The fallen state of experts: How can governments learn from their expert failings?

Roger Koppl:

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, you’re not paying attention to the experts. Epidemiologists tell us that if we do not hide in our houses with the door securely locked, hundreds of thousands will surely perish. Economists tell us that if we do not return immediately to work, civilisation will collapse. Good luck figuring out which expert has the better advice. Is it any wonder a harried Michael Gove blurted out (1:02-1:15), “I think the people in this country have had enough of experts from organisations with acronyms saying they know what is best and getting it consistently wrong.”

Expert fear-mongering did not begin with the pandemic or Project Fear. In 1922, John Maynard Keynes warned that “squalor follows” if we do not make the economist “king.” Daniel Defoe complained of the “calculators” and “quack-conjurers” whose fear-mongering “kept up their trade” in London’s plague year of 1665. He shrewdly observed, “And had the people not been kept in fright about that, the wizards would presently have been rendered useless, and their craft had been at an end.”

Defoe complained of quacks and wizards, whereas today’s epidemiologists and economists have rigorous scientific training, mathematical models, advanced statistics, and careful evidence all going for them. True. But today’s scientists are still people. And that means they respond to incentives just like everyone else. The issue is not lying and cheating. Sure, some modern experts are quack-conjurers who lie and cheat. Let’s not mistake a white lab coat for a golden halo. But that’s not the main thing. Even when the experts are trying to be sober, scientific, and scrupulously neutral, they will feel certain pressures.

Think if it were you. You’re an epidemiologist and the prime minister calls to ask you how many will die if we don’t have a lockdown. What do you tell him?  You can’t just look up the number. The pandemic is only now taking off and your knowledge of it is correspondingly sketchy. It’s hard to say. Every number is a guess. If you give the prime minister a low number, there will be no lockdown. What if he accepts your low number and we have no lockdown?  Maybe everything will be fine. But maybe there will be many more deaths than you predicted. You will get blamed. People will shame you as a bad scientist.  And, because you are a good and decent person, you will feel guilty. Blame, shame, and guilt. This is a bad outcome.

If you give him a high number, there will be lockdown. No one will ever be able to say that your estimate was too high, because your estimate assumed no lockdown. Even if a lot of people die during the lockdown you can say, “See? Think how much worse it would have been without the lockdown.” Thus, if you give the prime minister a high number, you will get credit for saving lives. You will be able to take pride in your sterling reputation as a scientist. And you won’t have to feel guilty about lost lives. Praise, pride, and innocence. This is a good outcome. The logic of the situation is clear. You have every incentive to predict doom and gloom if no lockdown is ordered.

It may be that the famous epidemiologist Neil Ferguson, who, until recently, was an important member of SAGE, has felt such pressures in his career. At one point in the pandemic he told a columnist for the New York Timesthat 1.1 million deaths was the “best case” for the US.  In 2001 he blasted as “unjustifiably optimistic” a study suggesting that mad cow disease deaths “may peak at 100 cases per year in Britain and kill no more than a few thousand people in coming decades.” Rejecting this relatively optimistic view, he said deaths are in the long-term likely to be much higher at something only slightly less than 136,000.  The true number as of June 2014 seems to have been 177.  In 2005, he was alarmed by bird flu (H5N1). “Around 40 million people died in 1918 Spanish flu outbreak,” he told the Guardian. “There are six times more people on the planet now so you could scale it up to around 200 million people probably.” That’s a lot more than the World Health Organisation’s estimate for cumulative worldwide deaths, 2003-2020 of, ahem, 455.

Notes and links on Madison’s 2020 Superintendent search.

2013-2019: Jennifer Cheatham and the Madison experience.

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

UW System leader calls for academic cuts, layoffs, online advances to survive in post-pandemic world

Devi Shastri:

The leader of the University of Wisconsin System will unveil Thursday a three-part plan that radically re-imagines the network of schools that has been in place for a half-century.

President Ray Cross, declaring that immediate action is crucial to the survival of the System, will call for consolidating academic programs, streamlining business operations and scaling up online degree programs across the state.

The proposal requires all campuses except for UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee, to complete a review of academic offerings by the end of 2020, opening the way for program cuts, staff reductions and new investment to “provide greater institutional distinctiveness and identity.”

It also requires campuses to more rapidly centralize administrative functions — like IT and human resources — and calls for the creation of a uniform online learning model that can serve working adults and traditional undergraduates.

The proposal will be presented to the Board of Regents on Thursday afternoon.

In an interview with reporters prior to making the plan public, Cross said there was no “magic number” he was hoping to reach in terms of cuts or cost savings.

The plan is essentially a statewide version of a 2018 attempt by UW-Stevens Point to cut several majors and refine its focus.

Milwaukee Teachers’ Union Governance Climate

Seth Saavedra:

On a union blog, MTEA president Amy Mizialko writes that MTEA is using the COVID-19 crisis to “strip back what has been wrongly imposed on our students—relentless standardized testing, scripted curriculum, one-size-fits-all online interventions.”

When asked if the “union’s insistence that its members not be required to work during the first three weeks of the shutdown may have contributed to MPS’ delays” she did not address that criticism directly. Instead she demurred, “We were finding our way with our families and students in something that was unprecedented.”

Not lack of enthusiasm and optimism isn’t shared by all MPS teachers.

Angela Harris, a first-grade teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. School and member of the Black Educators Caucus is frustrated by the delay, “I’m not saying we should have transitioned on day one. The biggest concern was the lack of planning and direction moving forward. Teachers could have been encouraged in those first three weeks to start identifying families who might be in need (of technology).”

One thing to note: Angela is much more representative of MPS students than the MTEA as about 71 percent of MPS teachers are White. Many suspect this disparity is why, when music programs were being shut for African American students, the MTEA remained silent while the Black Caucus spoke out, as they are now.

WEAC: $1.57 Million for four Wisconsin Senators.

My question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on teacher mulligans and our disastrous reading results.

No ACT/SAT required at UW schools (except UW-Madison)

Yvonne Kim:

As of April 30, over 70 institutions of higher education had adopted some form of test-optional policies this spring, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. The Board’s vote extends an interim policy, which suspended the requirement through June 17, through the 2021-2022 academic year.

UW-Madison “may continue to require ACT or SAT scores from freshman applicants” as part of its holistic application process, according to meeting materials.

In response to concerns that this may hurt potential UW-Madison applicants, Chancellor Rebecca Blank said the university is working one-on-one with “a very small number of people” who may not have had the opportunity to take the exams. She said the vast majority of applicants were able to do so before submitting applications, which were due Feb. 1.

“I understand that our folks have been working with all of our students and that we are not concerned about students not being able to complete their application,” Blank said.

Social Media Platforms Are Censoring Legitimate Scientific Dissent About COVID-19

SG Cheah:

Governmental Institutions Don’t Hold Exclusive Ownership on Knowledge 

To the censors who work to silence dissent at companies like Google, Facebook, and YouTube, the truth can only come from the verified experts of the World Health Organization. Therefore, the WHO should have the sole authority to inform the public about what is correct. God forbid that the public be influenced by “unverified non-experts” like Elon Musk. 

By flagging his tweet, the implication is that Elon Musk is just as dumb, ignorant, and uninformed as every other doctor, scientist, and researchers who didn’t pass the approval process of the authorities at the WHO. 

The Guardian, in their criticism against Elon Musk’s tweet, stated that the French study should be dismissed because it didn’t follow all the necessary protocols for scientific research, which includes a randomized administration of the drug and a double-blind test. 

Theoretical Analysis vs. Observations from Reality  

Please enlighten me. How exactly are the doctors in France supposed to ethically “randomize” the administration of a drug they have reason to believe could be life-saving and conduct the study while being double-blinded when they have patients who are dying so quickly from the virus in reality?

This is similar to the press conference done by two local doctors for their local ABC news affiliate in Bakersfield, California which was removed by YouTube. In that video, the doctors were merely questioning the authority of the government-affiliated medical experts and consultants who had long stopped practicing medicine nor saw patients on an everyday basis, unlike other doctors.  

Disastrous K-12 Civics

George Stanley:

You may have seen, in Alan Borsuk’s column Sunday, the latest testing results for eighth graders’ knowledge of American history and civics. Just 15% of students, about one in seven, are rated proficient in U.S. history and 24% in civics.

These numbers come in a year when we’ve seen the president impeached by the House and acquitted by the Senate; a court-ordered presidential primary where people waited up to three hours to vote in Green Bay and Milwaukee; huge problems getting absentee ballots out to voters and back; the government closure of schools and most businesses around the world; shortages of masks, shields, ventilators and other key equipment to manage the coronavirus pandemic; record government aid packages due to historic job losses and health care needs.

>tolerated disastrous reading results.

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

Madison School Board May Retreat

Madison School Board:

Meeting Objectives

● Understand Applicable Legal Statutes that pertain to School Boards

● Develop a planned strategy to successfully transition to a new leadership paradigm with the MMSD

school board, superintendent, administration/staff, parents/guardians, and community creating a dynamic school community team.

Legal notice and zoom link.

Notes and links on Madison’s 2020 Superintendent search.

2013-2019: Jennifer Cheatham and the Madison experience.

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

New Title IX Rules To Protect Free Speech, Due Process for Accused Students

Robby Soave:

On Wednesday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos formally announced the new rules related to Title IX—the federal statute that governs sexual misconduct in schools—thus completing a process that began more than a year ago, when the government first unveiled its proposed changes.

