SPLC Guide to Intervention

The Southern Poverty Law Center has released a guide for handling incidents of harassment, especially those that happen on college campuses. Very much worth a read.




No More Vouchers, No More Charters

You’ve heard me defend voucher programs and charter schools here before.

I’m done with that.

Today is when I officially changed my stance. Why? Because Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education, cannot find a single example of a case where she would stand up for students against state-level discrimination.

Here is her testimony.

Based on the context of the question, it is clear to me that when she says, “Too many students today are trapped in schools that don’t work for them,” (at about 3:44), this is a dog whistle for, “Those damn gays are everywhere and we should be able to keep them out.” Her unwillingness to stand up for at-risk students says everything.

As Secretary of Education, Ms. DeVos is the de facto leader of the push for increased use of vouchers, but it is clear that what she wants to do with them is to hurt those who are already at risk. I cannot associate myself with this in good conscience. If the charter movement wants support, it needs to throw itself against Ms. DeVos with all its might, because her bigotry now taints everything that they do.

Why We Must Act

March for Science (Unofficial)

Recently, the House of Representatives passed HR 3293, a bill that requires the National Science Foundation to only award grants that are “in the national interest”. The bill is short; I encourage you to read it.

You may look at that requirement and say, “Well, yes, of course. Why are we even passing a law about this? Isn’t this already what the NSF does?” Well, not from the viewpoint of Republican leadership. From their viewpoint, every piece of science should be approved – not by scientists, but by politicians. This bill is not about ensuring that the US benefits from science; it is about the ability to block grants and assign blame. It is about nationalism of the most cowardly sort.

This is the explicit politicization of the NSF.

It doesn’t matter whether you think that science shouldn’t be political. For the Republican leadership, it already is political. Their…

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Publicly Funded Religious Education

That, in a nutshell, is the current goal for Republican leadership.

Ms. Devos, now confirmed as head of the Dept. of Education, is a proponent of school vouchers. This is indeed for the purpose of school choice, as she says, but she historically has only wanted one new option: for people to be able to send their children to a Christian school with state or local money.

Here’s how it’s going to work:

  1. DeVos makes school vouchers and school choice her #1 issue and helps to push a nation-wide voucher system into place.
  2. The voucher system explicitly allows all kinds of schools and phrases that as a non-discrimination measure. It may even go so far as to explicitly prevent states and municipalities from restricting where the funds go, but I doubt that – Republican leadership doesn’t want their children going to school with Jews, after all.
  3. H.R. 899 or another similar bill succeeds in abolishing the Dept. of Ed., probably with DeVos helping to champion it.
  4. Republican leadership threatens to withdraw federal funds from any state that passes restrictions on where the vouchers can be used – but they don’t bother to threaten until such restrictions would affect a Christian school.

As you may remember, I’m not against voucher systems in general. I’m not against Catholic schools, and I suspect there are some other religious schools that do a very good job. However, I am very much for the separation of church and state.

I’m still mulling over what might be the most effective way to fight this. Multiple plans and backup plans are good – after all, that’s what’s being deployed against public education here – so here are a few options:

  • Restrict the use of vouchers on a town level. Individual school boards may have the latitude to make such decisions, and might be able to do it in both directions (“Schools may only accept…” and “The town shall only grant…”).
  • Restrict the use of vouchers on a state level. Same deal, but done at the level of the state legislature. It would be a good idea, in this case, to bring religious official on board early and have them testify in favor of the legislation.
  • Incentivize non-religious vouchers at the state level. If there is a nation-wide voucher system, and the Education Department is no more, then local state education departments will be able to create their own competing voucher system that sweetens the pot with state funds.
  • In the meantime, we try to keep the Dept. of Ed. open as best we can.

I’m interested to hear what others think on this front. What are some of the tactics we might have to use if this happens?

The March for Science

The March for Science has officially set a date! Appropriately, it is Earth Day, April 22nd.


Go. Bring your friends. Bring your labmates.

And in addition: Meet people. Shake hands and coo over babies. Talk passionately about the work you love and how awesome it is. At the march, and before and after. Bring it to schools, to community centers, to picnics, to churches, to megachurches, to Town Day and fireworks displays. Don’t overdo it – we’re kind of good at overdoing things – but let people know. If nerdy is in these days, if being smart is actually socially a good thing, if being good at computers and math is respected, we need to start using it in a wider world.

