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, Deacon’s grandfather Pops, and Keesha’s mother Susan, these three youth lead their city on a mission for reclamation, resurrection, and resurgence.

CHAPTER EIGHT

The heads of lettuce peeked meekly out of the dirt, edges tipped downward in disapproving fashion. “This is not how we are supposed to feel!” they seemed to be saying. Pops was frowning too. He seemed to be in silent agreement with the whole crop of the community garden. They were all in physical despair. The last round of “eruptions” (no one knew what to call them because their origins of cause were still unknown) seemed to set off a chain of physical events in Interregnum City. This chain of events included a sudden downturn in the garden, which merely two weeks ago was ready for a robust harvesting, and now wept and crumbled back inward toward the soil from where it came.

Certain city blocks complained of their tap water turning a yellowish-brown at the faucets. In other segments of the city, buildings (previous solid and unwavering in their construction), were now weak at the foundations and dozens of families evacuated until they could be re secured. Something was growing underground. The strange “booming” sound was impossible to ignore. But what? And why?

Pops knew instinctively that Romer Onyx was behind this. It had only been two weeks since Keesha, Ryder and Deacon had gone “underground” (a phrase he found darkly funny given the circumstance), and today in this very garden was his intel meeting with his “insider.” Through brief visits with Deacon late at night inside the tunnels, Pops learned that Kelley and Kesha were quietly tapping into the RO data base through Susan’s computer while Keesha also spent time with her mom painting murals across the string of abandoned buildings littering the outskirts of RO property. The land owned by R.O was larger than many of the surrounding cities. Over the course of thirty years, R.O had grown into a world unto itself. Meanwhile, Ryder was working with Pops “insider,” taking him under his wing, disguised as a RO employee.

The air was hot and dry. It hadn’t rained for days. Pops stretched his legs from beneath the wooden bench situated at the far corner alongside the dying rows of beans and peppers. What would happen them? To all of them, if they couldn’t stop Romer Onyx from whatever it was they were doing? He hoped that English would have some answers … finally. The cryptic messages from Deacon, who spent more hours running Intel back and forth through the tunnels than he did in the deli, were difficult to understand. His long hours of absence were sorely noted by his mother, too. “Where has that Deacon gone off to now, Pops?” she would ask, with annoyance.

“Sent him on a long delivery run,” Pops would reply.

Lips pursed, eyes narrowed, Deacon’s mom would say, “Hmmm. Sure, Pops,” as if she knew something else was afoot, but just chose not to ask.

Running the store kept her occupied enough without getting caught up in “whatever this was” that Pops and Deacon had going on. Let them have their secret project, she told herself. She trusted her father implicitly- whatever it was, he had his reasons she was sure. Besides, since the community garden has started failing, inexplicably, their sources of fresh produce for the shop were in short supply as well, and they were barely hanging on these last few weeks. It felt as if the community might run out of food if something couldn’t be done.  They’d be forced to buy from outside sources, a thought that sickened her. Half the community would rather starve than have to outsource their food supply to the likes of companies like Romer Onyx, which controlled all the factory farms that lay just over the horizon of their city limits.

Pops shifted his seat, his back was getting sore leaning on the hard wooden surface. Then he saw English turn the corner at the flower stand, pass through the gate, and stroll through the midsection of the garden toward him. He wore a weary expression. Pops nodded.

He allowed English a moment to settle in beside him on the bench and the two sat in silence for a few seconds. The heat felt as heavy as the silence. Pops gave a deliberate sigh. “Yeah, I know,” English replied as if reading his thoughts.

“How long have we known each other?” English asked, his gaze looking steadily outward into space. Pops paused as if considering the answer to complex mathematic problem.

“’Bout fifty years I suppose now,” he replied.

“So, have I ever lied to you?”

“Nope. Never.”

“Have I ever seemed…?” English searched for the right words, “Mentally unsound to you?”

Pops stomach tightened. What was it exactly that English had to tell him? How bad was this Intel going to be?

“Nope, my friend. You are as right as rain,” Pops assured him.

His friendship with English went back to when their families lived next door to each other, row home by row home, sharing stories and lemonade on the stoops on hot summer days, and Sunday dinners on cold winter evenings. As they grew from teens to adulthood, English’s sister Delia became the object of Pops’ affection, and eventually, Delia became Pops’ wife. His brother-in-law English was his most trusted friend, even after Delia passed suddenly from cancer when their daughter still very young. English became a second father – helping to rear is his niece, and her son Deacon, in his sister’s absence.

Although he missed her terribly every day, a part of Pops was relieved she never had to witness the destruction of their community and their family networks at the hands of R.O. Toward the end, Delia was too ill to any pay attention to the stories of what the tracking and surveillance the police and justice system (both outsourced to R.O) was doing to their young people. Before they were even out of school, like indentured servants or enslaved people of their ancestry, children were indebted to R.O. and companies like it in exchange for the education these companies had paid for. Public education was completely eradicated and replaced with charter schools, owned and managed by technology moguls who promised skills and employment. But it became clear, underneath their slick promises of money and jobs, what their community offered in exchange was more than they bargained for.

First, centuries before, they had been starved economically nearly out of existence by these same financial “wizards” who, after leaving the communities in near-shambles, re-entered the neighborhoods with promise of “hope and repair.”  At the time, it hadn’t seemed like a bad deal. Besides, what were their other options? It wasn’t so bad at first. Things seemed to get better. At least, while Delia was alive. Then R.O revealed the price of their agreement. “Philanthropic investments” in social goods and services in exchange for continuous surveillance.

They tried to endure it. What choice did they have? But after 20 years of being fed up, they found another option in going off script. Complete divestment from the corporate powers that had for centuries sought, not to destroy them, but to use them, for their own purposes.

