Thursday Reading List: Political Violence, Science Education, and Propaganda

Five officials from Flint, Michigan are being charged with manslaughter for their roles in the poisoning of the city's water. Scott Atkinson and Monica Davey of The New York Times have the story:

It is the closest investigators have come to directly blaming officials for the deaths and illnesses that occurred when a water contamination crisis enveloped this city. The tainted water has been tied to lead poisoning in children and prompted officials to begin a costly, yearslong process of replacing pipes all over the city. Even now, officials recommend that only filtered tap water be consumed, and many residents say they can trust only bottled water, given false assurances they once received from state and local officials. The latest charges reached farther than before into Michigan’s state government, affecting two cabinet-level officials in the administration of Gov. Rick Snyder and leaving open the possibility that the investigation would go higher still.

The ACLU of Michigan has a strong body of investigative reporting on the story. The emails and documents that have emerged in the last year demonstrate that the governor's team knew about the contamination of the water and not only failed to remedy the situation, but also seem to have lied to obscure the severity of the problems. The state of Michigan was complicit in an act of violence against an entire city. That's why a lot of folks had problems when Ezra Klein tweeted this yesterday:

Michael Harriott of The Root calls it "The Whitest Tweet Ever":

The point of Klein’s tweet is mostly correct, but the way he categorized political violence isn’t just “troubling” or “problematic”; it’s wrong. Klein thinks it’s scary when a powerful white politician is killed because of a person’s political belief, but doesn’t classify the statistic that black men are about 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for using marijuana as meaning that the war on drugs is violent against black men. The fact that white men are 354 percent more likely to get away with murdering a black man in “Stand your ground” states might not seem like “political violence,” but it is ... It is indicative of white entitlement to casually think that a singular white woman shot in the head or one president murdered in a parade 50 years ago is indicative of lessening violence when political ideology has redlined black children into lower-funded schools, makes them 21 times more likely to be killed by police, or has been actively seeking to break up families of immigrants and Muslims. Political violence is better than it was 50 years ago ... for white people. 

Harriott is correct, and his piece illustrates the limitations of the technocratic Vox-style of journalism and public policy analysis. It's not that Klein is wrong or ill-intentioned, it's just that letting "the numbers tell the story" can obscure what's happening just as often as it illuminates.

In other news, Carolyn Jones of The Atlantic explores the potential for bringing scientists into public school classrooms:

Named a rookie-teacher-of-the-year in Los Angeles Unified last year, [LaTeira] Haynes, 30, is among a growing number of science, technology, engineering, and math professionals in California who’ve forsaken the comforts of laboratories, office parks, and six-figure salaries to teach high school—often in schools with a majority of students living in poverty, learning English, or facing other challenges ... Over the next decade, California will need 33,000 new math and science teachers, according to California State University’s Mathematics and Science Teacher Initiative Annual Report. And although the California State University system has increased its output of math and science teachers from 750 in 2002-03 to more than 1,500 in 2014-15, it’s still not enough. The shortage reflects a national trend ...

There are a range of nonprofit organizations in California that work with scientists to prepare them for the rigors of the K-12 classroom.

There are good ways to bring science into the classroom, and there are  ... questionable ways. As Jie Jenny Zou writes in The Hechinger Report, the oil industry is creating propaganda in the form of children's books:

Jennifer Merritt’s first-graders at Jefferson Elementary School in Pryor, Oklahoma, were in for a treat. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, the students gathered in late November for story time with two special guests, state Rep. Tom Gann and state Sen. Marty Quinn. Dressed in suits, the Republican lawmakers read aloud from “Petro Pete’s Big Bad Dream,” a parable in which a Bob the Builder lookalike awakens to find his toothbrush, hardhat and even the tires on his bike missing. Abandoned by the school bus, Pete walks to Petroville Elementary in his pajamas. “It sounds like you are missing all of your petroleum by-products today!” his teacher, Mrs. Rigwell, exclaims, extolling oil’s benefits to Pete and fellow students like Sammy Shale ... Decades of documents reviewed by the Center for Public Integrity reveal a tightly woven network of organizations that works in concert with the oil and gas industry to paint a rosy picture of fossil fuels in America’s classrooms.

The whole story is fascinating, and I was surprised by the depth and breadth of the industry's classroom penetration. The industry argues that the preponderance of engineers and scientists in its ranks make it an ideal partner for the creation of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) curricula. On the other hand, the industry also seems committed to denying the scientific consensus on climate change, one of the most critical global issues of our time.

Have a great day!