So School Choice (Part III: Parent Motivation)

In the first entry of this series I noted that I was going to look broadly at issues underlying the two major agents in any school choice decision: private schools themselves, and the parents who would move their children.  The first two parts focused on the schools, and now I want to turn my attention towards the parents.

There is a simple, noble assumption that supports the notion that parents should be able to choose somewhere outside of public education for their children to go to school: parents will always act in the best interests of their children to the extent which they are capable.  We build up a cultural myth that being put in charge of the care and raising of a child imbues a person with the unshakeable drive to do right by that child.

This is not the case.

People tend to be remarkably selfish creatures, and the drive to help one’s descendants live better often gets confounded by more immediate needs and motivations.  These confounding factors range from thoroughly understandable (the needs of one’s personal health outweighing the needs of one’s children) to self-serving (wanting to replicate one’s own harmful values in one’s children for the sake of cultural preservation).  Parents don’t get an exemption from these same motivators, no matter how much we may like to imagine that the fact of their progeny instills some kind of inherent virtue in their decision-making.

Let’s speak, briefly, about a kind of parent which doesn’t get much attention in conversations about school choice.  I’ve worked in special education for five years now, and I’ve observed that on the spectrum of parental quality, you have a pretty clear divide between parents who are invested in the well being of their children and parents who aren’t.  This divide is usually found along socioeconomic lines; working class parents tend not to invest as much attention in their child’s education as middle and upper class parents.  Some of that’s understandable because being poor makes life more difficult on a lot of different axes; I have nothing but sympathy for parents who are just trying to make sure their families get by, and I’ll discuss them in more depth in the next post in this series.  At the same time, there are also a number of parents who just can’t be bothered to give their children the support they need.  These are the most frustrating parents to deal with on a professional level, because it often becomes clear from interacting with their children that there are things going on home outside the child’s control that do immense harm to their potential for academic success.  It’s these interactions that leave educators frustrated and shouting at the rest of the country about the importance of stable homes in determining student success.  For those parents, school choice is a laughable idea because they can’t be bothered to put in the effort to make an informed decision about their kids.  The children of those parents would be left in the same rut where they currently exist: locked out of a better option by virtue of being supervised by an irresponsible caretaker.

Keep in mind that this former category of parents is, in my experience, remarkably small.  Most home instability that I’ve seen stems from factors outside the family’s control.

The category that I want to focus more closely on here is the one of parents who are involved in their children’s education.  Specifically, let’s look at the kind of parents who would be most readily able to take advantage of school choice.  Many of these parents are going to be middle class; they have enough socioeconomic power to understand the importance of quality education in building an upwardly mobile life for their children, but they lack the resources necessary to put their kids in those vaunted private schools.  We see this sort of narrative frequently in popular culture; the example that sticks out in my mind is Lorelai Gilmore trying to pay for her daughter’s tuition to attend Chilton.  In Gilmore Girls, that problem’s solved by Lorelai going into debt to her wealthy parents; it’s the access to wealth that opens up Rory’s options for the future.  Parents wanting vouchers imagine themselves like Lorelai in that scenario but without the rich relatives.  The thinking goes that if you just have the government give these folks the money allotted for their children’s education, they’ll use it to send their kids to Chilton.

A lot of them will.

What’s ignored in this equation (and on Gilmore Girls for that matter) is the intersection of race and class going on here.  White parents want to get their kids into “better” schools, which we read as more white and more affluent.  Black parents who have the available resources to worry over their children’s education do the same thing, but typically with less success (it’s funny how we overlook class and cultural factors when we assess kids for potential to succeed in more rigorous educational environments).  School choice ends up being a smokescreen for white parents who can’t afford to pay for it themselves wanting to segregate their white kids from the rest of the populace.  It’s no longer socially acceptable to explicitly not want to send your kids to school with Black and brown children, so you get around that ingrown prejudice by hiding it behind “just wanting the best possible opportunities for your child.”  Never mind that it’s better for the social fabric of our communities if our children spend time around people from different backgrounds and learn how to get along with each other.

I get that this argument is likely to fall on deaf ears when it comes to the pro-school choice crowd.  Folks who are invested in protecting white supremacy always get touchy when you point it out to them.  Still, it’s there, and it needs to be pointed out.  The last entry in this series will move back towards questions more closely concerned with class and the problems school choice imposes on families who simply can’t pick a “better” option for their children’s schooling.

