Search results for: "cursive"

I earlier posted about an article in the New York Times that expressed concern about the loss of handwriting, as children are taught keyboarding at younger and younger ages. The article said that some researchers believe that a loss of handwriting skills may be associated with a loss of cognitive development.

As I read the comments on this post, I felt inspired to share my own experiences with handwriting and typing.

When I started public school in Houston, we used pencils and quill pens. By quill pens, I mean that the pen was dipped into an inkwell repeatedly to have enough ink to write answers. Because I am left-handed, this was often messy as I ran my hand over the wet ink, which always got smudged. I believe we were taught to write with the Palmer method, which required making round, round circles again and again. It was excruciatingly boring as my circles were never round enough.

About the time I was in third grade, there was a technological breakthrough, and we switched from quill pens to ballpoint pens. I would have said “hallelujah,” but the ballpoint pens were even messier for a lefty than the quill pens. I always dragged my hand across whatever I wrote, and whatever I wrote was smudged and my left hand was always ink-stained. To make matters worse for us lefties, the chairs in the classroom had single arm extensions, almost always designed for righties. So my natural tendency to turn my hand above my writing was accentuated because of the design of the chair. There was a brief period when my teacher tried to force me to write with my right hand, but she gave up when she saw it was hopeless.

Now, despite the Palmer method and despite being graded for penmanship, I have truly terrible handwriting. Sometimes I can’t decipher my own notes.

I was really happy the day I was able to buy a portable typewriter. It was my proudest possession. That was probably about ninth grade. I was finally freed from the bondage of my own awful handwriting.

So, from my personal experience, I am not prepared to say whether my struggles with pen and ink improved my cognitive development. I don’t know. I do think it is a good idea that young children learn to sign their names and to write notes. It is practical. I admire people with beautiful handwriting. But I was never one of them.

This is crazy, or is it?

We learned the other day that Texas Instruments is a big promoter of Algebra 2 as a graduation requirement in Texas. Why? Civic spirit, love of education, or the fact that TI supplies most of the graphing calculators needed for Algebra 2?

Now we learn from this report that a company selling cursive writing materials is a major proponent of a law requiring same in North Carolina.

Please do not misunderstand the issue here.

I believe that everyone should learn cursive writing, both to do it and to read it.

But I don’t believe that state legislatures should dictate how teachers teach or what methods are best.

I also am a firm believer in the value of knowing the multiplication table by heart, but I don’t think that lawmakers should mandate it.

I love memorizing poetry but that should not be subject to legislation either.

States like North Carolina should have high standards for teachers. They should have at least a year of study and practice before entering the classroom. They should pass tests in the subject they plan to teach. They should have support and mentors.

If they are truly professionals, let them teach.

In their eagerness to drag the schools and children of their states back to the early 20th century, legislators in North Carolina and South Carolina want to mandate the teaching of cursive writing. (North Carolina Los wants to pass a law mandating that all children memorize the multiplication tables.) these legislators usually spend their time coming up with ways to privatize public schools.

In this comment, handwriting expert Kate Gladstone explains why the cursive mandate is a bad idea.

Kate Gladstone writes:

The NC cursive bill is ill-advised and ill-motivated. Below are the most explainable reasons it is so: and all members of the NC Senate have by now received (from me and from some colleagues of mine(0) the same damning facts.)

By the way, I’ve recently learned that SOUTH Carolina has introduced [April 9th] an identically worded bill, against which I must now direct my efforts. The South Carolina bill is still in committee, and I am writing the committee-members an e-mail to try killing it there. For now, below) is my conclusion on the NC bill.

The originator of the “Back to Basics” bill, Rep. Pat Hurley (of Asheboro), has documentably committed misrepresentations during the presentation that she made, in support of that bill, to her fellow legislators.

Here is why I am concerned about Rep. Hurley with regard to this matter:

The extensive presentation already made to the legislature by the bill’s sponsor (Rep. Pat Hurley) documentably contains serious evasions or misrepresentations of fact. These are visible in the publicly available (WRAL-TV) video of her testimony — which was presumably under oath — to the North Carolina House Education Committee:

In her presentatio, Rep. Hurley asserts that the importance of cursive has been proven by research done by persons whom she identifies only as the “PET scan people.” She states that this research established that the human brain “doesn’t work” (direct quote) while one is keyboarding, and that “only one half” (direct quote) of the brain actually works while one is print-writing. (It takes cursive writing, she alleges, to allow the entire brain to work).