Looking over the garden, and then at English, Pops wondered if they were again under attack. Or, perhaps not if …but how.

English asked, “And how long have I been passing along Intel from R.O?” His blue eyes looked grey in the garden sunlight.

Pops paused again. His debt for the risks English had been taking, working for R.O undercover and secretly passing along whatever information he could glean, while working as the food coordinator for the R.O kitchens, was invaluable to the community. If R.O. ever found out their secrets were being leaked by their trusted kitchen supervisor, there was no telling what might come of English. Other Romer Onyx “leaks” had tried (and failed) to give Intel to Interregnum City. No one quite knew what happened them.

Pops thought about Ryder’s father, Reverend Booker, who had gone missing ten years after the decolonizing revolution. Booker’s Intel had been the corner stone of the community’s capacity to decolonize themselves. Without his work, they’d still be in electronic chains. And then, on the morning they were celebrating their ten year anniversary of the revolution, as Kelly and the Black Hatters stood atop the Data Pods now laying like slain beasts of the fields, as dead as the heads of lettuce in this garden; that same day, Reverend Booker simply vanished. No note. No trace. A devoted father and husband doesn’t just walk away like that. But no Intel out of R.O ever gave clue to where he might have been taken.

Pops hoped that whatever English had to tell him, might include news about the Reverend.

“You’re going to think I am the far side of madness when I tell you what I heard just two days ago from the top brass at R.O,” English said anxiously.

Pops felt the knot in his gut tighten even more.

“Go ahead,” he said, “I want to know everything.”

“It happened when I was in charge of the buffet for their annual investors Board meeting a few days ago.”

What followed defied all capacity for disbelief Pops had ever had.

To be continued in forthcoming Chapter Nine….

I was appalled when an educator/activist/author friend of mine, shared with me over coffee, that University of Maryland College Park, in partnership with real estate mogul Edward St John, contracted with prison labor for the creation of their shiny new building:

MCE Helps Furnish New Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center at UMCP
On Thursday, May 11, 2017, the University of Maryland dedicated the new Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center. Named for Baltimore-based developer, philanthropist and 1961 alumnus, Edward St. John, founder and chairman of St. John Properties, the 187,000-square- foot space, which includes 12 classrooms and nine teaching labs with a total of 1,500 seats, will elevate the culture of collaborative learning on campus.
Maryland Correctional Enterprises (MCE) was responsible for designing, manufacturing and installing a variety of products used in the new building.”

Agenda University System of Maryland see item:
A-2. Maryland Correctional Enterprises  –  Edward St. John Teaching & Learning Center – Furniture $1,345,599.00UMS/UMCP Prince George’s

The contract is also presented on MCE’s Fiscal Year statement.

Maryland Correctional Enterprises (MCE) is the state’s own prison labor company. A semi-autonomous subdivision of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS), MCE commands a workforce of thousands of prisoners, paid just a few dollars per day. MCE workers make far less than minimum wage, earning between $1.50 and $5.10 for an entire day’s work.

Most of us are familiar by now with the concept of a school-to-prison pipeline, but  here it is, a prison-for-school pipeline, or better yet, prison-for-profit (all hail 21st century slavery alive and well) in the name of “education reform.”

It might be  a “great day” for Ed St John and U of M, but I doubt its a great day for the forced laborers who did the work.  The new center will “transform teaching and learning” but it will not transform systemic oppression or racism. In fact, it benefits from the fruits of oppressive labor. This is not the only time that U of M, or other institutions of higher learning have used prison labor. That is a deep seated problem in itself that warrants our attention. As one news article states, “”Maryland is just a symptom … of how the prison industrial complex affects African-Americans and poor people of color nationwide.”

What I choose to focus on here is the irony of the scope and purpose of the St John education building and education legacy itself through the use of prison labor, especially for an organization such as the Edward St John Foundation which says: “Our mission is based on the strong belief that ‘education has the power to transform lives and strengthen communities.’”

Also ironic is that the new center is touted as being “designed to serve as a national model of collaborative learning and to create new spaces enabling students to launch their own business enterprises.” Will the students who attend those classes learn about how for-profit-prison industry is a boon to corporate moguls who profiteer from the incarceration of low income people of color as a “business enterprise?”

Edward St. John is also a big donor to KIPP schools, known for their “zero-tolerance” discipline tactics which ironically funnel more students into the prison pipeline than do public schools. But it doesn’t stop with KIPP. St. John is also the developer for a new charter school in Frederick County: The Frederick Classical Charter School. Clearly, St. John did his homework about the uber-profits that can be made by corporate venture investments into school “reform” like charters.

So, let me re summarize this succinctly once more for the cheap seats in the back: Corporate philanthropists like St. John use $ and power to influence education reform policies, and build their own charter schools, which create racist zero-tolerance policies that expel or suspend children of color, who wind up in the correctional facilities that build the higher education buildings where students will be taught to support education reforms that support the same philanthropists.

Any questions?

As his company credo says: Doing Well By Doing Good. It’s clear he’s doing “well” …  but is he doing “good”?

 

A BRIEF PAUSE IN BETWEEN CHAPTERS OF THE FICTIONAL STORY (INTERREGNUM MILE) TO CONSIDER THE NOT-SO-FICTIONAL VERSION OF THAT SAME REALITY.