Reading “Curse of the Replacement Supermen”

Okay, I’ve poo-pooed on a few of the middle issues of All-Star Superman (the more I think about it, the more I dislike the Bizarro two-parter), but I have to say that I actually found myself remarkably taken with issue #9 “Curse of the Replacement Supermen.”  Its antagonists, Bar-El and Lilo (I don’t know enough about the Superman mythos to explain why Lilo doesn’t have a house name) are total heels who espouse a blatant form of cultural imperialism.  They’re not supposed to be sympathetic at all but their circumstances leave you feeling some empathy in contrast with Zibarro from the previous issue whom Morrison and Quitely want us to like but who only annoys me.

This issue starts up two months after Superman disappeared into the Underverse while fighting off the Bizarro planet.  In that time, two Kryptonian astronauts who were thought lost in space have arrived on Earth and taken over Superman’s duties as protector of the planet.  Their motivations aren’t quite so pure (we see right away that they’re very intent on imposing Kryptonian culture on humanity by fiat if necessary), but they do seem to recognize the value of protecting human life, even if they think Earth’s inhabitants are inferior to Kryptonians.  Superman initially tries to reason with Bar-El and Lilo, but he quickly realizes that they hold him in contempt and they are stronger than him (it’s so soon after being trapped in the Underverse that Superman’s still getting his full powers back).  He’s forced to retreat, but Bar-El and Lilo track him down to the Daily Planet where they almost out him as Clark Kent before they become grossly ill from kryptonite that has formed in their bloodstream.  Superman finds that he isn’t able to cure them, so he sends them to the Phantom Zone where they can beat up Kryptonian criminals all day in perpetuity until he can maybe find a way to heal them.

There are two strains of fun in this issue that I want to highlight.  The first is, once again, Morrison’s ridiculous love of the Silver Age.  Sometimes it’s overdone and obnoxious, but this issue seems to hit just the right balance for me.  Here’s my favorite panel demonstrating this idea:

(Artwork by Frank Quitely, inks & colors by Jamie Grant, letters by Phil Balsman & Travis Lanham)

Superman’s totally befuddled by the Kryptonian spires because they’re so obviously out of place in Metropolis, but he has the wherewithal to exposit in a complete sentence for the reader.  Where a more contemporary comic might condense Superman’s utterance to something like, “Kryptonian architecture?” Morrison just goes all in on the hokey Silver Age dialogue.  The phrase, “my native planet, Krypton,” sells it the hardest, as it communicates to the reader information about Superman’s origin that Morrison has previously dispensed with explaining in detail (his and Quitely’s “four panels, eight words” opening from issue #1 is a relatively famous treatment of Superman’s origin that works because it assumes readers already know the important details about Superman, including his home planet of Krypton); Silver Age comics are infamous for reiterating core character concepts over and over again on the assumption that any comic could be a reader’s first encounter with its hero.

Besides all of that condensed awesome silliness, you also have to accept that the issue’s premise (a couple more Kryptonians just drop onto Earth from space and make Superman’s life complicated) is pure Silver Age absurdity (really it’s pretty much superhero absurdity in general, but DC tried to step away from the whole “Superman runs into a bunch of other Kryptonians who survived the planet’s destruction” angle when they realized it was getting out of hand).  Also, the fact that Bar-El and Lilo show up at the Daily Planet, basically call Clark Kent Superman in front of his coworkers, and they still don’t make the connection is utterly bonkers; in any other book I’d hate it, but for some reason I find it charming here–probably because I have such a low opinion of the Daily Planet‘s staff that I’m not at all surprised by their obtuseness.

The other thing that I like about this issue is that it gets back to the core thesis of the series (which took some weird turns in those middle issues): that Superman is an essentially good person who tries to do right by everyone he meets.  This concept expresses itself here in ways that are imminently admirable; Superman explains to Bar-El and Lilo that he has no right to impose his own values on others, particularly when it would supplant other equally valid values.  When Bar-El describes Superman’s love of Earth cultures as going “native,” you can’t help but recognize that there’s a postcolonial critique happening, even if it’s only on a very basic level.