The new rules aim to protect victims of sexual misconduct while also establishing fairer procedures for the accused. The department believes the new rules will “balance the scales of justice on campuses across America,” a Department of Education spokesperson said during today’s press briefing.

Justin Dillon, an attorney with the firm KaiserDillon who specializes in campus misconduct adjudication, hailed the new rules as tremendously well thought out.

“Nothing Betsy DeVos has done since she took office will have a more lasting effect on people’s lives than this,” Dillon tells Reason. “It’s frankly inspiring to see how hard she and her staff have worked to get these regulations done and get them right.”

The new rules are similar to what the Department of Education proposed in November 2018. Most notably, the government has abolished the single-investigator model, which previously permitted a sole university official to investigate an accusation of misconduct, decide which evidence to consider, and produce a report recommending an outcome. Under the new rules, the final decision maker must be a different person than the investigator, and a finding of responsibility can only be rendered after a hearing in which a representative for the accused is able to pose questions to the accuser—i.e., cross-examination.

UW System leader calls for academic cuts, layoffs, online advances to survive in post-pandemic world

Devi Shastri:

President Ray Cross, declaring that immediate action is crucial to the survival of the System, will call for consolidating academic programs, streamlining business operations and scaling up online degree programs across the state.

The proposal requires all campuses except for UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee, to complete a review of academic offerings by the end of 2020, opening the way for program cuts, staff reductions and new investment to “provide greater institutional distinctiveness and identity.”

It also requires campuses to more rapidly centralize administrative functions  — like IT and human resources — and calls for the creation of a uniform online learning model that can serve working adults and traditional undergraduates.

University of Alaska announces furloughs for top administrators

Associated Press:

Top University of Alaska administrators, including President Jim Johnsen, will be subject to mandatory furloughs to help address budget issues, the system announced Wednesday.

The furloughs were put in place by Johnsen and will affect 166 people, including executives, senior administrators and faculty administrative leaders, the system said.

Furloughs will range in length from eight days for senior administrators and faculty administrative leaders to 10 days for provosts, vice presidents and chief officers and executives including Johnsen and chancellors, according to a system release. The furloughs are to take place during the upcoming fiscal year.

“It is important that each of us do all that we can to help mitigate the financial impacts of COVID-19, the reduction in state support, declining enrollment and other factors,” Johnsen said in a statement. He noted that students have had to transition to taking classes remotely. “Now it is our turn. As leaders we must do our part.”

Harvard Sees $1.2 Billion Revenue Shortfall Due to Pandemic


Harvard University, the richest U.S. college, is forecasting a revenue shortfall of nearly $1.2 billion over two academic years, showing how the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic are crippling schools.

Harvard faces a drop of $415 million in anticipated revenue for the year ending June 30, and a further $750-million shortfall compared to budgeted expectations for the year beginning July 1, Executive Vice President Katie Lapp said in a statement Tuesday. …

“The university is facing significant financial challenges which will require difficult decisions in the coming months,” Lapp said in the statement. “It is clear that additional cost saving measures will be needed in the coming months including the possibility of furloughs and layoffs of some members of our workforce.”

1. Ivy League payments and entitlements cost taxpayers $41.59 billion over a six-year period (FY2010-FY2015). This is equivalent to $120,000 in government monies, subsidies, & special tax treatment per undergraduate student, or $6.93 billion per year.

Is going to school in person obsolete? Cuomo wonders why ‘old model’ persists

Kevin Tampone:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo suggested today that remote learning could become a permanent part of life for New York students, even after the coronavirus pandemic ends.

“The old model of everybody goes and sits in a classroom and the teacher is in front of that classroom and teaches that class and you do that all across the city, all across the state, all these buildings, all these physical classrooms,” Cuomo said during a press briefing in New York City. “Why? With all the technology you have?”

Cuomo didn’t say buildings won’t reopen at all. But the state is exploring the possibility that schools will use distance learning in bigger ways in the future, he said.

He acknowledged New York is still new at this and learning as it goes along. Teachers need training. Some students still need devices.

Cuomo first closed schools in March to slow the spread of the virus. Students have been completing lessons and assignments from home since then.

Reopening schools will be a massive undertaking requiring new policies and procedures, Cuomo has said. He has also said he wants to use the opportunity to improve schools.

Commentary on The Price of “we Know Best

Brendan O’Neill:

It’s worth thinking about the largeness of this scandal. Ferguson’s scaremongering, his predictions of mass death if society didn’t close itself down, was the key justification for the lockdown in the UK. It influenced lockdowns elsewhere, too. Of course, this isn’t all on Ferguson. He does not exercise mind control over Boris Johnson. It was a combination of disarray among the political class and the wild clamouring of the media elite for the severest lockdown possible that led to the working people of Britain being decommissioned and almost the entire population being put under an unprecedented form of house arrest. But Ferguson’s figures, his graphs and models, his worst-case scenarios, were the godly pronouncements upon which this historic disruption of society was based. And Ferguson fully backed the lockdown that sprung from his work.

‘Godly’ is not an exaggeration. The speed with which Ferguson’s models – mere models, remember – were transformed into a kind of Biblical writ, a revelation of doom, was extraordinary. I had that number of 500,000 thrown in my face during media discussions about the lockdown. Anyone who questioned the wisdom of the lockdown, or merely suggested it should be very brief, would find themselves being battered by Ferguson’s figures. Almost overnight it became tantamount to blasphemy to question these models. Again, this wasn’t Ferguson’s doing. It was the political class’s dodging of moral responsibility for tackling Covid without destroying the economy, and the media’s searing intolerance towards anyone who questioned the lockdown, which led to the ossification of his models into tablets of stone that you queried at your peril. But in more serious times, a modeller would have bristled at the naked use of his work to enact unprecedented political measures. Ferguson should have said something.

Code Review of Ferguson’s models:

Imperial finally released a derivative of Ferguson’s code. I figured I’d do a review of it and send you some of the things I noticed. I don’t know your background so apologies if some of this is pitched at the wrong level.

My background. I wrote software for 30 years. I worked at Google between 2006 and 2014, where I was a senior software engineer working on Maps, Gmail and account security. I spent the last five years at a US/UK firm where I designed the company’s database product, amongst other jobs and projects. I was also an independent consultant for a couple of years. Obviously I’m giving only my own professional opinion and not speaking for my current employer.

The code. It isn’t the code Ferguson ran to produce his famous Report 9. What’s been released on GitHub is a heavily modified derivative of it, after having been upgraded for over a month by a team from Microsoft and others. This revised codebase is split into multiple files for legibility and written in C++, whereas the original program was “a single 15,000 line file that had been worked on for a decade” (this is considered extremely poor practice). A request for the original code was made 8 days ago but ignored, and it will probably take some kind of legal compulsion to make them release it. Clearly, Imperial are too embarrassed by the state of it ever to release it of their own free will, which is unacceptable given that it was paid for by the taxpayer and belongs to them.

The model. What it’s doing is best described as “SimCity without the graphics”. It attempts to simulate households, schools, offices, people and their movements, etc. I won’t go further into the underlying assumptions, since that’s well explored elsewhere.

Notes, here.

Child’s Public School Apocalypse

Rod Dreher:

The real lesson from Mintz’s experience is that her parents need to get her out of that school and into either a well-disciplined private school, or some kind of homeschooling, perhaps online. Many years ago, after my wife began homeschooling our kids, my sister, who was a (very good) public school teacher, expressed skepticism that they could learn as much as they could in a classroom. Out of the sake of politeness and maintaining family comity, I didn’t say the blunt truth: that they are in fact learning a heck of a lot more, because unlike you, their teacher doesn’t have to stop every four or five minutes and tell kids in the class to settle down. (I had once visited my sister’s classroom, and this was true.) The prejudice she had, and a lot of people have, is that any non-standard form of education has to be substandard.

I doubt Veronique Mintz meant to raise this issue, but it’s one that nobody likes to talk about: what if the problem is not the system, but the kids, and the families that send them to school without the character qualities necessary for their success?

When I was on the editorial board at the Dallas Morning News, my colleagues cared a lot about school reform. Really passionate folks. Once we were doing election season interviews with school board candidates. We had one session between incumbent Lew Blackburn, an African-American man representing some of the poorest school districts in the city, and his challenger. I don’t remember the specific question one of my colleagues asked, but it had something to do with testing, and the district’s very poor results. Blackburn’s response was something to the effect of (I paraphrase), “What do you expect? These kids come from poor families. Lots of them only have one parent. Those with two parents, the mom and dad are often both working long hours.” After the meeting, some of my colleagues were really hot at Blackburn. They couldn’t believe that he was so fatalistic.

Hundreds Refuse to Pay UChicago as Tuition Strike Takes Off, Organizers Say: ‘This Isn’t a Bluff’

Matthew Hendrickson:

As hundreds of students refuse to make payments to the University of Chicago, organizers say they hope the tuition strike will convince the school’s leadership to come to the bargaining table.

Students with UChicago for Fair Tuition demanded earlier this month that the university cut tuition by 50% and eliminate student fees for as long as the coronavirus pandemic continued, citing changing financial situations for students due to skyrocketing unemployment.