In the last few years a lot of debate has been had over promise and perils of ESSA. Many education advocates argued we must embrace ESSA because it promised to reduce federal choke hold of high stakes standardized testing that was wielded starting with NCLB and ramped up further under Race to the Top. The promise of EESA seemed too good to be true. Why would the same people who devoted decades to dismantling public schools, creating avenues for defacto segregation, and privatizing a public system suddenly want to turn around and “do the right thing?” ESSA authors (Lamar Alexander) claimed that testing would take a “back seat” And it has. The argument support of ESSA was “to restore responsibility to state and local leaders what to do about educational decisions. If a state decides to move away from Common Core, they don’t have to call Washington and ask permission—they can just do it.”

And so many supporters of democratic public education “bought in” to the hype. Exactly what ARE states deciding to do instead? Those are the details we need to examine, and it’s vital (if we are really to reclaim public spaces and democracy) that we understand that there is a global paradigmatic shift occurring beyond the scope of what we already think we know or can anticipate. We must broaden our understanding of the end-game.

In unwritten or loosely defined ways, ESSA also ushers in a host of opportunities for corporations and private entities to avail themselves of every child’s most private funds of data. See Emily Talmage. The data surveillance tactics have found their ways into what otherwise might have been meaningful community and classroom practices.

Companies and government agencies still have access to students test scores (via online daily competency based education data), despite claims of reducing end-of-year testing. ESSA may in fact be reducing the role that HST testing does play in education policy and practice. But don’t be fooled. It is not because those of us in the opt out movement “won” the battle. The powers-that-be manufactured that move as a distraction. The formulators of ESSA have created the illusion that these new policies will be what we want. The opposite is true. The new avenues of data collection formulated for ESSA, in addition to academic (test) data,  include social emotional data, measuring such things a “grit and tenacity.”  They evaluate “mindfulness.” Some might be asking the question “why?”—what is to be gained from this data collection? The answer is: A great deal if you are keeping up with the research. You know this answer– at least in part.

In part, it is because in the traditional neoliberal framework, any data means money. For example, “Silicon Valley is going all out to own America’s school computer-and-software market, projected to reach $21 billion in sales by 2020.”

Data also means knowing how to anticipate outcomes through predicative analytics, how to sort and track students as future consumers, workers, or prisoners (using 3rd grade data to build prisons goes back decades). But wait….there’s more. We need to understand what this “more” is, and why HST (as insidious as it is/was) PALES in comparison to the new data collection mechanisms and forms of data being mined, and the ways in which this data will significantly erode global democracy and human rights. This is because “a mechanism that is at the heart of biocapitalism in its ever-expanding attempts to commodify all aspects of life.” (Haraway).

The capitalist/consumer paradigm is shifting beneath our feet. With the growing capacities of new technologies, such as artificial intelligence and the push for Big Data (McKinsey),  we have seen in the last few decades the development of education policies mirroring something more (i.e. Common Core becomes CBE which becomes online learning which means more and more uses for AI and tracking student behavior because now the computers must monitor the children once the teachers are all gone)…. See a summary here. The growing technological advances are slowly forming a new relationship between human and capital. It’s called biocapitalism. And the education policies underway, invited in through the gates of ESSA and other tactics such as social impact bonds, are the way forward for biocapitalism to successfully engender us unto it. Those “innovative assessments” being developed for ESSA are a vehicle by which corporations can build a new biocapital world for all of us. In a biocapital reality, data becomes surveillance becomes total control.

Biocapitalism transforms the interdependent systems of capital and labor (as external phenomena) into a capitalist system that utilizes more abstract form of labor that are internal and intangible. The relationship between man and machine is far more enmeshed in a biocapital relationship.

One website describes it as follows:

“(T)he concept of biocapitalism refers to the production of wealth by means of knowledge and human experience, through the use of those activities, both intellectual and corporeal, that are implicit in existence itself. We might add that every process of production reflects not only material realities, but also social contexts. Thus, relations of production not only characterize different modes of production, but also societal forms. Gradually, the process of production turns into a process of production and reproduction of itself, which is the fundamental activity of a living organism. Although this basic idea is shared by all social forms of life, it becomes absolutely central in biocapitalism.”

As this article Harpers from 1997 clearly describes, “Scratch the surface of information and biotech revolutions ….and what one discovers underneath is a ‘control revolution’….a massive transfer of power from beauracries to individuals and corporations. In an unregulated control revolution free markets and consumer choice become even more dominant forces and in virtually every arena social regulation gives way to economic incentive. …even such social intangibles as privacy become commodified.”

To learn more about how biocapitalism controls bodies and minds of children via public education policy read Clayton Pierce –Education in the Age of Biocapitalism: Optimizing educational life for a flat world. Pierce explores how generations of “extractive schooling” (of which standardized testing has been a part since the birth of the Eugenics movement in the early 1900’s) and how this has begun to transform itself through “technologies of control” of which the increasing push toward computer learning, machine learning, and artificial intelligence as the mode of education delivery for all children. He concludes, “education life is ever more becoming the target of an expanding range of sophisticated technologies of control (p. 142) … calling for greater and greater degrees of regulation and discipline over the body of the students” (p. 143). This makes me wonder even more about Class Dojo and other uses of privately owned technologies to monitor the student body and mind. And the purpose of them becomes yet more evident.