Since her presentation does not give a checkable source for that very surprising statement, I asked her office to please send me the research, or at least a citation that could back it up. The material she chose to send in response (which I will happily forward to anyone, on request: ) turns out, on inspection, to be seriously discrepant with the claims she makes to the House Education Committee about the research findings. (In other words: the research doesn’t say what she claims it says.) Specifically, the research she misrepresents — like other research, to be described and cited below — does not support her claim of a superiority for cursive or her claim of an essential role for cursive handwriting in education, and therefore it does not support a legislative mandate for cursive handwriting instruction.

In her presentation to the House Education Committee, Rep. Hurley denies the legality of signatures not written in cursive, which she describes as “no signatures” (direct quote), although the legality of these signatures is asserted and protected by the state and federal laws that she is sworn to uphold.

Specifically: a. The UCC 1-201(37) — North Carolina General Statutes § 25‑1‑201(37) — specifies that “‘Signed’ includes using any symbol executed or adopted with present intention to adopt or accept a writing.” b. Further, the North Carolina General Statutes 12-3(10) state, for use in statutes: “Provided, that in all cases where a written signature is required by law, the same shall be in a proper handwriting, or in a proper mark.” (Admittedly, Rep. Hurley may be choosing personally to exclude printed handwritings from the category of “a proper handwriting” — if so, she has not pointed to any legal defense or rationale for such exclusion.)

Yet another legally questionable representation made by Representative Hurley during her presentation to the House Education Committee is her claim that non-cursive handwritten signatures (e.g., printed signatures) need to be observed by two witnesses. In North Carolina, as in most states, the only signatures or marks needing witnesses are those made on a will (North Carolina General Statutes, Section 31, 3.3, on attested wills) — and in that case, two witnesses are required for all signatures (including, in other words, for cursive signatures as well as for non-cursive signatures).

Concerns other than misrepresentation of research include the significant body of research which has not been represented at all in the deliberations. This research — also forwardable by me on request — shows that the fastest, most legible handwriters do not join all letters, but only some letters: making the easiest joins, skipping the others, and using print-like shapes for letters whose cursive and printed shapes disagree. Such facts throw a revealing light on efforts to mandate a form of handwriting which requires joining all letters and using different shapes for cursive versus printed letters.

Reading cursive, of course, matters vitally. However, cursive’s cheerleaders forget that one can learn to read a writing style without learning to produce it. (If we had to learn to write every style that we needed to read, we would have to learn to read and write all over again whenever anyone invented a new font.)

For this reason, it is odd that the documents most often adduced (as the presumed evidence that writing in a particular style is the only way to learn to read that style) are the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.
Some material in each document — the Constitution’s “We the People,” for instance — is penned, not in any form of cursive at all, but in “Olde Englishe” Blackletter. Are Rep. Hurley and her supporters, crusading for cursive on the grounds that “you can’t learn to read it unless you write it,” going to call next for a mandate of “Olde Englishe” Blackletter in the elementary schools?
Reading cursive — when one does not have to learn how to write the same way — can be taught in 30 to 60 minutes to any small child who has learned to read ordinary printing. Why not just spend an inexpensive hour teaching children to read cursive — then use the time saved, and the money saved, to teach them to use some more practical form of handwriting themselves?

Most adults, after all, no longer use cursive.
In 2012, a survey of handwriting teachers (source available on request) attending a national conference sponsored by the Zaner-Bloser firm — a well-known handwriting publisher which strongly advocates for cursive — revealed that only 37 percent of these devotees of penmanship (fewer than two-fifths!) actually used cursive for their own handwriting; another 8 percent wrote in print. The majority — 55 percent — wrote a hybrid: some features of their handwriting resembled cursive, but other features of their handwriting resembled print-writing (This compares well with the research noted above, on the handwriting habits of highly effective handwriters.) Knowing this, why (and how) prioritize cursive?

The idolatrous worship cursive is not supported by fact, or by law, or by common sense. Neither should it be supported by a legislative mandate.
Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
and the World Handwriting Contest

For many years, I have been interested in the history of the Soviet Union. I found it fascinating to read about the origins of the Russian Revolution and the development of a totalitarian state, in which all freedoms were ruthlessly stamped out, and fascinating to read about the creation of a vast propaganda machine that fooled so many gullible people in the West. I read the works of dissidents like Andrei Sakharov and poets whose works were banned. I was always curious about the “cult of personality” that enabled one man to rule a vast territory with his whims. Stalin ruled as a cruel tyrant, yet millions of innocents idolized him. Why do people obey a Stalin or Hitler? How do they manage to get unlimited power? Why do people admire Trump, who is obviously a liar and a blowhard who cares about no one but himself?