About 1,900 students signed a petition asking the university to cut tuition and 950 said they planned to withhold their money this past Wednesday when spring semester payments were due, the group said.

Julia Attie, an organizer of the strike, said she has received confirmation from about 200 students that withheld payments.

Students who withhold payment could be subject to a late fee, which organizers said they were trying to cover through more than $2,000 in donations raised by the group. Students who continue to strike could also miss graduation, the students say.

Attie, who plans to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in June, hopes it doesn’t come to that.

It’s Time To Take Time Out Of Learning And Reinvent Higher Education

Paul LeBlanc:

Higher education is built around the credit hour as a measure of learning time. We build courses and programs on the number of credit hours required, assign faculty workloads on credit hours, allocate classroom space on a time basis tied to the credit hour, and disperse over $150 billion of federal financial aid on the basis of time. The financial aid system, and thus colleges and universities, has rigid and complicated rules around the structure of academic years, terms, what constitutes full time attendance, and student measures of progress, such as full-time versus part-time and satisfactory academic progress.

Here’s the problem: time is a poor measure of learning – the credit hour is pretty good at indicating how long someone sat in a classroom, but not what they actually learned – and it often hurts the poverty stricken. Consider the example of Susan [not her real name], a student who attends DUET, an alternative college in Boston that uses a competency-based degree pathway that is untethered to time. A single mother, Susan has a daughter with chronic respiratory illness and had tried completing a degree at two local community colleges. She said, “Whenever my little girl got sick, I’d stay home to take care of her, missing class and assignments. I never could catch up and always ended up with F’s or withdrawals. I was using up my financial aid and not making any progress.” In the DUET program, where students set their own pace, she described simply “hitting the pause button” for a week or so when her daughter had a relapse and then starting up again when she recovered. “In this program, I set the calendar,” Susan explained.

The 2008 recession completely changed what students majored in. Will coronavirus?

Michelle Cheng:

The Great Recession led to big changes in what US college students chose to study. The downturn, which started in 2008, led a shift towards more job-oriented majors, at the expense of the humanities and social sciences. After remaining relatively stable over the previous decade, the share of all students majoring in the humanities or the social sciences dropped from 29% in 2008 to 23% in 2018. Researchshows that students often shift towards more career-oriented degrees when the job market is not looking good.

If this economic slowdown follows past ones, higher education policy economists and experts say there could be another push towards majors—e.g. engineering, finance, economics, and nursing—that lead to higher-paying, stable jobs.

Since the Great Recession, the fastest-growing fields of study have been health sciences professions and related programs, natural sciences and mathematics, and computer science and engineering. Health professions jumped from 7% of all US majors in 2008 to 12% in 2018.  Meanwhile, computer science jumped from 8% to 11%.

“There will be some students changing their major going forward, and part of that is going to kind of develop over the next several months in terms of what we see happening,” says Brad Hershbein, economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. And even if students don’t change majors, they may add a second major, a minor, or coursework grounded in these job-oriented fields.

The interest is due in part to students feeling more confident that those majors will allow them to pay back their tuition more quickly than if they major in a subject like the humanities, says Kevin Stange, associate professor of public policy at the University of Michigan.

Madison School District behavior plan updates would push for more alternatives to suspension

Scott Girard:

After a larger overhaul a year ago, proposed updates to the Madison Metropolitan School District’s Behavior Education Plan for this fall would focus on “tweaks” to language and creating more alternatives to suspensions.

The updates, presented to the School Board Monday night at its Instruction Work Group meeting, would add new language related to drugs, physical contact and inappropriate language.

“This is a narrow proposal that we have in front of you,” said MMSD coordinator of progressive discipline Bryn Martyna. “We also want to make sure that the written policy is still up to date and current with what the board wants and what the board intended when you all passed the last version of it.”

The smaller-scale changes are a continuation of the annual updating process. The BEP outlines various behaviors and the responses, which vary from level 1 — classroom managed, not recorded in Infinite Campus — to level 5 — long-term removal from school, including potential expulsion.

The plan has been controversial since it was created in 2014 under former Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham. Some blame the BEP for a lack of discipline among students, and others say they support the plan’s ideals but question whether the district has done enough to help teachers implement it.

The latest proposal, which the board is expected to vote on at its May 18 meeting, would add using an electronic smoking device to the list of behaviors for which the district offers alternatives to suspension like restorative circles. The BEP lists other specific behaviors that schools are required or encouraged to develop alternatives to suspension for, but the update would add language encouraging such alternatives to be explored for “any other behaviors” that are not specifically listed.

Much more on the Madison School District’s behavior education plan, here.

2005: Gangs and School Violence Forum: audio and video:

Top 25 universities with $350 billion total in endowments were allocated $800 million in coronavirus aid

Bethany Blankley:

Roughly $800 million was allocated to the country’s top 25 universities and colleges that have endowments totaling $350 billion, according to, a nonprofit watchdog organization.

None of the money is required to be paid back. Instead, the funding is paid for by taxpayer debt added to the growing $24.9 trillion national debt.

In an article first published by Forbes, evaluated 5,100 colleges and universities that were allocated $12.5 billion in coronavirus funding.

The organization created an interactive map by state to help users identify which colleges and universities received how much federal money. The list does not necessarily mean that the institutions have taken the money. They must first apply for it to receive it.

Taxpayers interested in learning where their money is going (or how much debt they will go into for paying for it) can click a pin on a state and scroll down to the chart under the map to find out the amount each college or university is allocated.

Why I’m Learning More With Distance Learning Than I Do in School

Veronique Mintz:

Talking out of turn. Destroying classroom materials. Disrespecting teachers. Blurting out answers during tests. Students pushing, kicking, hitting one another and even rolling on the ground. This is what happens in my school every single day.

You may think I’m joking, but I swear I’m not.

Based on my peers’ behavior, you might guess that I’m in second or fourth grade. But I’m actually about to enter high school in New York City, and, during my three years of middle school, these sorts of disruptions occurred repeatedly in any given 42-minute class period.

That’s why I’m in favor of the distance learning the New York City school system instituted when the coronavirus pandemic hit. If our schools use this experience to understand how to better support teachers in the classroom, then students will have a shot at learning more effectively when we return.

Let me explain why.

I have been doing distance learning since March 23 and find that I am learning more, and with greater ease, than when I attended regular classes. I can work at my own pace without being interrupted by disruptive students and teachers who seem unable to manage them.

Students unable or unwilling to control themselves steal valuable class time, often preventing their classmates from being prepared for tests and assessments. I have taken tests that included entire topics we never mastered, either because we were not able to get through the lesson or we couldn’t sufficiently focus.

I do not envy a middle-school teacher’s job. It’s far from easy to oversee 26 teenagers. And in my three years of middle school, I’ve encountered only a few teachers who had strong command of their classrooms — enforcing consistent rules, treating students fairly and earning their respect.

K-12 Tax, Referendum & Spending Climate: Tax base and government income decline

Dean Mosiman:

As a result, Rhodes-Conway is implementing actions including a hiring freeze on all positions with exceptions for essential services, additional review and approval for seasonal hiring, and a halt to purchasing of all nonessential supplies and services in order to reduce spending in the $341 million operating budget for this year.

The revised projections show huge drops in fines, fees, investment performance, hotel room taxes, Metro Transit fares, parking revenues and more.

“These are unprecedented times for our city, state, country and world,” the mayor said. “We have risen to the challenges presented over the past seven weeks and have much more to surmount in the days, weeks, months and years ahead.”

The actions won’t be enough to close the shortfall, and other measures are under review, including service reductions, furloughs and use of the city’s $52 million “rainy day” fund and emergency federal funding for transit, Finance Director David Schmiedicke said.

“This is the first action; others will follow over the summer,” Schmiedicke said. “We hope to avoid layoffs, but permanent reductions are unavoidable given the severity of the economic impacts.”

The mayor also released instructions for the 2021 capital budget, calling for austerity with a focus on recovery needs.

Freeze property taxes Local governments must consider cuts and furloughs too

Scott Girard:

Property-wealthy school districts such as Madison, which receives only 23.3% of its instructional funds from the state, may be in a relatively more stable position because money collected from property taxes makes up a larger chunk of its budget, according to the report.

But Jason Stein, research director for the Wisconsin Policy Forum, said the funding future for all districts is uncertain, regardless of how much they rely on state money, particularly if lawmakers freeze or reduce state-imposed spending limits or if school boards are hesitant to raise property taxes to make up for lost state aid.

Ultimately, all school districts will have the “unusually difficult and speculative task” this spring of planning 2020-21 school year budgets, which need to be initially approved by July 1, the report said.

Future of Madison School District’s budget unclear as state tax revenues plummet amid COVID-19 pandemic

Statewide, districts have seen a growth in fund balances — or money not yet assigned for specific uses — between 2012 and 2018, which is the last year data were available, the report said.

The Wisconsin Public Policy Report.

This has happened before – the state cut aid to schools in the wake of the Great Recession and essentially froze aid in one of the years following the 2001 recession. The move could hit districts in Wisconsin particularly hard given our system of funding schools.


WPF’s report also details district fund balances around the state, for which Madison has the “largest unassigned fund balance” in raw dollars among the state’s 20 largest districts at $53.7 million, though it is not the largest as a percentage of a district budget. Stein added that while that is an important number, fund balances cannot be relied upon to fill long-term holes if there are cuts from the state.