(Artwork by Frank Quitely, inks & colors by Jamie Grant, letters by Phil Balsman & Travis Lanham)

Superman’s conflict with the Kryptonians culminates with a sequence where they beat him handily and put a fissure in the moon, all while calling him a “soft wee scientists’s son.”  This moment crystallizes in my mind the idea that Bar-El and Lilo are supposed to be obnoxious bullies from space while Superman is the sensitive, nerdy kid.  It’s a funny setup, particularly since Superman is portrayed as so physically in control of himself and his surroundings in all other scenarios, but it rings true as an extension of what Superman values from the heritage his parents left him.

I like the disordered panel borders here; they do a nice job of highlighting how jarring this beating must be for Superman. (Artwork by Frank Quitely, inks & colors by Jamie Grant, letters by Phil Balsman & Travis Lanham)

That the issue ends with Superman choosing to actively try to help Bar-El and Lilo with their illness after they essentially declared their intent to colonize Earth as New Krypton is pretty moving.  I’m not sure if the Kryptonians actually would change their tune if they were to get better, but the fact that they’re at least not genocidal (unlike another villain that Superman might have been a little too easy on back in issue #5) suggests that there’s hope to reach them.  Still, it’s probably for the best that they’re trapped in the Phantom Zone and it’s not within the purview of this series to explore what Bar-El and Lilo would do if released.

Learning to Knit

This is one of those posts where I’m basically filling for time since I have had to declare blogruptcy after a couple weeks of being too busy to get ahead on my writing schedule.

So, here’s a picture of what I’ve been doing with some of my free time over the past couple weeks.

I made that one goofy looking cord in the middle before I got the hang of knitting.

I picked up knitting because Rachael started doing it as a way to help manage general anxiety about the state of the world, and she suggested it to me as a nice pastime that also has the added benefit of allowing you to actually have something to show for it afterwards.  She also wanted to knit a brain cap for the March for Science coming up in about a month or so, and when she saw the instructions said she needed seventeen feet of I-cord, she turned to me and said, “You would really enjoy knitting if you got into it, Jason.”

After about a week of struggling to understand the basic concept (I wanted to learn how to do it left handed, which added a further layer of complication to everything), I finally figured out the basics and got to it.  Lo and behold, I’ve knitted nearly seventeen feet of I-cord and have begun knitting the cap as well.  Go me.

So School Choice (Part II: School Ideology)

In the first part of this series I noted briefly that private schools may or may not be religiously affiliated, and that, generally speaking, this affiliation is a value neutral characteristic.  The major critique in that part was over the problem of school funding, though, particularly how moving students from public schools to private ones would most severely impact the economy of scale that allows public schools to effectively serve low socioeconomic status students and students with special needs.

Let’s get back to the question of religious affiliation and its larger umbrella, school ideology.

The school choice movement is based primarily in the American white evangelical community.  The people advocating for this model, like Betsy DeVos, subscribe to a system of belief that’s saturated with the idea of being counter cultural (that white evangelicals make up a large plurality of the American populace doesn’t seem to ever occur to them as a reason why they can’t actually be counter cultural).  The idea comes, of course, from the white evangelical reading of the New Testament where Paul encourages Christians to be “in the world, but not of the world.”  This idea’s the foundation of the culture wars.  One of the major tenets of the culture wars, as they’re viewed from the white evangelical side, is that the separation between church and state is a monstrously bad thing because it leads to people losing faith in (their version of) God.  Pushing to weaken that barrier is one of the ways white evangelicals try to fulfill the mission of their sect (never mind that conversion by fiat is a terrible model for lasting religious engagement).

The thinking generally goes that while you can’t force religion into public schools (that pesky First Amendment, y’know), there’s nothing wrong with working it into private institutions; with school choice, one of the underlying motivations is to divert federal money away from agencies that are restricted by the First Amendment to organizations that have no such reservations.  If you chip away at public education by diverting that money to other schools, eventually public schools will be undermined enough that private education becomes the only viable game in town (for those students that private schools will accept).  It’s an attempt at creating de facto government sponsorship of religious education under the umbrella of “religious freedom” (and more specifically, government sponsorship of Christian education; I suspect it’s only a matter of time before the Satanic Temple establishes an elementary school to test the universality of the religious freedom argument).

The reason for all this sleight of hand is to replace the civics education that’s supposed to be the bedrock of American public education with a system that allows families to place their children in environments that sustain and replicate the epistemic closure that pops up in insular religious communities.  A common cry heard from conservatives is that public schools in America try to indoctrinate children into a liberal agenda, which is only true insofar as the values of mutual respect for others’ humanity and desire to understand objective truth are values that many conservatives have ceded as belonging solely to liberal ideology.  They see schools engaging in cultural indoctrination and come to the conclusion that it’s only fair they have their own spaces to provide competing indoctrination (and that with enough social engineering, the thinking goes, they can drive the competitors into irrelevance).