In the 1980s, I read many books about American support for the USSR and the debates about Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss. I even attended a rowdy debate at Town Hall in New York City between supporters of the Rosenbergs (Julius and Ethel) and their critics. I suppose I became fascinated because of having worked at The New Leader, a small democratic socialist magazine in New York City that was founded by Mensheviks, where the debates were endless, and where I encountered not only Mensheviks, Trotskyists, Schachtmanites, Cannonites, Lovestoneites, and other schismatic groups. I also learned that Al Shanker’s secretary Yetta was married to Max Schachtman, one of the leaders of a dissident leftist group. I was only 22, and it was my first job after graduating from college. Office chatter at The New Leader introduced me to a world that I had never known existed as a kid growing up in Houston, not even in college at Wellesley in Massachusetts. At one point, I was asked to pick up an article at the apartment of Boris Nicolaevsky on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I went to the building, then to his apartment, and when I rang the bell, the door opened slightly, behind a privacy chain. I barely caught a glimpse of his face. He quickly slipped the typewritten pages to me and closed the door. I did not know anything about him. Thanks to Wikipedia, I discovered his history. He was a historic figure, but no one told me.

This article, about the disapppearance of a black man in Russia, is one of the best I have read in recent years. It was written by Joshua Yaffa and published in The New Yorker. It is long, but well worth reading.

In the spring of 1936, Lovett Fort-Whiteman, an African American man from Dallas, Texas, vanished in Moscow. He had lived in the Soviet Union for nearly a decade, most recently with his wife, Marina, a Russian Jewish chemist, in a cramped apartment around the corner from the Central Telegraph building. By then, a half-dozen African Americans had settled in Moscow permanently. Even among them, Fort-Whiteman, who was forty-six, was a striking sight. He wore knee-high boots, a black leather cap, and a belted long shirt in the style of Bolshevik commissars. Homer Smith, a Black journalist from Minneapolis and Fort-Whiteman’s close friend in Moscow, later wrote, “He had adopted the practice of many Russian Communists of shaving his head, and with his finely chiseled nose set into a V-shaped face he resembled a Buddhist monk.”

Nearly two decades had passed since the Bolshevik Revolution established the world’s first Communist state, a society that promised equality and dignity for workers and peasants. In the Soviet Union, racial prejudice was considered the result of capitalistic exploitation, and, for the Kremlin, countering racism became a question of geopolitical P.R. Throughout the nineteen-twenties and thirties, dozens of Black activists and intellectuals passed through Moscow. Wherever they went, Russians would give up their place in line, or their seat on a train—a practice that an N.A.A.C.P. leader called an “almost embarrassing courtesy.” In 1931, after the so-called Scottsboro Boys—nine Black teen-agers falsely accused of raping two white women in Alabama—were put on trial, the American Communist Party provided pro-bono legal defense, and rallies in their support were held in dozens of cities across the Soviet Union. Two years later, Paul Robeson, the singer, actor, and activist, visited Moscow and remarked, “Here, for the first time in my life, I walk in full human dignity.”

Homer Smith eventually published a memoir, “Black Man in Red Russia,” in which he described Fort-Whiteman as one of the “early Negro pilgrims who journeyed to Moscow to worship at the ‘Kaaba’ of Communism.” Fort-Whiteman, Smith went on, was a “dyed-in-the-wool Communist dogmatist” who once said that returning to Moscow after a trip to the U.S. felt like coming home.

By the mid-thirties, however, the exuberance of Moscow’s expat community had begun to wane. In 1934, Sergei Kirov, a leading Bolshevik functionary, was shot dead in Leningrad. Joseph Stalin, who had spent the previous decade consolidating power, used the event to justify a campaign of purges targeting the Communist élite. Foreigners, once fêted, became objects of suspicion. “The broom had been sweeping steadily,” Smith, who attended the hearings for a number of high-profile defendants, wrote. “Thousands of lesser victims, I knew, simply disappeared or were liquidated without benefit of trial.”

Fort-Whiteman had become a polarizing figure. He could be pedantic and grandiose, with a penchant for name-dropping. “He did his best to proselytize and indoctrinate,” Smith wrote. Increasingly, Fort-Whiteman came to argue that the Communist Party, in order to win more support among African Americans, must acknowledge that racism, as much as social class, fuelled their plight. For Marxist ideologues, this was heresy.