The AFT and Executive Orders

The American Federation of Teachers has been active and loud recently, and I love it. Their newest document is entitled “AFT opposes Trump executive orders: Information and resources“. Here’s an excerpt:

The order affects approximately 25,000 people holding student and work visas, and as many as 500,000 people who are permanent legal residents of the United States. And it comes days after an order threatening to withhold federal funds from the more than 300 U.S. cities that have declared themselves sanctuaries for our immigrant students and members and their families. Trump also took action on building a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

Trump’s orders will harm many AFT members and millions of our students, patients, families, friends and neighbors.

We—our country and our union—are better than this.

Damn right we are.

Please call the AFT at (202) 879-4400 and thank them for standing up for professors, for graduate students, and for their children.

As a side note, some of you may know that I work for Harvard. While I don’t agree with everything that has come from the administration this past year, I do want to acknowledge and appreciate the e-mail that went out to our community this past weekend. Here’s an excerpt from that:

Our robust commitment to internationalism is not an incidental or dispensable accessory.  It is integral to all we do, in the laboratory, in the classroom, in the conference hall, in the world.  It fuels the capacity of universities to spur innovation, to advance scholarship and scientific discovery, and to help address society’s hardest challenges.  It is a crucial ingredient in making American higher education a singular national asset, the destination of choice for countless scholars and students whose contributions serve our nation and our world.  …  Nearly half of the deans of Harvard’s schools are immigrants—from India, China, Northern Ireland, Jamaica, and Iran.  Benefiting from the talents and energy, the knowledge and ideas of people from nations around the globe is not just a vital interest of the University; it long has been, and it fully remains, a vital interest of our nation. 

It’s good to wake up to some support. You might want to check out http://undocumented.harvard.edu/, where the university is providing legal resources for its undocumented immigrant students.

Cabinet reminders

As a reminder, hearings are continuing this week on President Trump’s cabinet nominations. Please call your senators. This is one of the most effective things you can do to support those who are doing the right thing, and to sway those who are about to make a mistake.

Under consideration this week are Ms. DeVos (Education), Mr. Price (HHS), and Mr. Pruitt (EPA), and they are homophobic, anti-healthcare, and a climate-change denier, respectively.

If you need a script to help when you call, I highly recommend the guide at https://www.indivisibleguide.com/

If you need a phone number, you can call 202-224-3121 to get a switchboard that will connect you to the senator of your choice, or you can check the Senate Phone Directory if you’d rather call directly. You can also call their state offices if you prefer.

Health and Human Services

It’s really difficult to teach a starving student.

It’s hard to teach a sick student, or one who hasn’t gotten enough sleep. They’re low on energy. Their minds are slower. They forget more easily. They miss classes or fall asleep during them.

It’s even harder when a student drops out of school to provide for an ailing parent. It’s heartbreaking.

This is one reason to oppose Rep. Tom Price’s nomination as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Tom Price has worked – and is still working – to repeal the ACA, which provides healthcare for some of our most vulnerable students. Millions of students rely on programs like Medicaid, which Mr. Price is also working to dismantle. Millions more of their parents do as well.

If we want a healthy school, full of bright, alert students, we can’t do that without someone taking care of them at home.

The AFT has started a petition to oppose Rep. Price’s nomination. You can also contact your senator or representative and ask them to involve themselves in the support of the ACA, Medicaid, and other health programs.

Office of Management and Budget

Massachusetts is a state known for its education and for its science research. We have eight institutions classified as “Research 1“, including MIT, Harvard, and Tufts. All of them rely on government funding for basic science research.

The currently proposed nominee for the Office of Management and Budget is Rep. Mick Mulvaney, who does not believe that the government should be in the business of funding science research.

Imagine MIT without basic science research. Now imagine CalTech, Berkeley, UIUC, Duke, Ohio State, Georgetown, Stanford, Yale, USC, and every other university in the USA ending up without funding for research in science, engineering, mathematics, and computer science.

This is called a “brain drain.” Scientists who cannot find funding will go where they can find it. If they don’t want to work in the corporate world (and many of us don’t), they’ll find it in Canada. Or the UK. Or anywhere. If you believe that the US should be great when it comes to science and education, losing some of our best scientists is a crummy way to start that.

To contact your governor, you can start at USA.gov, or you can probably find the office phone number with a quick Google search. Call. Ask them to speak out against this.

The AP Stands Up

Quick post today: If you’re writing news articles and hoping to get picked up by larger organizations, the Associated Press is the place to do it right this moment. Here’s why:



…whenever “alt-right” is used in a story, be sure to include a definition: “an offshoot of conservatism mixing racism, white nationalism and populism,” or, more simply, “a white nationalist movement.”

If you would like to contact Reuters (the other major news article supplier) and encourage them to adopt a similar definition in their style guide, their “general contact” phone number is (646) 223-4000. To thank the AP, call (212) 621-1500.