So as we continue to fight yesterday’s battle, i.e for a reduction in standardized testing and believe that that’s a “win” while also ignoring the profound destruction these other education policies (see McDowell) being quietly floated under our noses are having, the effort to control the next generation (our children) will be complete. We cannot become distracted by a bait-and -switch set of tactics.  Look for the forest, not the trees. We have to see the picture for these corporate reformers is much bigger than most parents and teachers and citizens can even imagine. It explains why global billionaires and tech giants like Bill Gates and Google have such a vested interest in “disrupting” education and taking education over with “21st century technology.” Biocapitalism relies on “the use of the relational, emotional and cognitive faculties of human beings.” LINK. In a biocapitalist framework of which 21st century education is a necessary part, “what is exchanged in the labour market is no longer abstract labour (measurable in homogeneous working time), but rather subjectivity itself, in its experiential, relational, creative dimensions. To sum up, what is exchanged is the ‘potentiality’ of the subject. Whereas in the Fordist model it was easy to calculate the value of labour according to the average output and professional skills based on workers’ education and experience, in bio-capitalism the value of labour loses almost any concrete definitional criterion.” LINK

The goal is not merely to sell us all iPads or market education materials and services. The scope is greater than that, and personal data (to be gathered via educational systems sold out to private interests) will use our children’s data not simply to sort and track them by test scores, not simply to close schools in black and brown neighborhoods to profit Wall Street charter schools)….sure all of that is true….but that’s not the end game. We cannot continue to fight yesterday’s demons and expect to reclaim the rights to our schools, our children’s futures, or our democracy. First, we have to see and understand the nature of biocapitalism as an all encompassing and global phenomena and the clear pathways between the new ESSA assessments and education delivery systems and the mechanisms of control being constructed.  We have to construct systemic avenues of wholesale resistance instead piece meal compromises. We cannot afford distractions or avoidance.

The devil is in the details.

The devil is in the data.

It sounds a little “out there”…. sure. Unless…. you begin to see the evidence right before your eyes. Then what? How long will we choose to remain complicit? (Special thank you to Don Bunger for sharing this document with me!). Click on image to enlarge. See the original bill from the Center for Evidence based Policy Making Act here.


Another way to summarize all of this is as follows from Truthout:

“…the theory of cognitive capitalism provides us with a ‘stage’ theory of the changing nature of capitalism that helps us better to understand the logic of knowledge capitalism that operates on the basis of algorithmic logic to expand a universe of information accessibility while changing the nature of the regime of accumulation. All the while, knowledge capitalism also creates giant global info-utilities that make its profits on the backs of the creative endeavors of others while posing as corporation dedicated to the commonweal.”

Interregnum Mile: Chapter Eight

Posted: October 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

Note to readers: Just when I thought what I writing was fiction, I came across this courtesy of Alison McDowell  

DATA ON DNA– https://www.sciencealert.com/microsoft-could-be-storing-data-on-dna-within-the-next-three-years

 

Chapter Eight

The industrial track-lighting in the Romer Onyx complex always reminded Susan of a piss- yellow color. Her artistic temperament incited her to naming colors that elicited strong feelings in her. Susan’s stomach tightened as it did every time she came to Central Office, which was not every often. Even the smell of the anti-septic hallways brought back a rush of memories that re-ignited anxieties she had buried sixteen years ago.

As a contractual employee, Susan was granted a lot of freedom in her work, and it limited her interactions with other RO staff. Keesha’s voice was always inside her head, reminding her that she had made an ethical compromise.

“You can’t change the inside from the outside,” Susan would tell Keesha. “You have to work change from the inside. And then, we can claim our power from within.”

Keesha was never convinced by this. “Show me when that’s ever worked out for folks like us, Mom. RO will make you believe you’re making changes, but they’re just fooling you into complacency!”

Keesha’s argument always gave Susan pause and a feeling of uneasiness. But she wanted to believe that what she was doing, in the long run, was the right choice. She had to.

Today, she quelled her unease with her excitement that Keesha had finally agreed to take an internship with RO. She didn’t even ask what had prompted her daughter’s change-of-mind. Susan didn’t care. She was just eager to have some time to be close to her daughter.

Susan had developed a variety of ways to quell her loneliness as the girls grew older and farther away from her. She never wanted them to feel guilty about deciding not to go with her to the colonized city. Nor should they, as the children, feel the need to adjust their lives to accommodate the needs of their mother. Their happiness was paramount. She leapt at the opportunity to help Keesha apply for this job painting a mural on the side of the Westborough Town Hall Annex building, as part of the corporate led initiative to “beautify” the blighted urban landscapes and recast them in their RO image.  It offset the massive demolition projects RO had been spearheading throughout the rest of the city, leaving its occupants scrambling to find new places to live. What concern were they to the RO grand project?

The air was acrid and cool inside the RO headquarters. Her feet whispered down the carpeted hallways until she reached her destination: The office of Randolph Parks, CEO of Special Projects. She tapped lightly three times with her finger tips.

“Come in!” a voice replied from the other side of the heavy walnut door. She pushed it opened.

“Hello, Susan!” Mr. Parks said standing up from behind his large glass desk. He strode his large six foot frame over and embraced her with both arms.

“Hi, Mr. Parks,” she replied, politely pushing herself back to a more formal distance. “Good to see you, too.” She forced her best smile.

“Susan, it’ been too long. What has it been? Perhaps six years since you’ve been here to say hello?” He thought for a moment and then added, “How is Keesha?”

Susan’s stomach tightened. “Oh, she’s fine. Thank you. But you probably knew the answer to that without having to ask me.” She grimaced a little.

His smile hardened just slightly. “Well, I’m glad to hear things are going well.” He moved back toward the window and looked aimlessly outside.

“Did you …ever …tell her?” The word tell hung heavy in the air between them.

Susan realized she had overstepped her boundaries.

“Keesha says she is looking forward to her internship with me and RO,” She said with genuine optimism. “And no,” she said in a low tone, “I never told her.”

He turned back toward her with a frozen smile. “Good! Well, then. We look forward to bringing her into the fold!”

Susan fought down the bile rising her throat. “The fold.”

“You know, Susan,” he said, pretending to flip through a stack of papers on the edge of his desk, “Without the DNA program, we wouldn’t be standing here now talking about Keesha’s future, at all.”

