonds snake oil salesman, and so assume they are a good thing. Here is a list of a few scholars who look under the hood of the glossy sales pitch and reveal some important but little known facts about this effort to recolonize public (mostly urban) spaces. Like its predecessor, charter schools, social impact bonds market themselves as the “saviour” to communities of color that have suffered under decades of racist policies and austerity measures. Like charters, here is the problem marketing itself as the solution. Can we learn ahead of the curve this time? While my “go to” sites are by Alison McDowell and Data Disruptors, its important to have multiple sources and to appreciate that our critique of this financial scheme is well documented and researched. So why aren’t we hearing more about this? And … Why the “crickets” from education persons and groups who have large audiences and social media presence? Please click to read to learn, and better yet, click to read to share.

Social Impact Bonds (Pay for Success): Yet Another Privatization Scam – janresseger  (minute 29)


Race, Finance, And The Afterlife Of Slavery on Vimeo

Rhode Island Union: Social Impact Bonds Are About Greed, Not Good – Next City

Social Impact Bonds — a Primer – Seattle Education

Profiting from Pain: social impact bonds and social policy – Policy and Politics Journal

Social Impact Bonds: The Titans of Finance as the Altruistic Merchants of Schooling and the Common Good | Dissident Voice

Bonded Life: Technologies of racial finance from slave insurance to philanthrocapital: Cultural Studies: Vol 29, No 5-6