Besides the religious motivation, which I’m inclined to find highly suspect but not innately perpetrated by bad actors, there is the more clearly concerning profit motive of private and charter schools.  Charter schools are a weird category that I haven’t discussed much up to this point, so let me break down what they are in brief.  In a charter school, the local and state education agencies have suspended direct oversight and handed it over to a private organization for management and administration.  The stated goal of this model is to allow for more flexibility in school modeling so that schools can try to tailor their environments to better fit the needs of their students free of a lot of cumbersome regulations.  The problem with this model comes with the fact that you establish a system where regulations are minimized for an organization that is operating from a profit motive.  The goal of the administrations in these charter schools is often to make money rather than to deliver a high quality education to their students, and these circumstances, absent effective oversight, lead to situations where schools will try to cut costs in order to make more money off their students.  John Oliver did a good in-depth story on the subject of charter schools last year that’s available on Youtube (it’s embedded at the bottom of this post for anyone who wishes to view it).

For the sake of discussion here, I’m lumping charter schools in with nonreligious private schools.  The level of government oversight varies somewhat between these categories, but it’s significantly diminished in both cases in comparison with public schools.  There are certainly good actors in this category, schools that treat their fiduciary responsibility to their students with the gravity it deserves, but they all ultimately treat education as a business rather than a public service.  There is always a bottom line that must be weighed against the needs of students, and in private institutions, that bottom line doesn’t go nearly as deep as in public schools.

________

Further Reading:

Libby Anne: “On Calls for Homeschooling in Response to DeVos”

Also from Libby Anne: “Inequalities Abound: Betsy DeVos and School Closures”

Reading “The Darkness of Mere Being”

Laurie Juspeczyk suffers as a character through most of Watchmen because so much of what we see of her is through the eyes of various men in her life.  She’s depicted largely as an object of sexual desire for Dan Dreiberg and a human anchor for Jon Osterman.  Rorschach doesn’t like her (Rorschach doesn’t like any women), and Edward Blake’s life is lived mostly outside her sphere.  The only male character’s eyes we don’t get to see Juspeczyk through is Adrian Veidt (his focus issue is coming up in a bit).  Juspeczyk exists at a remove from the reader until this issue, and I think that’s a disservice to her.  We spend so much time seeing how other characters see her that her own character feels a little cloudy at times.  Even this issue, which is supposed to be her big set piece and origin story, turns on a revelation that feels like it has way more repercussions for her mother than for her.

Not pictured: Jon Osterman’s flat “No.” (Artwork & letters by Dave Gibbons, colors by John Higgins)

In a way, this filtering of Juspeczyk’s story is a fitting way to portray her.  In the broad list of motivations for why different people become superheroes, hers boils down simply to this: her mother wanted her to.  There are parts of the adventuring life that she enjoys herself, but every moment in the series where her reasons are interrogated, Juspeczyk never suggests a great passion or deep-seated psychological need was the reason she put on a costume and beat up criminals.  The core parts of Juspeczyk’s identity that we see depicted are her ambivalence about her relationship with her mother and her ambivalence about being a superhero.  These complex, contradictory feelings allow us to see Juspeczyk both scolding her mother Sally Jupiter for reveling in her own glory days (including her status as a one-time sex symbol) and lashing out in defense of Jupiter whenever anyone brings up Edward Blake’s attempted rape of her.  It’s these same feelings that have Juspeczyk enjoying an evening of superheroics with Dan Dreiberg after she’s said with all sincerity that she doesn’t mind being retired.

Unfortunately, ambivalence is really the fullest depth we get to see of Juspeczyk’s character.  Her focus issue, while it does explore her origins (and emphasizes that Juspeczyk was pushed into the adventuring life rather than having chosen it), is most specifically concerned with her relationship to two men: Jon Osterman and Edward Blake.  Osterman has been Juspeczyk’s romantic partner for nearly twenty years, and while the events of Watchmen show her finally leaving him after she gets fed up with his detachment, he still requires her assistance to make up his mind about intervening in the ongoing world events on Earth.  Blake, we learn here, is Juspeczyk’s biological father.  Caught between these two men, the issue drags Juspeczyk, in the middle of attempting to cobble together a new life for herself, back into her past.  It’s an unfair situation for her, and it’s exacerbated by Osterman’s callousness and Blake’s looming legacy.