Schools depend more on state aid than other local governments in Wisconsin and less on property taxes, which are more under the control of local leaders. A loss in state aid could lead to higher local property taxes or spending cuts. Districts such as the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) with the most underserved students generally depend the most on state aid while districts with greater property wealth depend more on property taxes.

School districts in Wisconsin have raised their core reserve levels in recent years and these fund balances could help to absorb part of the heavy blow from COVID-19. Yet districts still must grapple with emergency and unexpected spending from the crisis on top of the potential loss in state aid. Over the next two months, districts will be struggling to forecast these losses and needs as they craft their preliminary 2020-21 budgets.

Finally, reserve levels vary quite widely by district and MPS is one notable exception to the trend of larger fund balances. Though the recently approved $87 million referendum will help MPS going forward, the lack of reserves could exacerbate the challenges ahead for the state’s largest district. In addition, the 20 largest districts started 2019-20 with generally healthy balances overall but were expecting a modest decline in reserves this year even before the coronavirus hit.

Professors at Ohio U say tenure-track faculty cuts can’t simply be blamed on COVID-19, but rather long-term financial mismanagement.

Colleen Flaherty:

Ohio University had budget woes long before the pandemic. Professors were fighting probable cuts to instruction even as the coronavirus bore down, so they welcomed a March email from President M. Duane Nellis saying that cuts to personnel were on pause.

The reprieve is apparently over. According to accounts from affected professors and their colleagues, some program and department chairs have begun notifying tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty members that their contracts will not be renewed.

That’s in addition to 140 layoffs of unionized maintenance and other personnel announced last week in what some have called a “May Day massacre.”

The university has acknowledged the union layoffs, linking them to state funding losses and $18 million in student housing, dining and parking fee refunds related to the pandemic. But administrators say no final decisions about faculty nonrenewals have been made.

Resisting Open Records Requests at the taxpayer supported Madison School District

Scott Girard:

The Cap Times submitted an open records request the morning of Jan. 17, the deadline for residents to submit feedback through an online form, asking for “any and all public feedback on the Madison Metropolitan School District superintendent finalists, submitted online or via forms at the public forums, as of 8 a.m. Friday, Jan. 17.”

In late February, the district initially denied the request entirely, citing concerns about privacy and limiting people’s willingness to participate in future public input opportunities. The Cap Times said it was going to run a story about the denial and asked for comment, and the decision was reversed. The records took nearly two more months to deliver as staff redacted names and emails from the forms and then the pandemic delayed that work.

Notes and links on Madison’s 2020 Superintendent search.

2013-2019: Jennifer Cheatham and the Madison experience.

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

Waiting for Congress to Bail Out Schools Is a Risky Game of Chicken. Time for Districts to Come Up With Plan B — and for States to Help

Marguerite Rosa:

School system leaders and Congress are engaged in what could be seen as a game of chicken. Superintendents from 62 big urban districts signed a Council of the Great City Schools letter to congressional leaders saying schools need a $200 billion federal bailout to avert a “catastrophe” with “profound” consequences for the nation. Without the money, the superintendents warn, they will have no choice but to lay off some 275,000 teachers, spelling disaster for student learning, with ballooning class sizes and students taught by unqualified teachers.

This federal ask seems an incomplete strategy to stave off the envisioned doom. Districts need to start work on a Plan B — and they need it now.

With grim financial forecasts for K-12 education next year as the epidemic unravels the economy, it’s an understandable first move to work on the revenue side of the equation for schools. Politically, leaders don’t want to make cuts if districts can get more money from the federal government, a.k.a. taxpayers, instead. But education is just one of many sectors looking to the federal government for a lifeline. And some in Congress already have signaled that a bailout for states and districts isn’t a priority. As the saying goes, hope isn’t a strategy.

Not hope alone, anyway.

December, 2019: Madison increases property taxes by 7.2%, despite tolerating long term, disastrous reading results.

Failing Our Students in a Crisis

John McGinnis:

The technology for teaching remotely had been nearly perfected by the time the coronavirus hit us. Zoom, an online networking service, has allowed me to call on a student in my administrative law class just as I could when I was in a physical classroom. While answering the question, the student then goes to the center of the screen, commanding everyone’s attention. Indeed, students can now be more easily understood by their classmates than if they were in a distant part of a physical classroom. When I lecture, the focus returns to me. And all this can be accomplished with complete social distancing.

But the crisis has also shown why such technological progress does not maximize learning if our educational institutions are mired in an ideology that prevents full use of these tools to adapt to a crisis. Many professional schools, like mine, as well as colleges and K-12 schools, have made decisions that frustrate the continuation of deep learning. They have done so from self-defeating egalitarian ideals and a sentimentality that encourages learned helplessness in our students.

Let’s begin with the institutions I know best. Law schools have almost uniformly decided to utilize a “pass-fail” grading system even though most of them only had a few weeks left in the semester. Pass-fail has many costs. It reduces the incentives to master the material. It impedes signaling the quality of students to employers. While some professors would like to go pass-fail all the time, the advantages of grading are so obvious that all law schools grade (although some of the super-elite schools, like Yale and Harvard, have such wide bands as to limit the meaning of their assessments). But beyond the utilitarian arguments for grading, justice militates against discontinuing the practice mid-semester. Students who have worked long and hard lose the expected reward for their labors.

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

Kathy Sierra

Adrian Kosmaczewski:

In spite of such an illustrious predecessor, it was Kathy Sierra who triggered a major, deeper change in the way programming was taught. To be honest, the books by themselves would already have been a major triumph. Her work happened at a time where the dot-com boom opened the door for new ideas, right in the middle of the Web 2.0 craze, and right before the rise of the smartphone and social media.

Through the use of comic images, unusual text layout, and a fantastic sense of humor, Kathy Sierra argues, readers can learn the concepts easier; tricking the brain into the proper levels of dopamine. The level of self-derision is such that the cover image on the introduction chapter of “Head First Design Patterns” features a 1950s couple saying “I can’t believe they put that in a design patterns book!”

Riding on top of the Head First success, O’Reilly started new series, most notably the “Beautiful” series, featuring books with interviews; comes to mind the fantastic “Masterminds of Programming,” which we will cover separately in a future edition. Many more Head First books came out, some of which, in the cover photo, sit proudly in my bookshelf.

The Head First books are a hallmark, reaching a perfect equilibrium between accessibility and relevance; something that both the “For Dummies” series and most Addison Wesley books overshot, in absolutely and completely opposite directions. Funny without being quirky; memorable without being childish; and correct, without being pedantic.

UW professors rethink final exams, mark bittersweet end of year

Yvonne Kim:

To most fairly assess a semester that has been far from normal, professors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are taking liberties with final exams and projects.

Approaching the standard finals week, which runs from May 3 through May 8, many instructors have eased grading requirements or time constraints. They have become more accepting of peer collaboration or open-note exams and may even extend these accommodations into future semesters. Some worry about opportunities to cheat, but not too much — mostly, they trust their students and want them to learn, not stress.

Genetics 564 is a capstone course in genomics, but professor Ahna Skop also calls it a lesson in collaboration and communicating science, two goals that have been challenged since UW-Madison transitioned all spring coursework online in March. Before the pandemic, her 16 students would gather in pairs each Tuesday to present scientific papers, sometimes getting up and switching seats to review their classmates’ work. Thursdays are lab days, which Skop said have frequently run long with the disruptions associated with video calls.

Skop, who has dyslexia and relies heavily on non-verbal cues for assessment, paid for video software to use with her class. Though the final project she assigned remained the same — creating a website with a written grant and visually presenting it to the class — her students have realized in the process that “talking for 15 minutes by Zoom is so exhausting.”

Critics of Racine schools’ $1 billion referendum file legal challenge

Annysa Johnson:

Opponents of the $1 billion referendum passed by the Racine Unified School District last month are asking the courts to intervene, saying hundreds of voters were disenfranchised when their ballots were rejected and that the recount was biased because it was conducted by the district itself.

The referendum, which gives the district the go-ahead to spend $1 billion on its buildings over the next 30 years, passed on a five-vote margin April 7 and was certified following a recount in late April.

Voters representing local political and government watchdog groups filed the appeal in Racine County Circuit Court on Friday, saying “the integrity of the vote … was completely lost and is not recoverable.”

“The counting was unreliable. And we’re talking about a billion dollars,” said George Meyers, one of the plaintiffs who filed on behalf of the group known as HOT — for Honest, Open and Transparent — Government. “I think they should just redo the whole election in November.”

Racine Unified spokeswoman Stacy Tapp said the district was required to oversee the recount but did so with help from city and county clerks and an attorney. She said the canvassers included district staff and poll workers, that the process followed Wisconsin Elections Commission procedures and that the district streamed it live on Facebook.

“It was transparent, and decisions made by the Board of Canvassers were consistent,” she said in an email to the Journal Sentinel Saturday. “The petitioners were present and able to observe every step of the process.”

A Reprieve for Madison Property Taxpayers (taxes up substantially)

Abigail Becker:

The state’s COVID-19 Relief Bill, which Gov. Tony Evers signed into law April 15, included provisions to help counties and municipalities defer property tax payments. This allows Dane County to adopt a resolution enabling municipalities to waive interest and penalties on 2020 property tax payments due after April 1 until Oct. 1. 