She knew that without him, and without the funding and technical support from RO, Keesha never would have been born. Sperm donations were expensive. Susan had spent her life saving on becoming pregnant with Naomi and was barely able to pay her rent for months after her birth.

“I know, Mr. Parks. I was very grateful to be selected for embryonic tissue experiment.”

The hope was that RO could grow patented human tissue that was then successfully implanted into a woman’s uterus, and brought to a full term pregnancy and healthy delivery. The idea of genetically modified and patented seeds, successfully mastered in the previous generation led the engineers and technicists to ask themselves, what else could they grow and patent? Could they patent humans, like seeds? From the data they generated at birth, every facet of the human condition could be controlled and monitored.

Susan knew the community would help her get herself the food and housing she and her new baby would need. She had months of mural painting jobs lined up throughout the city, as Interregnum City was still enjoying its renaissance period following the struggle for decolonization. She had a solid safety net.

How many late afternoons had she and Kelley spent walking through Green Square Park, laughing at how her tall and lithe form was growing to resemble a Q tip with a basketball growing out of the middle.

More than a dozen times he said, “Susan. You know how I feel about you.” He’d let the tips of his fingers brush hers as they walked. “Why don’t we make this a family thing, huh? You and me? I love Naomi like she were my own already. How could I not love this little one inside you right now any less than I do her? Or…you?”

Susan would blush. Kelley was a smart, strong, and honest man. She cared for him, but kept her mind from entertaining the idea, since she knew it could never happen.

“Oh, Kelley,” she sighed, as dogs and children raced across the grassy lawn and stopped directly in front of them, causing them pause mid-stride on the walking path. “You’re my best friend. But I don’t want romance. Not right now. I want to raise my girls. I want to go see what’s out there, you know, beyond the limits of our community.” She needed a believable cover. Kelley was not an easily swayed man.

“You’ve been out of here, travelling a whole bunch” he retorted. “You’re not sheltered. And I would never stop you from going wherever you want to go. You know that. I could stay and watch the girls, even” He was making a hard sell.

“I don’t know, Kelley” she said, squeezing his fingers a little tighter. He smiled.  “Let me think about it,” she promised.

She had been thinking about it now for 15 years. And Kelley waited faithfully for the day she’d change her mind.  She would never be able to tell him the real reason. She could never tell him about the deal she had made with RO in order to have Keesha.

In exchange for being given a healthy embryo which led to birth of Keesha, Susan had to agree that moments after her birth, they could implant Keesha with a chip that would enable them to track and collect data from her. Psychometric data that tracked her brain functioning, her chemical balances, her blood pressure, pulse rate…every biometric or sensory piece of information ceaselessly and painlessly flowed from Keesha into the data base at RO.

As part of the exchange, Susan was also required to work for RO. But Susan had never told Keesha, nor Kelley, nor anyone about this. The RO experiment had been top secret. So, instead she told Kelley, “I want to see more of the world out there,” forcing her best poker face. Kelley was not easily fooled and so she avoided further discussion of the matter. If she wanted to have Keesha, she would have to give up Kelley. She made the deal and tried never to look back.

“Mr Parks,” she asked him after a long silence as he continued to shuffle through papers as if she were not still standing there.

“Yes, Susan?”

“What happened to the other women? What happened to them and their RO babies? How come I never see any of them here? Or anywhere else?”

His smile faded and his face became expressionless. She had pushed too far.

“You know I can’t discuss other subjects of the study with you…or with anyone else for that matter,” he retorted, sharply.

“I’m sorry, sir. It’s just that …,” she reached for something, “I am so grateful to have Keesha. And I would love to know that other women were as lucky as I have been.”

He nodded with silent acceptance. She had to dig herself out of this awkward moment. Too many questions were dangerous. The less she stuck her nose into RO business, the safer she could keep Keesha. When the girls were old enough, and she and Naomi insisted on staying in Interregnum City even after she moved out, Susan was quietly relieved. Her plan had worked; her plan to get Keesha as far away from RO as possible. But years of loneliness were getting the better of her. She missed her daughters. So how could she say no when Keesha herself volunteered to spend eight weeks with her? The maternal desire was too powerful, and it drowned out her gut fears.

She said good bye, walked carefully down the labyrinth of hallways, and gasped for air as she swung the rotating doors from the front lobby out onto the front steps of the building.

As Susan walked toward her car, recovering from her meeting with Mr Parks with every step, Mr Parks was on a very important phone call. He stood at his office window, looking down below as she scurried through the parking lot.

“Yes?” a voice said on the other end of the phone.

“We have her.” Mr. Parks replied.

“Are you sure? This could easily blow up in our faces.”

“It’ll work. Trust me. Remember the golden rule: You bring your enemy into the tent if you want to eliminate them. It’s easier to take them one of you than it is to eradicate them by force. Disappear people through co-optation. Dissuade change by making people forget what they were asking for in the first place.”

“Okay, then. But you’d better be right.”

“I always am,” Mr. Parks said, and then he hung up the phone.

Susan turned the key in the car’s ignition, took another few deeps breaths, and smiled to herself.  “What could go wrong in eight weeks?” she convinced herself. It would be great.

 

 

Chapter Seven

Kelley had kept his word.  When Ryder awoke the next morning and went downstairs, he saw his mother moving with ease back and forth between the kitchen stove and table. She was humming softly. He knew that meant she was in a good frame of mind; had she known about last evening’s escapades, he would have been awoken at first light with a stern, “We need to talk, Mister.”