The thing that most consistently impresses me about Gibbons and Higgins’s art is how they work in details that suggest Juspeczyk’s relation to Blake, like their similarly textured and colored hair. (Artwork & letters by Dave Gibbons, colors by John Higgins)

On the subject of Blake’s relation to Juspeczyk, I feel ambivalent myself.  There’s a lot of complexity in the relationship between Juspeczyk’s parents, and I’m not really sure what to make of it.  Sally Jupiter is a victim of sexual assault at the hands of Edward Blake, and despite that she chose at least once to have consensual sex with him.  This decision isn’t so hard to parse; many victims of sexual assault do have ongoing sexual relationships with their attackers because of survival needs and the dynamics that emerge in abusive relationships.  Even Jupiter’s lifelong ambivalence towards Blake is understandable (we see in this issue that she cycled between hating him and feeling some sort of pity for him).  What confounds me is the issue’s resolution where Osterman, finally moved to wonder by the fact that Juspeczyk is the unlikely offspring of two people who shouldn’t have had reason to be together, decides that humanity is worth saving after all.  It feels like there’s a thin line between marveling at the unpredictability of human behavior (though I don’t think we’re that unpredictable) and marveling at the fact that Juspeczyk’s the result of a would-be rapist finally having sex with his victim.

Altogether, this issue is a difficult one to process.  It has some truly lovely character moments, but they all, unfortunately, fall to characters beside our focal point.

So School Choice (Part I: School Funding)

This past week Republicans chose to confirm the least popular nominee in that man’s new cabinet, Betsy DeVos.  A lot of ink has been spilled on the fact that DeVos, like her boss, is an incompetent with no real experience inside the system she’s been chosen to run for the next four years.  Perhaps even more than her boss (who is at his base just a charlatan who saw an opportunity to fatten his pockets and stroke his ego), DeVos is known specifically as an ideologue who places her personal philosophy of “choice above all” before any kind of evidence that suggests a different educational policy might yield better results for the nation’s children.  She’s a white evangelical culture warrior who uses the fig leaf of “school choice” to hide her larger goal of collapsing the wall between church and state in favor of her personal Christianism.

The argument in favor of school choice goes something like this: parents know what’s best for their children, and this inherent knowledge that comes with having offspring deserves respect when it comes to making educational decisions.  Because we have a demonstrable gap between schools that serve students who perform well and schools that don’t, parents should have the right to choose where their children are educated regardless of their physical location in a district.  If the district doesn’t have a school that’s satisfactory to the parent, then the government should provide a voucher or some other cost-saving measure to the parent so they can seek out an appropriate privately run school.

On the surface, this is a benign assertion of a parent’s rights to make decisions about their child’s welfare.  It breaks down when you think about a few more confounding factors.

Let’s start with assumptions about the schools themselves and then we’ll examine assumptions about the parents.

Privately run schools fall into two broad categories: religious and secular.  Within each of these categories there’s a wide range of quality.  Some faith-based schools provide remarkably good educations to their students, some are mediocre, and some are bad; the same is true with secular schools.  The only real difference between these categories is that in a religious school, students are typically educated in the tenets of the faith organization that sponsors the school (I say faith organization here because it’s important to always remember that no faith tradition, absent a top-down magisterial system, has a fully unified system of belief among all of its members).  I’d argue that this detail of faith-based education is value neutral, although it is an avenue of cultural indoctrination and any faith system that has abusive beliefs at its core will inevitably replicate the potential for abuse in at least some of its students.

A feature of private school that cuts across religious and secular lines is the fact that these schools are governed by a body that doesn’t receive federal oversight.  If you’re of a libertarian ideological bent you might think this is a net positive since guidelines at the federal level can’t possibly be tailored enough to the needs of specific local communities (I actually agree with the idea that control of schools belongs in local communities; it’s the reason I opposed the Opportunity School District amendment on the Georgia ballot last year).  The problem with this thinking is that it ignores the overwhelming need for federal funding to make schools capable of meeting the educational needs of their neediest students.  Typically, federal guidelines are broad enough to provide only a basic foundation on which to build more specific educational policy; as much as folks like to whinge about the Common Core, those standards are mostly nothing new in comparison to previous state sponsored standards (on a broad level, states tend to crib from each other when they design their academic standards anyway; English and math literacy needs are largely the same across the country, and science and social studies standards tend to be proxies for culture wars which leads to uniformity in contiguous regions with the same political party in control at the state level).  This broadness makes it easy for school systems to comply so they can qualify for the funding that is essential to serving low socioeconomic status students and special needs students (these funds are provided under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, recently reauthorized under the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, and Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, originally passed in 1975 as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act and renamed in 1990).  This federal funding is necessary because the costs of educating students with special needs is exceptionally high, and low SES students necessarily live in poorer communities with lower revenue from property taxes (most local funding for education comes through property tax).  Public schools can’t serve large parts of their populations effectively without that funding, and the standards for qualification of funding are not difficult to comply with.