“Many in Dane County are currently experiencing financial hardships, and we want to do as much as we can to help our residents and families make ends meet during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said in a statement Monday. “By giving local governments the opportunity to delay property tax due dates, we hope to help residents feel relief and get more time and flexibility to meet this expense.”

Parisi, Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and other local elected officials announced the news at a Monday press conference held on the steps of the City-County Building. All attendees were encouraged to stand six feet apart. The press conference was recorded and can be viewed online

In 2019, $3.7 million of unpaid property tax bills was turned over to the county July 31. Of that, $1.5 million was due to the city and the remaining $2.2 million was due to the other taxing jurisdictions like schools districts and Madison College. 

The remaining property taxes due between now and July 31 total over $100 million, according to the resolution before the City Council. 

Wisconsin counties and municipalities rely heavily on property taxes as a source of income. In 2018, counties generated $2.2 billion from property tax revenue, according to the Wisconsin Policy Forum. 

December, 2019: Madison increases property taxes by 7.2%, despite tolerating long term, disastrous reading results. Notes and links on our property tax increases, here.

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

NOW will Madison take teen car thieves seriously?

David Blaska:

All hail Chris Rickert and the Wisconsin State Journal for a bang-up job exposing the revolving-door criminal-justice system here in Dane County WI.

Trouble down a one-way street” deserves to be read, saved, and discussed as the basis for action before someone gets killed. Oh, wait, someone HAS been killed. (“Car thief jailed in deaths of two in Madison.”)

Madison’s daily newspaper reports juvenile car thefts have increased threefold-plus in three years, from 53 in 2016 to 185 last year. Car thefts this year are on pace to blow well past that, projecting to 227!

The State Journal’s poster child is one Treveon D. Thurman. Now age 18, Thurman’s record of home invasions and 11 car thefts is impressive. We count 29 criminal charges listed on the State circuit court access site! All since last June! The only reason we know about them is because they’re now in adult court. Juvenile records are confidential, a big secret. Which is part of the problem. We learned of:

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

K-12 Governance: “13 Years Later, Nothing’s Changed” deja vu

Laura Waters:

I’ve spent a fair bit of time recently on Asbury Park Public Schools at the behest of residents and staff members who have asked me to weigh in on the proposed 2020-2021 budget that the Board will approve on Thursday.  People are alarmed: They’re looking at a 22% school tax increase and, judging by reports of last week’s meeting, which I reported on here, Board members seemed fairly clueless about the details.

Why? Because in 2007 the State Legislature appointed a Fiscal Monitor to Asbury Park due to a long history of fiscal mismangement and growing deficits. Back then the New York Times reported that Board President Robert DiSanto was disappointed the district couldn’t manage on its own but “whatever it takes, whatever we need. It is important for a district that has been in decline for more than 30 years.”

Thirteen years later, nothing’s changed. The current fiscal monitor is Carole Morris, 81, who was appointed in 2014. She has a storied past (described here), appears to control matters both fiscal and non-fiscal, and earns an annual salary of $171,000 (as of 2014 — couldn’t find more recent data) plus her annual pension payment of $141,611 from when she worked in the Manasquan district.

Part of Asbury Park’s problem is that if it gets it, it spends it, and New Jersey’s funding formula allocates way too much money to the most over-aided district in the state. Hester Prynne had to wear a scarlet “A” on her bodice for the sin of adultery. Asbury Park earns a scarlet “P” for profligacy, spending $42,000 on each student, employing far more Central Office staff than necessary (twice the state average, according to this recent audit), engaging in excessively sloppy accounting practices, and graduating students ill-equipped to be successful adults.  As state legislators try to knock some sense into our bloated school budgets, this year Asbury Park is slated to see a $5 million drop in state aid and residents have to make up the difference.

2005: When all third graders read at grade level or beyond by the end of the year, the achievement gap will be closed…and not before

2018: “The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”

Madison has long spent far more than most taxpayer supported K-12 school districts, yet…..

Unimpressed by online classes, college students seek refunds

Collin Binkley:

They wanted the campus experience, but their colleges sent them home to learn online during the coronavirus pandemic. Now, students at more than 25 U.S. universities are filing lawsuits against their schools demanding partial refunds on tuition and campus fees, saying they’re not getting the caliber of education they were promised.

The suits reflect students’ growing frustration with online classes that schools scrambled to create as the coronavirus forced campuses across the nation to close last month. The suits say students should pay lower rates for the portion of the term that was offered online, arguing that the quality of instruction is far below the classroom experience.

Colleges, though, reject the idea that refunds are in order. Students are learning from the same professors who teach on campus, officials have said, and they’re still earning credits toward their degrees. Schools insist that, after being forced to close by their states, they’re still offering students a quality education.

Grainger Rickenbaker, a freshman who filed a class-action lawsuit against Drexel University in Philadelphia, said the online classes he’s been taking are poor substitutes for classroom learning. There’s little interaction with students or professors, he said, and some classes are being taught almost entirely through recorded videos, with no live lecture or discussion.

Want to Be a Doctor? A Scientist? An Engineer? An Affirmative Action Leg Up May Hurt Your Chances

Gail Heriot:

The assumption behind the fierce competition for admission to elite colleges and universities is clear: The more elite the school one attends, the brighter one’s future. That assumption, however, may well be flawed. The research examined recently by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights provides strong reason to believe that attending the most competitive school is not always best — at least for students who aspire to a degree in science or engineering.

Schools brace for budget cuts as the coronavirus wreaks havoc on the economy

Maddie Hanna and Kristen A. Graham,:

Budget forecasters have predicted states could take big hits in revenue as a result of the coronavirus slowdown — possibly upward of 15%, said Mike Griffith, senior school finance researcher and policy analyst at the Learning Policy Institute. Pennsylvania’s Independent Fiscal Office has projected a revenue shortfall of up to $4 billion this year and next due to declines in income and sales taxes; Gov. Tom Wolf’s spending plan for next year is about $36 billion.

Compared with the recession a decade prior, when education spending by states fell by 8%, the projected losses are “massive,” Griffith said. And unlike the last recession — which took years to unfold — ”it’s happening immediately.”

A 15% cut to state education funding next year with no additional federal stimulus beyond the CARES Act could mean the loss of more than 300,000 teaching jobs nationwide, or 8% of teachers, according to an analysis by Griffith. That’s triple the teachers lost in the last recession, he said.

Freeze property taxes Local governments must consider cuts and furloughs too.

Can we emerge from troubled times and make things better for the lives of children?

Alan Borsuk:

In both cases, what do those insights say about how things can be better than before, once we go back to what we used to think was normal living?

What can we learn from all of this about what makes families and homes function at their best possible level? How are we measuring up?

What are we learning about distance learning and online education? In what ways and in what situations do they work? What could schools and communities have done to make things go better for students during this whole episode and what could they do to prepare for the future or to implement some of the positive things in the future?

Why are some schools doing far better than others in getting launched into learning programs that have some genuine value? Money is one answer, but it is definitely not the only one because there are schools serving children from the heart of Milwaukee that jumped in faster, smarter and more energetically than others. Might it have something to do with the way the schools’ broad goals and the quality of the work of the educators involved?

What are all of us who aren’t educators learning about the work of educators and what makes it successful and valuable?

What are educators learning about the lives outside of school of their students and the homes where they live, and what use can they put that knowledge to in the future?

‘A lot of wasted time’: Milwaukee parents and advocates say MPS has been too slow to start virtual learning

Annysa Johnson:

It’s been seven weeks since her 10-year-old son’s school was forced to close because of the coronavirus, and Crystal Manuel has been frustrated.

She gets a weekly robocall from his principal at Townsend Elementary School in Milwaukee. But until Friday, she had yet to hear from any of his teachers.

He shares the family laptop with his older brother because he hasn’t received the Chromebook from his school. And while he could access Milwaukee Public Schools’ educational games, virtual field trips and other online resources, Manuel said, until Friday, there were no actual assignments, no interactions with teachers and no clear explanation of expectations.

“I have educators in my family that live in different states, and I see teachers calling students, doing Zoom, texting, FaceTiming — even teachers working with kids through windows and doors,” said Manuel, who wants her son to have the same kind of learning experience.

“It’s just discouraging,” she said last week. “I don’t want this pandemic to put him behind, and then he has to play catch-up next year. It’s just a lot of wasted time.”

Madison’s Infinite Campus expenditures have been a missed opportunity. The District last  published a usage survey in 2012….

Madison La Follette High School sophomore part of national youth group documenting COVID-19 experience

Scott Girard:

A La Follette High School sophomore is one of 22 high school students around the United States documenting her COVID-19 experience and trying to connect youth in the community with resources they need.

Lilyana Sims began working with the Mikva Challenge, a nonprofit organization focused on uplifting youth voice, about three-and-a-half years ago. Organizers contacted her about being part of the new National Youth Response Movement team in March, and after looking at who else had been invited, she knew she was going to take part.

“I was very in awe of the other people they had chosen because it’s a bunch of really powerful, intelligent students around the United States,” she said. “I was like, ‘Woh, this is where I want to be.’”

Over the last four weeks, Lilyana said, the group has developed three priority issues for its work: access to education, access to mental health and health care, and helping to create a sense of community in their neighborhoods while following public health guidelines. For now, they’re using hashtags like #GetupSpeakUp and #MikvaQuaranteenChallenge to connect with other teens beyond the group’s members.