He was not always successful in his stealth night moves. Sometimes, more often than he cared to admit, the front door would creak as he pulled it open to enter or exit, especially in warm damp night summer weather. The noise, albeit subtle was enough to alert his mother, whose bedroom was just off the front foyer, that someone was entering or leaving the house. Keesha, Ryder, and Deacon had met several times at the Data Pods. Wandering across the vacant grassy fields, down into the tunnels that ran like river tributaries beneath the city out and beyond into RO territory. They had to know if what Keesha was discovering on the RO data base was true. They had to see for themselves. Of course, the threat had still been largely theoretical; or at least it had been until the ground shook just the day before. That was the proof they needed.

Ryder’s mother has been a light sleeper ever since her husband’s disappearance. Punishment for Ryder’s night movements usually involved being grounded or a few extra rounds of chores helping the elderly neighbors up and down his block, in lieu of stick ball or ice cream with Deacon and Keesha. Last summer, she had even impounded his bicycle for two weeks, so that he could not ride to the swimming pool five miles across town. How could he possibly explain to her, or to anyone (other than Deacon or Keesha … and now Uncle Kelley), that they had secretly been following the movements of colonizers.

Now, in the morning light streaming through his kitchen window, Ryder was beginning to wonder if they had just imagined it all. Had they imagined the record of memos passed from Romer Onyx CEO to the development team to work in secret with known frackers; people whose work in mining energy from beneath the earth’s surface was being used for a parallel other agenda. Had they imagined the maps and charts Keesha has mined herself from the depths of the RO database showing the strategic geographical locations of the sites RO would be targeting? No. They had printed records of it all. With Kelley’s help, they now also had a plan.

“You got a letter, Ryder. It’s from the Indigenous Intersection Group,” his mother was saying. “I suppose they’ve reviewed your application to work next spring with the Water Makers in Arizona. Isn’t that where Keesha applied, too?”

Decolonized zones all over the country networked together outside the bounds of the corporate colonizers to provide skills, natural resources and knowledge to one another in exchange to provide what each other was needing. The bottle water crisis and lead water poisoning epidemic which started with Flint, MI, motivated decolonized peoples to find ways to stop the poisoning of their people. Hydraulics experts and geologists worked in tandem to direct water sources including rain water collection centers to local agriculture.

Spending three months training with the water makers meant likely spending three months with Keesha. Ryder’s heart raced a little. Her experience in the ceramic arts made her a shoe in for this project. Ryder, fascinated with science and engineering, wanted to understand better how it was that the artist activists from Arizona figured how to use specific clays and minerals via a filtering process, to get clean potable water from nearly anywhere. The goal was to bring this training back to the community and creating working cooperatives to deliver goods and services. More importantly, Ryder had learned a great deal more than that.

In his preparation for his Arizona internship, Ryder had studied fracking: learning how it harmed the water systems, and from there deduced what RO was doing. But now, after his conversation with Kelley, he knew Arizona would have to wait. Kelley had agreed to help with their plan. But his use of this knowledge he had gained would matter more than ever.

“So, can I assume you are going to accept this internship, Ryder?” His mother had a strained expectant look on her face. He hated lying. He was horrible at it. Forcing his best poker face, Ryder smiled and shook his head “Yes.”

“Good!” I’ll make arrangements with the child care partners to cover for me so I can get you out there safe and sound. “It’s nice to know that Keesha will be there too, to keep an eye on you.” She gave him a sly grin.

“No!” He sounded a bit too alarmed. She pulled her face and shoulders back, and frowned.

“I mean, um…” Think Ryder! He said to himself. “I mean, Uncle Kelley wants to take me.”

“Uncle Kelley? When did you discuss this with him?”

She was too damn astute.

“At debate group. Yesterday afternoon. We just ran into him. He was asking me how everything was going…”

He lowered the high pitch in his voice. This lie was becoming a little easier now. He had a story built up.

“So I mentioned the Arizona application to him. He said he wanted to get away…vacation, I guess. Has some friends out that way he wanted to visit?” Was she buying any of this? He added, “And Keesha’s decided to take a different internship.”

Ryders’ mom paused, considering this new information. She walked toward the kitchen sink and turned on the faucet, and started rinsing the dishes.  She sighed. “Well, I guess that’ll be alright.” She bent over and kissed his forehead. “I’m gonna miss you, though.”

“I’m gonna miss you too, Ma,” he said, leaning into her with a sweet nudge.  “But its only eight weeks.”

Only eight weeks, he heard himself repeating over and over.

They had eight weeks to stop Romer Onyx.

(Taking a small break between chapters in The Interregnum Mile to bring you something to consider)

Image result for shell game

Is Restorative Justice being “jacked?”

Restorative Justice (RJ) has a lengthy (centuries-old) global history too lengthy and complex to elucidate here. It  thankfully has become the recent focus of school disciplinary and judicial systems at a time when the school- to- prison pipeline is booming (thanks, private prisons), policy brutality is soaring, there is a rise in hate crimes (thanks, 2016 elections), and the inequitable rates of imprisonment and suspensions between white students and students of color have now continued unabated for decades.

However, despite its powerful and positive effects, and future potential to radically re envision our approach to peace, justice and sustainable communities, I am beginning to witness the emergence of something else calling itself “restorative justice,” but is perhaps offering us something else.

In schools across the United States, RJ being presented as group circle discussions on just about anything (so … nice democratic classroom practice… but not justice focused…) and the language being blended into what is being touted as “justice” frameworks are beginning to smack of something else reformy….GRIT.

Speaking to the GRIT narrative,  Pedro Noguera says “I’m not hearing in the conversation acknowledgments of the effect poverty, income inequality and the opportunity gap has on student achievement …All the grit in the world can’t compensate for the obstacles that face so many students in low income communities.” So, when RJ is synonymous with “grit” what happens to the focus on systemic injustice? It becomes  … something else.