Private schools don’t have access to this funding; instead they rely on tuition paid by families for individual children’s education needs.  As you might imagine, this lack of federal funding forces private schools to be more exclusive; they’ll only accept students whose families can afford the operating costs, and who promise an acceptable return on investment (in education, that’s college ready graduates or, for less scrupulous schools, students who can be educated below the cost of their tuition and thus allow the school to turn a profit).  For low SES students, this model suggests that vouchers would be a suitable answer (in theory you just turn the federal funding for that student over to the family so they can put it towards whatever school they want their child to attend).  I don’t like this solution because it pulls funding from public schools that are already strapped for cash, which reduces the quality of education for students who remain in the public school (larger pools of money can be invested in durable materials and staff that serve more students at a lower cost over time; shrinking the funding of a school past a certain point leads to lost jobs, higher student to teacher ratios, and overall poorer service).  Also, I don’t trust oversight of private schools to be stringent enough to keep them from cutting corners to pocket money instead of investing it in the children they serve.  Government regulations are a good thing.

That only touches on low SES students though.  Students with special needs are significantly more complex cases, and the reality is that private schools don’t have an obligation to serve those students.  In the most extreme cases they will not be able to offer a positive return on investment; the mission in educating these students is almost always centered as a public service.  Within any given student’s limitations, educators typically want to see that student achieve their maximum potential because higher met potential leads to a more fulfilling life.  We sink a lot of resources into educating students with special needs, and most private schools simply aren’t equipped to meet those needs; it’s too expensive.  Better to just turn away those students and focus on the ones that will require less investment to meet the school’s goals.

So what we end up with when we talk about school choice is a system that indirectly punishes students who don’t leave the public education system and blocks our most vulnerable students from actually choosing those “better” private options in the first place.

My Evolving Relationship with Facebook: A Brief History

Like many folks my age, I first joined Facebook when I was in college.  Back then it was just a website where you could learn a bit about people that you met in class and at other campus activities.  This was before news feeds or embedded advertising (I think the consensus at the time among my friends was that it was quaint to think that anyone would pay to advertise on Facebook) when the most significant interaction you could have with others was by way of pokes and wall posts (you had to actively check a person’s wall to see what was going on with them).  One of the coolest features I remember (and which didn’t last for very long) was a program that would create a visualization of your friend network that showed how folks you knew were interconnected.  I especially liked how it highlighted who among your friends were social hubs and how much overlap you had between different social circles.  For whatever reason that feature didn’t stick around.  This was more or less the extent of my interaction with Facebook in its early days.

At some point there was the big opening of Facebook’s roles to people who didn’t have a valid college email address; given the site’s mission of constantly expanding until it consumes all intelligent thought in the universe, this was a necessary step.  I think that like most college students who had enjoyed the privilege of having an exclusive online club I was slightly concerned about Facebook opening up to my family.  I wasn’t a hard partying college kid though, so there really wasn’t much about my life that would be embarrassing for my parents and other relatives to see.  I never feared the possibility of employers refusing to hire me over stupid college hijinks (I had no hijinks of which to speak).  I was just a kid who enjoyed actually having the capacity to keep some things private from my family.  Still, on the whole I don’t recall caring that much, especially since I didn’t yet maintain much of a presence of Facebook anyway.

The introduction of the newsfeed mostly blew by me unnoticed.  I saw all the college paper op-eds worrying over the loss of privacy as a social networking site was suddenly choosing to tell our friends what we were up to without first asking us about it.  That hullabaloo seems kind of quaint nowadays (the newsfeed is the main event of Facebook now).

