Student cellphone insurgency

Between the hyperventilated coverage of Anna Nicole’s autopsy today, a peculiar news story squeezed in as filler. YouTube is posting videos, taken with cell phones by students, of teachers in public school classrooms having violent, abusive outbursts. I saw this on MSNBC while I was dusting blinds, and it stopped me in my tracks.

The most remarkable thing about it, aside from the extremely brief flashes of raging teachers smashing students’ phones on the floor, was what the news personality had to say about it. She wondered aloud if this meant schools should ban cell phones.

That was it.

Setting aside the issue of cell phones, there was not even a cursory mention of the behavior of the teachers which was abusive as hell and showing students that the way to reassert control is to act like a raging asshole (links below). The physically violent teachers, by the way, were men.

So what the news personality, or her editor, or MSNBC decided to omit in its coverage of this story, established a baseline. Here are the issues this story raises, period… there are no others. That the students were being subjected to abuse was off the table.

This is the way the media pre-conforms us. They use their constructed authoritative position to establish what is axiomatic. Discourse that wiggles under the fence is automatically de-legitimated. How many times have we seen this with the war, with free trade agreements, with coverage of Venezuela, et al?

As it happens, the night prior, I had been by Internationalist Books at Chapel Hill to hear a too-brief talk by writer, cultural materialist, and intentional communitarian Alexis Zeigler. Alexis was talking about peak oil, the history of technology, ecology, and culture. One of his main points, and also a strong point in his book, Culture Change, is that the primary function of schools as a public institution – is not to teach us to be smarter, but contrariwise to teach us how to conform and be obedient, productive worker bees.

Ivan Illich, who we have featured here as our first New Canon author, says much the same thing – which runs counter to a lot of left orthodoxy that sees fighting for public schools as a key step in establishing the workers’ paradise some fine day.

There are so many issues we could raise in violating this taboo against questioning school and schooling that one hardly knows where to begin. Begin with hierarchy imposed on children because of their dependency… the infantilization of women as part of combining dependency with obedience… the institutionalization and construction of knowledge… the similarities between schools and prisons… off we could go. And there are the complexities, like the fact that schools and universities and even ruling class institutions are also places where we can act out our subversions when we are in a position of inferior social power. There are subversive teachers, subversive schools, and universities have more than once transformed themselves into platforms of resistance (the reason tenure is under attack).

At any rate, I just had to remark on the delicious irony that consumer culture has foisted on us here… kids with cell phones have begun to use them as a weapon to defend themselves against the trainers and turnkeys for late capitalism in the United Consumers of Amerika.

Petition for LaVena Johnson

Help find the truth about the death of Pfc. LaVena Johnson

Once upon a time lived a young woman from a St. Louis suburb. She was an honor roll student, she played the violin, she donated blood and volunteered for American Heart Association walks. She elected to put off college for a while and joined the Army once out of school. At Fort Campbell, KY, she was assigned as a weapons supply manager to the 129th Corps Support Battalion.

She was LaVena Johnson, private first class, and she died near Balad, Iraq, on July 19, 2005, just eight days shy of her twentieth birthday. She was the first woman soldier from Missouri to die while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The tragedy of her story begins there.

After an investigation, the Army declared LaVenas death a suicide, a finding refuted by the soldiers family. In an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Lavena’s father pointed to indications that his daughter had endured a physical struggle before she died – two loose front teeth, a busted lip that had to be reconstructed by the funeral home – suggesting that someone might have punched her in the mouth.

The military said that the matter was closed.

Little more on LaVenas death was said for many months until a recently televised report on KMOV in St. Louis disclosed troubling details not previously made public:

• Indications of physical abuse that went unremarked by the autopsy
• The absence of psychological indicators of suicidal thoughts; indeed, testimony that LaVena was happy and healthy prior to her death
• Indications, via residue tests, that LaVena may not even have handled the weapon that killed her
• A blood trail outside the tent where Lavenas body was found
• Indications that someone attempted to set LaVenas body on fire

And yet, the Army continues to resist calls by LaVena’s family and by local media to reopen its investigation.

We have seen with other military deaths that the Army has engaged in an insulting game of deny and delay when it comes to uncovering embarrassing facts. Only when public and official attention is brought to bear on the matter – as happened, eventually and with great effort, with the case of Army Ranger and former professional football player Cpl. Pat Tillman – do unpleasant truths come to light.

While it is possible to disagree generally over the war in Iraq, we are unified in our respect for the men and women who serve us in dangerous places, and in our concern for the families who give them up in our name. The very least we owe families of the fallen is an honest accounting of how their loved ones died.

The Armed Services Committees of the Senate and the House have funding authority and legislative oversight over the armed forces. The members of these committees can compel the Army to acknowledge the grief of the Johnson family and reopen its investigation of LaVena’s death. All that is needed is the political will. Help those legislators find that will by signing this petition.

The mother of Pat Tillman once put the matter in stark and honest terms:

This is how they treat a family of a high-profile individual, she said. How are they treating others?

In the case of Private First Class Johnson, we know the answer – but together we can make a better answer for LaVenas family, and for all the families of those in the military.
* * *

Help compel the Army to reopen the investigation of Pfc. LaVena Johnsons death.
[The petition site is here.]

This petition sponsored by Philip Barron, author of the blog Waveflux. Mr. Barron is not a representative of the Johnson family.

While were on Imus

here is Black Agenda Reports Richard Muhammad

Enabling Imus

American Life – Racism White Privilege
Wednesday, 11 April 2017

by Richard Muhammad

In a horrific display of racist solidarity, white media men have circled their wagons around Don Imus, the career broadcast bigot who called the Rutgers womens basketball team a bunch of nappy headed hos. All is forgiven, because Imus is us, say his defensemen. And they are right: Imus is them, irredeemably racist children of white privilege who believe their casual slandering of other races and genders are of no more concern than getting drunk at a frat party. The most important element of the tale is not Imus putrid outbursts, but the reflexive defense of him by his co-racists, who have outed themselves in the process.

Community Garden on Town Land

The Town of Carrboro, in North Carolina, is working with the Carrboro Community Garden Coalition to create a public garden at the Martin Luther King Jr. Park for at least the next few years. This is a great example of a small US town with real progressive values transforming how we live in America. (Slowly but significantly.) Lets hope the idea of community gardening spreads.

Collaborative gardening is certainly an activity that requires teamwork. Right now there are about 20 folks involved in Carrboros community garden effort and its increasing rapidly through word of mouth. McGreger said that many of the folks involved in this project had known each other before but have become much closer as theyve worked together on the garden, and that the community-building aspect of it is as exciting as the growth of the food itself.

The group is planning to do a lot of its work on Saturday mornings but as of yet has no regular schedule. If youre interested in getting involved you can e-mail [email protected] to be added to their electronic discussion group.

Hamm said that their vision is that the garden project will let people see that community gardens can be abundant, beautiful and doable, and inspire similar smaller projects throughout the rest of the town, state and world. For instance, hed like to see Carrboro move from this initial townwide garden to having small ones in each neighborhood all over the community, allowing folks to work in even smaller and locally oriented groups to produce food.

McGreger said another nice aspect of the process in getting the garden started has been the opportunity to learn how to participate in direct democracy.