RJ has its (contemporary) roots in 1970’s work in challenging systems of inequality by placing the tools for change and healing in the hands of children and communities themselves, and reducing the school- to- prison pipeline. RJ was (is) a practice intended to, “protect individuals, social stability and the integrity of the group.” (“Utu”Ministry of Justice, New Zealand. Retrieved 17 September 2013).

But more and more, what is being called RJ is in fact a focus on “character building” or “grit”—these terms attend to individual character, not on addressing systematic inequality. They place the narrative back in the neoliberal lap of individualism. While restorative justice is definitely personal (i.e perpetrator and victim), the focus is more on community building/healing than it is on strengthening personality traits. It is a process that commits people to one another in a rebalancing of the power distribution in society and shared behaviors. “Restorative justice views violence, community decline, and fear-based responses as indicators of broken relationships. It offers a different response, namely the use of restorative solutions to repair the harm related to conflict, crime, and victimization.” (Zehr, Howard. Changing Lenses – A New Focus for Crime and Justice. Scottdale PA: 2005, 268–69).

Now that RJ is the new “in” thing (everyone’s doing it) it has a following, and examples abound everywhere of teachers modeling this practice. Some of these classrooms are focused on “vocabulary” which includes teaching kids to focus on words like: orderliness, perseverance, and rigor. Not sure what any of that has to do with justice. What I am beginning to sense is that RJ is being carefully and quietly hijacked by the GRIT narrative that has recently gained traction as the vehicle for teaching (tracking? training?) social emotional learning. Yet, ironically they are at their core very different things. Grit and Duckworth’s study have been linked to racist practices and research.

Concepts such as “social-emotional or non-cognitive learning, or character education, or habits of success”  are NOT synonymous with restorative justice, much less equality, any more than Gardner’s learning styles are! Neither is “positive behavior support.”

Those are buzz words that have been developed and embraced by the same organizations that have contributed to decades of inequality through failed policies….now climbing aboard the RJ train. See the Face Book site sharing posts from Angela Duckworth and other practices that are justice “light”

While narratives of grit or habits of mind attempts to (re)colonize attitude and behaviors of students of color, RJ “represents a validation of values and practices that were characteristic of many indigenous groups,” whose traditions were “often discounted and repressed by western colonial powers.” source

Another article argues, “It is based on the principle that crime affects people, their families and communities (Strang, 2001).” And that RJ has, “an intention to reduce the violence inherent to the State’s apparatus

What reformers are able to do is to distract schools and communities from engaging in the more radical systemic work that RJ was intended to do…and places (again…) our best initiatives, the ones we believe in, into the hands of the reformers and privatizers who are experts at selling us back our ideas as watered down, declawed, defanged versions of their original selves. We’ve taken the equivalent of a revolutionary treatise and reduced it to a Hallmark card.

Notice the deft pivot at where the focus is on: “Making sure that students aren’t punished or jailed for actions stemming directly from their own years as victims of crimes and poor upbringing,” but nothing is said about transforming a violent and oppressive system of racialized policing and punishment. The focus is no longer on transforming the system, it is on children as victims of “poor upbringing” (not sure what that means…) or developing better “character.”

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that schools must have quality infrastructure in place to support children who are surviving trauma, children with behavioral challenges, and create nurturing non-punitive classroom communities. There is a place for classroom conversations, circles, and support for individual learning.

I just do not wish to confuse that with restorative justice, or to have the latter subsumed by the former, a process by which the system would (yet again) cease to be the focus of our collective attention, and we instead turn attention to children as isolated agents of “good choice” or “character.”

It is also being blended with social expectations that seem to have little to do with violence or justice:

One school site says “We aren’t interested in ‘punishment.’ Rather, we want to inculcate the values of empathy, orderliness, and manners in students – lifelong lessons which they will use in future arenas.” This almost sounds like the “good behavior” narratives promulgated by charter schools aiming to “civilize” urban black youth.

Orderliness and manners? There are even some resources for versions of “restorative” practices that focus on Habits of Mind traits like “persistence,” “striving for accuracy,” and “impulsivity control.”

Compare an original/earlier definition of RJ:

“(I)n these communities relationships and victim-offender interaction were personal, and usually led to strong bonds and sometimes even to reduction in deviant behaviour. Most importantly, deviance was seen as a community problem, and a community failure not simply as a matter for the offender to pay or restore.” source

With this more recent (watered down) version:

“Restorative justice is about understanding the role trauma plays on the brain and developing teaching methods that actually are based on the needs of the students.” Note the word “personalized” here which reminds me of “personalized learning” now code for “students staring at a screen” learning. Both seem to be trending.

The difference may seem slight…but it’s significant. The emphasis on “the brain” here gestures toward developing a role for the use of psychometrics for predictive analytics (can we predict who might become deviant or commit anti social behavior?) rather than systemic restoration or healing.

There are already links between the Five Factors personality test (used in predictive analytics and data miners in psy ops) and the Grit narrative. As I have posted in earlier blogs:

There is a growing emphasis on the “affective” learning of students.  Some examples include: “ETS’ SuccessNavigator assessment and ACT’s Engage College Domains and Scales Overview … the broader domains in these models are tied to those areas of the big five personality theory.” Also see Empirical identification of the major facets of Conscientiousness

Paul Thomas notes, “grit narratives are also often masks for race and class biases in the same way IQ was embraced throughout much of the twentieth century.”

Bridging grit and personality to restorative justice is merely one more link the in the passage of selling out progressive narratives (justice, peace or restoration for examples) into data profiteering and social corporate engineering. Education reform history is steeped in using such tactics.