A press release from the Mikva Foundation announcing the group’s creation states the council will “elevate youth voice and inform policy decisions during the COVID-19 outbreak.”

Harvard & Jeffrey Epstein

Diane E. Lopez, Ara B. Gershengorn and Martin F. Murphy:

On September 12, 2019, Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow issued a message to the Harvard Community concerning Jeffrey E. Epstein’s relationship with Harvard. That message condemned Epstein’s crimes as “utterly abhorrent . . . repulsive and reprehensible” and expressed “profound[] regret” about “Harvard’s past association with him.” President Bacow’s message announced that he had asked for a review of Epstein’s donations to Harvard. In that communication, President Bacow noted that a preliminary review indicated that Harvard did not accept gifts from Epstein after his 2008 conviction, and this report confirms that as a finding. Lastly, President Bacow also noted Epstein’s appointment as a Visiting Fellow in the Department of Psychology in 2005 and asked that the review address how that appointment had come about.

Following up on President Bacow’s announcement, Vice President and General Counsel Diane E. Lopez engaged outside counsel, Martin F. Murphy of Foley Hoag, to work with the Office of General Counsel to conduct the review. Ms. Lopez also issued a message to the community provid- ing two ways for individuals to come forward with information or concerns about Epstein’s ties to Harvard: anonymously through Harvard’s compliance hotline and with attribution to an email ac- count established for that purpose. Since September, we have interviewed more than 40 individu- als, including senior leaders of the University, staff in Harvard’s Office of Alumni Affairs and Development, faculty members, and others. We also collected and conducted targeted searches and reviews of more than 250,000 pages of documents, including records from the development office and, pursuant to procedures the University adopted in 2014 and amended in 2015, emails

This report summarizes the principal facts we have learned in the course of the review, and makes recommendations based on those findings. Our findings and conclusions are drawn from (and therefore necessarily limited by) the documents we reviewed and credible information provided by the individuals.

The Politics and “Pretentiousness” of Reading James Joyce

Brianna Renix:

n The Media, there has been a great deal of ink spilled over the matter of “the left-liberal divide.” What, exactly, is the difference between a “leftist” and a “liberal”? To what extent are these groups ideologically, as opposed to aesthetically, distinct? How far can they trust each other? Are they implacable foes with fundamentally irreconcilable worldviews? Do they have enough shared goals to make political collaboration feasible? Although I can’t presume to answer all of these weighty questions, I can state that Leftists and the Liberals do have at least one area of transatlantic common ground, and that is this: being publicly railroaded for talking too much about Ulysses.

Liberal darling and overgrown Student Council President Pete Buttigieg is, of course, the most notorious Ulysses fan on the modern political stage, having repeatedly commented on his fondness for the novel and put it on his official list of Favorite Books. When asked about Ulysses by an Esquire interviewer, Buttigieg described it as an “extremely relevant” book: “it is a difficult text, but its subject matter couldn’t be more democratic. It’s about a guy going about his day for one day. … You’re in this guy’s head, and you’re kind of seeing life through his eyes, and at the end through his wife’s eyes. That’s how politics ought to be, too.” (Boy, politics would be a rough business if seen through the eyes of candidates’ wives! Relatedly, Beto O’Rourke has also occasionally claimed to be a fan of Ulysses.) The reaction on social media was polarizing: Buttigieg was enthusiastically commended by a number of fans who were excited by the prospect of having an “erudite” president in the White House, and dragged by an equivalent number of people questioning whether Buttigieg, or indeed any other human being, has actually read Ulysses. “No person on earth has ever read Ulysses,” wrote one internet commentator. “James Joyce probably gave it a quick skim.” Others rolled their eyes at Buttigieg’s affinity for “difficult” white male authors, and demanded to know if he had ever read a book by a woman.

But lest you run away with the idea that talking up Ulysses is solely the provenance of Rhodes Scholar resume-padders, the rumpled, jumper-wearing leftist Jeremy Corbyn also recently spoke publically about his love of Joyce’s novel. In 2019, just before Bloomsday (the unofficial Joyce “holiday” on June 16, chosen because all the action of Ulysses takes place on June 16, 1904), Corbyn told a Guardian reporter that Ulysses was his favorite novel, recalling that “like many people, at first he found the book ‘incomprehensible’. But then ‘you stop trying to focus on the narrative and start just enjoying the vignettes.’” Like Buttigieg, Corbyn highlighted the book’s down-to-earth quality as a kind of political virtue: “Joyce references and richly describes what’s happening in the street. So somebody is holding forth about a big political issue and then the refuse cart goes by. Whenever there is a big political issue on, I walk around the streets in my area … Politicians should never forget that people have lives to lead and they often have dreams they don’t talk about.” Corbyn then suggested that ordinary people should try to read and enjoy Ulysses, and not feel intimidated by the book’s reputation: “Read a little bit at a time and think about it and then move on, but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t understand it.” As Jacobin catalogued in an article entitled “Ulysses Truthers Are the Latest Threat to Corbyn,” these remarks inspired a slew of attacks from right-wingers and centrists questioning whether Corbyn had “really read” Ulysses, hinting that Corbyn—who did not attend Oxford or Cambridge, nor ultimately finish his college degree at all—couldn’t possibly have done so.


Ron Fein:

It’s been a minute, right? A few months ago, you were talking smack about my year in a cabin. Now you’re trapped in your condo in Yonkers or the backside of Amherst or wherever, and you’d trade it in a heartbeat for 150 square feet and a whole forest full of owls and frogs and shit.

Don’t play dumb, bruh. You’ve spent most of your short career trash talking me. Every damn fall, you tell your first-year Am Lit seminar that I’m completely full of shit. You stand there in your goddamned tweed jacket with the suede elbow patches, and tell the kids how my experiment in self-reliance was all just a sham. Then you angle your head just so, and say something snarky about “performative solitude” or “cabin porn.” And for the coup de grâce, you proclaim that I was never really alone at Walden Pond, because I had regular visitors.

Bitch, I disclosed my visitors — I wrote a whole damned chapter called “Visitors.” Can’t blame me if some debutante from Darien didn’t read it. And who’s entertaining visitors now? Not your quarantined ass.

So sue me if my social distancing included regular visits from a Canadian woodchopper and multiple half-witted men from the almshouse. You, my friend, are leading a life of quiet desperation, where your only contact outside of Zoom is a fast-food delivery guy who you pay by app.

And yes, I did walk into Concord from time to time. Sometimes a man’s got to take care of bidness. And sometimes a man’s got to bring his dirty laundry home to his mother. Your students found that real funny. But they’re not laughing now that they’re back home in Bergen County.

Hey, I get it. Life has changed! Before the coronavirus, you were busy with this and that and the other, plus faculty meetings. Back in 1840s Concord, it was the same shit, but worse. Imagine that instead of that prissy early modernist who just lateraled over from Colgate, your local competition was Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott, and Nate Hawthorne. Jesus, the pressure was unbearable.

For Sale: College Campus, Convenient to New York City, Castle Included

Oshrat Carmiel:

The College of New Rochelle has a 15.6-acre campus with tree-lined paths and a 19th-century castle and it’s just 20 miles from New York City. But is it worth $50 million?

The school, founded as a Catholic women’s college in 1904, filed for bankruptcy on Sept. 20, crushed under the burden of $80 million of liabilities, including $14 million to bondholders. It’s relying on the value of its campus — its biggest asset — to repay creditors. The campus will be sold at auction in November, but brokers retained by the school have been working for months to court potential buyers — someone who might find a use for a site that includes a TV production studio, four dormitories, and a library of 200,000 volumes.

The property is zoned for residential use — but not the kind of dense high-rise towers that might make a condo developer swoon. The site would likely draw interest from other educational institutions, as well as senior housing, or wellness and lifestyle firms, said Jeff Hubbard, executive managing director at B6 Real Estate Advisors, which is handling the campus sale with A&G Realty Partners. It’s being leased through 2020 by Mercy College, which absorbed about 1,700 students from College of New Rochelle.

“This is a rare opportunity,” Hubbard said. “You’ve got an operating college with all of the things in place that you need to run an educational institution.”

Allow 529 savings plans to cover expenses related to learning from home during the pandemic

Rep Bryan Steil:

Math class at the kitchen table. Gym outside in the backyard. History class from the living room. Families of the 50 million students across the nation forced to learn at home are facing a unique financial challenge.

In a time of crisis, targeted and innovative actions must be taken to ease the burden on families, especially when it comes to at-home and online schooling. We must address the costs incurred by families, like new materials, books, laptops or online educational programs.

That is why I am leading an effort in Congress to allow parents to use 529 funds to cover their child’s expenses during the pandemic. A dozen of my colleagues and nearly 50 national and state organizations agree with me: families should have the ability to use their education savings for distance learning expenses without penalty.

529 plans were designed by Congress to allow families to save money tax free for their child’s education expenses. Many families have taken advantage of this program. Currently, 529 plans can be used for college tuition and fees, K-12 tuition, and apprenticeship programs. However, under current law, using this money for costs incurred by virtual learning is subject to burdensome federal taxes and penalties. This must change.

A free college plan that pays for itself

Marguerite Roza, via Deb Britt:

As the national debt soars with pandemic bailouts, ideas like free college drift further from the headlines. Meanwhile, the effects of the economic carnage mean that college goers and student loan payers are falling further into debt. But what if there were a way to pay for college that didn’t boost federal debt or further burden taxpayers?  