Once the newsfeed took over as the primary attraction of Facebook, I think I started to engage with it more actively.  I remember having more than a few conversations through the platform many years ago when I was still an evangelical.  One conversation that stands out starkly in my mind was about the question of how sexuality could be an innate, naturally occurring part of someone’s identity and still be considered sinful by Christians.  I argued that this was possible because in a fallen world with utter depravity it would naturally follow that parts of human nature would be predisposed to sinful acts.  It really annoyed someone else in the conversation who was much more progressive at the time.

I cringe when I remember that exchange these days, especially now that I’ve found myself more and more on the “don’t dehumanize people because of your abstract ideological hangups” side of online conversations.  It didn’t occur to me at the time, but in hindsight I can see just how upsetting what I said was and what a mental toll it must have taken on the other person to engage with my ignorant opinion in good faith.  It’s hard to argue with people suffering from epistemic closure about the humanity of others, not the least because their ideological bubbles allow them not to feel emotionally invested in the argument.

I learned this lesson slowly over the years I spent disentangling myself from evangelicalism and embracing intersectional feminism (and, because someone is bound to willfully misunderstand, this doesn’t mean I quit Christianity).  When I was first learning to be progressive, I had the thought in my head that I had an obligation to have conversations wherever I could, that these efforts would be drops in the bucket towards improving the world.  A lot of conversations still happened on Facebook.

Then there was the month that I spent arguing back and forth with a guy through private messages over evangelical Christianity.  That was hard.  I’d spend hours writing a response, send it off, and then silently dread the reply.  This conversation wasn’t like previous ones I’d had where I was speaking at a remove about a topic that I was ostensibly allied with but had no personal stake.  My identity as a Christian came under attack in that exchange, and it wrecked me.  I stopped enjoying confrontational online conversations after that.

This event probably marks the end of my first really major mode of engagement with Facebook since I joined the platform.  I drifted away from seeking out arguments to simply sharing articles on things that I found interesting.  I shared as much casual stuff as political, mostly with the hope of inviting conversation.  Facebook transitioned from being a place to look for an argument to being a place where I was going to voice my opinions, preferably in a mild enough way to invite good faith discussion.  This approach ended up being benignly uninteresting.  I felt like I was communicating with people, but in hindsight I suspect most of it was just passing by unnoticed by anyone.  I probably would have continued using Facebook in this capacity indefinitely.

Then 2016 came along and I got caught up in the election frenzy.

The events of the 2016 campaign season were really difficult to process (I don’t think anyone disputes this).  A candidate with no experience in government, a history of casual bigotry and misogyny, and a total disregard for the rule of law rode a wave of sexism and white resentment into the White House.  I spent a lot of time posting stuff on Facebook that was intended to directly confront the glaring problems with that man, but I assumed throughout most of the campaign season that things would turn out for the best with Hillary Clinton winning.  I was horrified by her opponent, but that only came out viscerally a couple of times in the lead up to Election Day.

After the election, the way I used Facebook shifted dramatically.  I ranted; I railed against the injustice and absurdity of that man’s victory and the coming fallout from his presidency.  Not once, not twice, but thrice was I told by people through the platform that I was being divisive and unnecessarily hostile (keep in mind that I’d garnered not so much as a peep of opposition from anyone for years prior to this).  This was a weird period in my Facebook use; I’d been ambivalent towards the platform for some time, but in the weeks after the election I was consumed by it.  It got so bad that I forced myself to drop off Facebook for a while.  I switched over to Twitter as my primary social media (overall I think this was a good decision).

Most recently, as the roller coaster has finally crested the hill and begun its first drop, I’ve come back to Facebook.  My approach to it has shifted a little bit in the new climate.  I don’t see a purpose anymore in trying to have conversations with people on the red feed.  There have been too many incidents where I’ve seen bad actors operating to trust that the platform can be a real forum for two-way discourse.  Now, Facebook serves as a sort of shadow of my Twitter activity.  Things that I tweet about, if I care about them enough, get recycled on Facebook for others to see.  I don’t try to launch discussions of current events anymore; it’s better to just report on what I’m doing to help resist the awfulness and move on.  It’s a nice place to catch up on what others are doing in their own lives.  There’s more than a small amount of fluffy content, but that’s easy enough to wade through.  In a lot of ways, I think Facebook’s beginning to turn into something like what it was in its earlier days for me: a thing that I’m connected to, but which less and less seems to have any real impact on what I want to do with my time and energy.

I think that’s for the best.