See titles like “Justice and personality: Using integrative theories to derive moderators of justice effects” and “The Importance of Perceptions in Restorative Justice Conferences: The Influence of Offender Personality Traits on Procedural Justice and Shaming” to see where RJ language is being blended with new forms of personality testing.

Even Teach for America is on the Restorative Justice ticket.      #Hashtag irony.

Who else might you ask could be leading this hijacking effort? Maybe Chiefs for Change?  who are passing out information using a finely tuned blurring instrument that seamlessly takes you from thinking your focusing on justice, when the shell game in fact is pulling a bait and switch. Note the article entitled: “The connection between grit, resilience, and equity”

What is their agenda? Read on:

“Wilson points out that leading businesses have found ways to diminish hierarchy, to create flatter organizations, and to reinvent work spaces and climates with the needs of real human beings in mind — and have profited as a result. Schools should learn lessons, he says. And they should invest in helping everyone come to a deeper understanding of behaviors that can quickly be classified as insubordination or disrespect, in ways that decrease conflict and punishment.”

With a nudge from researcher and blogger Alison Mcdowell I also did a search on relationships between RJ and social impact bonds. It appears to have been emerging in the U.K.  back in 2015. The article says: “Work with offenders is already delivered on a payment by results basis by the new community rehabilitation companies (CRCs). If an offender who had gone through restorative justice delivered by an independent provider as well as other CRC-funded activities does not go on to commit a further crime, who gets the credit?”

I guess justice is for sale.

 

The Interregnum Mile: Chapter Six

Posted: September 13, 2017 in Uncategorized

Chapter Six

“You did what???” Kelley demanded the previous evening, his voice echoing with incredulity.

The three of them stood around the empty darkened parking lot, and told Kelley everything they knew. The lot that ran alongside the Interregnum Mile was abandoned; cracked blacktop with lanky clusters of milkweed poking through. The only sounds were the distant hum of cars crawling up and down the busy streets through the center of town. From here, they could see tiny lights twittering inside the row homes, and hear the occasional honk of a car horn. The air was warm and still. But the night was growing late, and they didn’t have much time to discuss what was to be done.

“We had to confirm our suspicions,” Deacon said, insistently.

Ryder kept his eyes turned down toward his shoes. He felt both proud and fearful about divulging to Kelley the snooping they had done. But, they needed the help. There were only three of them. They were short on time and resources. It was time to ask for help.

Keesha recounted to Kelley the information she had been slowly gathering via her mother’s work computer which was kept at her home office. Every weekend she went to visit Susan, Keesha hacked into her mother’s data base to access the Romer Onyx network. She had to be careful that her snooping could not be traced back to Susan, lest she would lose her job. Or worse, she would be distraught by Keesha’s betrayal of her trust.

“I have copies of some of these contracts. I have copies of the emails,” Keesha told Kelley. “We aren’t making this up. We swear!”

Kelley sat, silent. Stunned. Even as a Black Hatter, he was impressed with the way in which they had pieced this together. “Who taught you to hack like that?” he asked her, with a wry smile buried just slightly beneath mock indignation.

“Well, I started with that old phone our friend Orion hides under his bed. Then, I just kept messin’ around with my mom’s computer every night she went to bed. It’s not hard once you figure out the basics.”

Kelley burst out laughing at this last comment. “Brains … wasted on the youth” he chuckled. “Well, not wasted in your case, I guess” he added, nodding toward Keesha, and then shaking his head at the boys. They didn’t disagree.

“Uncle Kelley,” Ryder jumped in. “Please. We need you. We need the Hatters. We need them to know that the data pods have been a distraction. Romer Onyx has gotten ten steps ahead, outthinking us. Meanwhile, we are still fighting the fight from decades ago, hanging on to the idea that what they wanted then, is what they still want. But it’s not. They want more. Everything I told you is true! And we are chasing the wrong leads, and searching in the wrong places. They have been counting on that. It’s not the data pods they want. The real fight is going on right below our feet. Under our streets. We need help.”

“We are gonna need more than that,” Kelley replied. “We need access.” They all paused in thought. Access meant geographical opportunities to get into RO’s physical buildings as well cyberspace.

Deacon finally chimed in. “Pop’s basement has got a tunnel that runs underneath through the city. When he was making his cellar for keeping things cool, he blasted a wall that opened right up into an old subway tunnel by mistake.”

Interregnum City hadn’t used the underground tunnels for a decade, at least. Instead, the community had repurposed the old trolley cars, and rebuilt the above-ground rail system to enable its citizens  to get around. It was less infrastructure to maintain, and easier to manage. Now, the tunnels lay empty and hollow like sedimentary half-memories.

“Anyone else besides you and Pops know these tunnels are accessible?” Kelley asked.

Deacon thought for a moment. “No. I don’t think so at least. My parents barely every go down there. I do most of the heavy carrying up and down from that cellar.” Kelley nodded, satisfied with this answer.

“So, Ryder. You and I are going to drive off to Arizona … as far as your mom is concerned. Deacon, you’re going to get us into those tunnels next week, after everyone’s in bed. You’ll have to tell Pops everything, I suppose.”

They all nodded in agreement.

“Yep,” Deacon said. “But…on some level… he knows something’s going on. He won’t take much convincing. And, I’ll have to get my old car fixed. It’s too far to travel on my bike.”

Keesha looked around at all three of them. “This is all so easy for all of you!” she bemoaned. “I’ve gotta go into the belly of the best!” She scraped the tips of her shoes against the parking lot gravel.

Kelley sighed slowly. Ryder fell silent, trying to stop the worry that was already crowding his mind.

After a long silence between the four of them, Kelley said, “Yes, Keesha, you do.”