Here’s an idea that just might work.

Let’s say the federal government offered $10,000 each year to students to pay for college — or to pay off their student loan debt — in exchange for postponing by one year the age they become eligible for Social Security and Medicare benefits. Those who choose to could exercise this offer for up to four years, for a total of $40,000; in doing so, they accept that they may have to work four years longer at the end of their careers. (Americans born after 1960 are eligible for full Social Security benefits at age 67, while Medicare currently starts at age 65.)

Here’s why this could work. A person in retirement draws average Social Security and Medicare benefits that cost the federal government over $30,000 each year ($18,036 in Social Security and $13,431 in Medicare). So, every year of $10,000 paid for college costs would reduce future obligations by over $30,000, in today’s dollars. For every year of delaying eligibility, the federal government nets a savings well in excess of its up-front investment. (Notably, the federal government already administers most student loans, and Treasury considers accounts payable as federal assets, so it wouldn’t be a radical departure to shift to this set-up.)

Critically, this model is entirely voluntary. No one would be forced to take dollars now in lieu of dollars later; every American could make their own choice.

Equally critical: Americans who don’t participate don’t get stuck paying for those who do.

Civics: New bill threatens journalists’ ability to protect sources

Runs Sandvik:

Online child exploitation is a horrific crime that requires an effective response. A draft bill, first proposed by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in January, intends to provide exactly that. However, technology experts warn the bill not only fails to meet the challenge, it creates new problems of its own. My job is to enable journalists to do their work securely — to communicate with others, research sensitive stories and publish hard-hitting news. This bill introduces significant harm to journalists’ ability to protect their sources.

Under the Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies (or EARN IT) Act, a government commission would define best practices for how technology companies should combat this type of material. On the surface, EARN IT proposes an impactful approach. A New York Times investigation in September found that “many tech companies failed to adequately police sexual abuse imagery on their platforms.” The investigation highlighted features, offered by these companies, that provide “digital hiding places for perpetrators.”

In reality, the criticized features are exactly the same ones that protect our privacy online. They help us read The Washington Post in private and ensure we only see authentic content created by the journalists. They allow us to communicate with each other. They empower us to express ourselves. And they enable us to connect with journalists so the truth can make the page. This raises the question of whether the bill will primarily protect children or primarily undermine free speech online.

Civics: The Inevitable Coronavirus Censorship Crisis is Here

Matt Taibbi:

Earlier this week, Atlantic magazine – fast becoming the favored media outlet for self-styled intellectual elites of the Aspen Institute type – ran an in-depth article of the problems free speech pose to American society in the coronavirus era. The headline:

Internet Speech Will Never Go Back to Normal

In the debate over freedom versus control of the global network, China was largely correct, and the U.S. was wrong.

Authored by a pair of law professors from Harvard and the University of Arizona, Jack Goldsmith and Andrew Keane Woods, the piece argued that the American and Chinese approaches to monitoring the Internet were already not that dissimilar:

Constitutional and cultural differences mean that the private sector, rather than the federal and state governments, currently takes the lead in these practices… But the trend toward greater surveillance and speech control here, and toward the growing involvement of government, is undeniable and likely inexorable.

They went on to list all the reasons that, given that we’re already on an “inexorable” path to censorship, a Chinese-style system of speech control may not be such a bad thing. In fact, they argued, a benefit of the coronavirus was that it was waking us up to “how technical wizardry, data centralization, and private-public collaboration can do enormous public good.” 

Perhaps, they posited, Americans could be moved to reconsider their “understanding” of the First and Fourth Amendments, as “the harms from digital speech” continue to grow, and “the social costs of a relatively open Internet multiply.”

This interesting take on the First Amendment was the latest in a line of “Let’s rethink that whole democracy thing” pieces that began sprouting up in earnest four years ago. Articles with headlines like “Democracies end when they become too democratic” and “Too much of a good thing: why we need less democracy” became common after two events in particular: Donald Trump’s victory in the the Republican primary race, and the decision by British voters to opt out of the EU, i.e. “Brexit.”

Elite private schools are taking federal loans — including one attended by Secretary Mnuchin’s kids

Daniel Miller, Howard Blume and Paloma Esquivel:

Brentwood School, the elite K-12 institution in West Los Angeles, has received a Paycheck Protection Program loan, according to an April 24 newsletter it sent to parents, joining a number of exclusive schools throughout the country that have secured government financial aid due to coronavirus disruptions.

The private school, which has more than 1,100 students spread across two campuses, said that the loan, approved and funded in mid-April, would “help us enormously as we move forward into a financially ambiguous future” brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the letter obtained by The Times.

Many private schools in Southern California and beyond are grappling with financial hardships, but the federal loans offered via the $660-billion PPP are designed to help pay for workers’ salaries. At Brentwood, though, the optics are unique.

Founded in 1972, Brentwood counts among its students at least two of Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin’s children, according to multiple people with knowledge of the school. Board members include actress Calista Flockhart and investor Lance Milken, son of billionaire Michael Milken, the former junk bond king.

UW-Madison orders furloughs for most employees as COVID-19 keeps campus mostly closed

Kelly Meyerhofer:

UW-Madison is ordering most of its employees to take varying amounts of unpaid time off over the next six months and university leaders will take a 15% pay cut over that same time as COVID-19 costs grow and the campus remains mostly closed.

“We will face this challenge as a community, asking for a shared sacrifice among faculty, academic and university staff, while expecting the largest contributions from our leadership and highest earners,” Chancellor Rebecca Blank said in a Wednesday email to employees.

Officials estimate the furloughs and pay cuts will save UW-Madison up to $30 million of an estimated $100 million shortfall resulting from the coronavirus outbreak.

K-12 Tax, Referendum & Spending Climate: Groups Find “Common Ground” On Nearly $800 Billion in Cuts To Wasteful Federal Spending

National Taxpayers Union:

In a report released Thursday titled Toward Common Ground 2020, the National Taxpayers Union Foundation and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund laid out a set of over 50 bipartisan, cost-saving proposals for the federal budget totaling nearly $800 billion.

Before the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the U.S. was already on track to surpass a $1 trillion deficit this year, the only time in U.S. history outside of the Great Recession. The unprecedented public health and economic crisis has necessitated more than $2 trillion in relief and recovery spending so far. With the House expected to approve more emergency funding today, and more spending packages likely on the horizon, the deficit and debt will continue to rise even higher.

Once Americans’ most immediate needs are taken care of and the outbreak starts to subside, lawmakers will face the challenge of adopting a 2021 federal budget at a time of reduced revenue.

K-12 Tax, Spending & Referendum Climate: Freeze property taxes Local governments must consider cuts and furloughs too

Dave Cieslewicz:

There have been no cuts, furloughs or reduced hours for municipal workers in the City-County Building or anywhere else in city government yet.

It’s time for local governments in Dane County to make some cuts in response to the economic dislocations caused by the coronavirus epidemic. And, unfortunately, to be meaningful they’ll also have to be somewhat painful. 

Thousands of small business owners and their workers have been without income or suffering drastic reductions in their pay for the last month or more. One in three Wisconsin small businesses may never reopen their doors. Big businesses are hurting too. Madison’s Exact Sciences recently announced $400 million in pay and benefit cuts, including voluntary and involuntary furloughs and reductions to executive pay and director compensation. 

You might think that in the midst of a pandemic the last people to get hit with pay cuts would be health care workers. You would be wrong. UW Health and UnityPoint, which owns Meriter Hospital, recently announced 15% pay cuts for doctors and 20% cuts for senior administrators plus unpaid furloughs for other workers. SSM Health, which owns St. Mary’s and Dean Health clinics and facilities in three other states, just announced that it would furlough about 5% of its workers. 

Other state and local governments are acting as well. The city of Los Angeles is planning to impose 26 unpaid days of leave on its workers while Detroit has laid off 200 and furloughed others. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat and a short list candidate to be Joe Biden’s running mate, has furloughed 6% of the state’s workforce. 

And just Wednesday, as this blog was being finalized, Gov. Tony Evers’ administration announced a 5% cut in state spending, though no specifics are available yet. 

Yet, despite all that, the city of Madison, Dane County and the Madison Metropolitan School District have not cut, furloughed or reduced hours for their employees. It’s just not plausible that cuts aren’t possible and not acting will create a growing credibility problem for these institutions. It’s time for local leaders to make some really hard choices.

Notes, links and commentary on Madison’s planned 2020 tax and spending increase referendum plans.

David Blaska:

Cieslewicz gets the resentment felt by the Safer at Home protesters. 

  • Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is estimated to be 27% due to closures and social distancing orders aimed at slowing the spread of the new coronavirus.

  • National GDP dropped 4.8% in the first quarter, which only caught the first weeks of the national shutdown.

  • “One in three Wisconsin small businesses may never reopentheir doors,” Cieslewicz writes. Yet … yet … yet

Meet Two Small Business Owners Fighting to Open Wisconsin

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

Madison School District sticking to ‘pass/no pass’ for high schoolers during COVID-19 closure despite some calls for letter grade option

Scott Girard:

A survey with more than 550 signatures is calling for the Madison Metropolitan School District to offer the option of letter grades to high school students during virtual learning, but district officials are maintaining their plan for a “pass/no pass” system.

The district announced it would use the “pass/no pass” grading system earlier in April to do the least harm to students’ grades, given the unprecedented shift to virtual learning for students and staff and inequitable access to the internet.

While that aligned with a petition started by some high school staff members and signed by more than 100 people, some students are disappointed they no longer have the opportunity to raise their grade point average. West High School senior Cris Cruz said he’s been trying to get his GPA up to a 3.8 since his freshman year.

“For a lot of students including me, the transition between middle school and high school is sometimes rough,” Cris said. “Students spend the rest of their high school careers trying to improve their GPA because it isn’t until later on that we understand how important GPA is.”

The district’s policy freezes students’ GPAs as they were at the end of first semester. Staff reiterated Wednesday during a virtual press conference that allowing some to opt into letter grades would “continue to create more inequity,” said Cindy Green, MMSD’s director of secondary programs and Pathways.

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

In lieu of celebration, Greater Madison Writing Project shifts online for 10th anniversary

Scott Girard:

The Greater Madison Writing Project was set to celebrate its 10-year anniversary on March 21.

Ten days before that, the University of Wisconsin-Madison closed most of its facilities and social distancing practices went into effect amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, forcing GMWP to cancel its celebration and shift its work with teachers and students online.

“It’s not the 10-year anniversary that we expected, but it’s one that makes me really confident that whatever comes next, we have strong roots and strong branches,” said Bryn Orum, an outreach specialist for GMWP.

The program, housed on UW-Madison’s campus, is part of the National Writing Project and offers writing workshops to teachers and students around the Madison area. While it initially became a site in the 1980s, it closed up shop in the mid-1990s.

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

Inside China’s Black Market for Foster Children

Zhang Wanqing:

On the Chinese social app WeChat, a father is trying to sell Sixth Tone his daughter.

“Female baby, 90K,” the man says in a private message, referring to his asking price of 90,000 yuan ($12,700). A few moments later, he posts a video of an infant gurgling in a stroller.

Sixth Tone has contacted the man as part of an investigation into China’s underground fostering networks, which help individuals circumvent Chinese adoption laws and trade children for cash.

Illegal adoption groups have been quietly active on Chinese social networks for years, despite periodic clampdowns by law enforcement agencies. But public scrutiny of the trade has intensified in recent weeks following a high-profile scandal involving Bao Yuming, a former non-executive director at Chinese telecom giant ZTE.

Bao’s foster daughter — referred to in media reports by the pseudonym Xingxing — has accused the executive of repeatedly raping her since she came under his care at age 14. Bao allegedly also sought other children to foster through instant messaging platform QQ. Bao has denied having any foster relationship with Xingxing.

Madison School District sticking to ‘pass/no pass’ for high schoolers during COVID-19 closure despite some calls for letter grade option

Scott Girard:

A survey with more than 550 signatures is calling for the Madison Metropolitan School District to offer the option of letter grades to high school students during virtual learning, but district officials are maintaining their plan for a “pass/no pass” system.

The district announced it would use the “pass/no pass” grading system earlier in April to do the least harm to students’ grades, given the unprecedented shift to virtual learning for students and staff and inequitable access to the internet.

While that aligned with a petition started by some high school staff members and signed by more than 100 people, some students are disappointed they no longer have the opportunity to raise their grade point average. West High School senior Cris Cruz said he’s been trying to get his GPA up to a 3.8 since his freshman year.

“For a lot of students including me, the transition between middle school and high school is sometimes rough,” Cris said. “Students spend the rest of their high school careers trying to improve their GPA because it isn’t until later on that we understand how important GPA is.”

The district’s policy freezes students’ GPAs as they were at the end of first semester. Staff reiterated Wednesday during a virtual press conference that allowing some to opt into letter grades would “continue to create more inequity,” said Cindy Green, MMSD’s director of secondary programs and Pathways.

Fake News, Fake Money, and Living in a World Without Authority

Andreas Antonopoulos:

Today’s talk, the title is Fake News, Fake Money and Living in a World Without Authority. So fake news has been in the news a lot lately and you have all of these accusations swirling around, right? The established media, The New York Times, The Washington Post, they’re pointing fingers and going “These purveyors of fake news,” primarily at internet-based sites, and internet-based sites are pointing right back and going, “Do you remember Judith Miller? Anybody? What about this Judith Miller? Yeah, there WMDs with aluminum tubes in Iraq. Bullshit. So fake news happens on both sides, right? And that’s really the perplexing thing. How did we arrive in a world where we can’t even tell what’s true and what isn’t?

You see well-established backbones of authority and truth like The Washington Post and The New York Times or even CNN and Fox News and other TV, CBS and ABC, and what are they doing? They’re cheerleading for a war based on false premises and that was just last week. Again, not Iraq, Syria this time, right? And you’re like, “Did we learn nothing? Did we learn nothing?” We didn’t learn anything.

How did we arrive at this world?

Why do we have this debates over fake news? And part of it has to do with the rise of the internet in the early ’90s. So work with me here, let’s walk through the steps. The internet didn’t disrupt newspapers and TV companies by stealing their audience for news. That came much, much later. First, the internet disrupted their sources of most profitable revenue. And for newspapers, that was the classified advertising section. That was where they made most of their money, small business advertising in the classified section. And the internet came along and Craig listed that shit, right? And just completely undermined it. Oh, you can do all of that free and it’s instantaneous and boom. And suddenly, all of the most profitable revenue disappears and the newspapers have to [inaudible 00:02:46].

And then it happened again with TV. They started losing advertising revenue to the new popular websites that were getting more eyeballs. So they started losing, first, the local and small advertisers who were able to position as targeted to specific demographics and audiences because they could get much more fine grained information. TV is a one way thing. You have no idea who’s watching, right? And with the internet, they could really target advertising. So TV starts losing advertising revenue, too.

So what did they do? Trim the fat, right? Trim the fat. So in newspapers, that’s oh, journalists, we don’t really need them. So no foreign desk, cut that. Investigative journalism, cut that. What’s selling more papers? Ask Judy and the astrology section and infotainment and cartoons and sensationalist news, and if it bleeds it leads. And inexorably, the long downtrend of the news industry started. They gutted their foreign desks. They gutted their investigative journalism. They gutted their fact checking. They gutted their copy editor desks.

Until what was the left was a bunch of interns running around copying the press releases of powerful corporations and presenting them as fact, and were taking notes when someone who seemingly was important said something, not questioning any of it, and just writing it down, publishing it as truth. Fake news happened because the very basis for producing truth was removed from the very institutions whose job it was to produce truth. And this caused a very weird situation because until that time, how do you know if something’s true? Well, The New York Times said it. The Washington Post said it. It was on CBS. Surely, they have fact checked it. Therefore, it’s the truth. The fundamental basis for discovery of truth was to examine the source.

You go to college. You’re writing an essay. They say, “What are you basing this argument for? Give me citations. Source your arguments. Where are the facts?” And if you took a headline from The New York Times and sourced it, they go, “Okay, great. That’s a citation that’s valid. It’s a valid source.” We used the issuer to determine the quality of what they issued. We looked at the authority of the news based on the authority of the institution that said it because that was a good model. That was a good heuristic. That gave us a good false positive, false negative ratio. It was a bet. It was a way to say, “I can’t fact check all of that, but these people have, so if I read, I will become not only educated, but also informed.”

And now, we’re in a situation where the people who watch the most TV and read the most newspapers are the least informed part of the electorate.

How did that happen? Because the institutions are still standing. Their authority is still standing in some ways. The basis of credibility is still there. They still have the big buildings and lots of circulation and big name, but the mechanism that delivered truth is no longer there. The mechanisms that ensured quality is no longer there or is significantly eroded. And what’s their response to that? We’ll try harder? No. They turn, they look at the internet and they go, “You’re fake news.”

Finding Real Life in Teaching Law Online

Jeannie Suk Gersen:

During my first year teaching at Harvard Law School, I fell flat on my face. In addition to prepping for class like a maniac, I spent an inordinate amount of time cultivating a professional aura. I always dressed up for class, did my hair, and put on makeup. One day, I found myself late getting to class. In my pencil skirt and heels, I entered the amphitheatre-style classroom from the back. My fifty students were already seated and ready. Rushing down the gauntlet of steps toward the podium, carrying my casebook, teaching notes, seating chart, and a hot tea, I felt my ankle buckle. Everything flew out of my hands and I face-planted. The univocal gasp of my students still haunts my nightmares. I thought, in that moment, that my teaching career was over, but I got up, walked to the podium, and began teaching the class, because I didn’t know what else to do. I was immediately more relaxed and comfortable than I’d ever been in the classroom—and so, it seemed, were my students, who loosened up immensely.

Earlier this month, I logged in to Zoom to teach my constitutional-law class. That day, we were covering the gay-rights and same-sex-marriage cases. I looked at my hundred and fifteen students’ faces Brady Bunched onscreen and got the first sentence out—and realized my voice was quivering and my face was contorting. I was crying in class. A friend had died in the hospital the previous evening, after years of serious pulmonary illness and a double lung transplant. I told my students and asked for a minute to turn off my camera. When I returned, the group chat had exploded with messages of support from students, which made me cry more. Loss and sadness now in the open, we continued on with learning the Supreme Court’s due-process and equal-protection doctrines.