One day, Smith stopped by Fort-Whiteman’s apartment. He knocked a few times, and finally Marina opened the door. “Is Gospodin Fort-Whiteman at home?” Smith asked, using the Russian honorific. Marina was clearly on edge. “No, he isn’t,” she said. “And I beg you never to come here looking for him again!” From his reporting on the purges, Smith could reasonably assume the worst. He later wrote, “I had been living in Russia long enough to understand the implications.”

Like many African Americans in the early twentieth century, Fort-Whiteman’s life was directly shaped by the atrocities of the antebellum South. His father, Moses Whiteman, was born into slavery on a plantation in South Carolina. Shortly after Reconstruction, he moved to Dallas and married a local girl named Elizabeth Fort. They had a son, Lovett, in 1889, and then a daughter, Hazel. When Fort-Whiteman was around sixteen, he enrolled at the Tuskegee Institute, the historically Black university in Alabama, then led by Booker T. Washington. Moses died a few years later, and Elizabeth and Hazel moved to Harlem. Fort-Whiteman eventually came, too, finding work as a bellhop and moonlighting as an actor in a Black theatre troupe.

In his mid-twenties, he went to Mexico, entering without a passport, and headed for the Yucatán. The Mexican Revolution was under way, with upstart anarchist and socialist movements confronting the wealthy landowning class. By the time Fort-Whiteman returned to Harlem, four years later, in 1917, he was a committed Marxist.

In Russia, it was the year of the October Revolution, in which Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks, after the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, seized power and declared a dictatorship of the proletariat. In the U.S., the appeal of Communism for many immigrants and ethnic minorities was obvious: few other political philosophies at the time held out the possibility of full equality. “It can be difficult for many who think of the Soviet Union through the lens of Stalinism or the ‘evil empire’ to recognize all it seemed to offer African Americans,” Glenda Gilmore, the author of the 2008 book “Defying Dixie,” a history of the radical roots of the civil-rights movement, told me. “They weren’t delusional but, rather, thinking quite practically.”

In the years that followed, Fort-Whiteman returned to acting and began publishing theatre criticism and short fiction in The Messenger. His stories were richly imagined and often laced with a brash disregard for the era’s racial mores. In “Wild Flowers,” Clarissa, a Northern white woman with “a slight but well-knit figure,” has an affair with Jean, a Black man from the South “of pleasing countenance, and in the early flush of manhood.”Eventually, Clarissa gets pregnant, and she tries to hide the affair by accusing her husband of harboring Black ancestry.

As soldiers returned from the First World War, increased competition for jobs and housing contributed to rising racial tensions in the United States. During the summer of 1919, some twenty-six race riots broke out across the country. In Chicago, a Black teen-age boy who drifted on a raft into a whites-only area of Lake Michigan was attacked with rocks and left to drown by a crowd of white bathers. In the violent aftermath, hundreds of Black businesses and homes on the South Side were destroyed, and nearly forty people were killed.

Fort-Whiteman set off on a speaking tour, in the hope that this nationwide spasm of racist violence, known as the Red Summer, would open up African Americans to his radical message. A labor organizer from Illinois compared him to “a man carrying a flaunting torch through dry grass.” Fort-Whiteman was detained in Youngstown, Ohio, after trying to convince Black laborers to join striking steelworkers. He drew a meagre audience in St. Louis, where the police arrested him, boasting to the local papers that they had busted the “St. Louis Soviet.”

Fort-Whiteman eventually caught the attention of the Bureau of Investigation, soon to become the F.B.I. In February of 1924, an agent named Earl Titus, one of the first African Americans to work at the Bureau, saw Fort-Whiteman speak in Chicago. As Titus wrote in his report, Fort-Whiteman told the crowd that “there is nothing here for the negro, and that until they have a revolution in this country as they have had in other countries, the negro will be the same.” Fort-Whiteman added that he “would like very much to go to Russia.”

“Let’s eat somewhere that isn’t so touristy.”

Four months later, at the age of thirty-four, he got his chance: he was selected as a delegate to the Fifth World Congress, the preëminent gathering of the Communist International, to be held that summer in Moscow.

On arrival, Fort-Whiteman and other delegates to the Comintern, as the Communist International was known, were taken to Lenin’s mausoleum, on Red Square. The father of the Revolution had died six months earlier, and his body lay in perpetual state, attracting pilgrims from all over the world. Stalin had been named the head of the Party, but he had not yet solidified power. Bolshevik politics were in a liminal phase, marked by a boisterous debate over the future of Communism. Everything seemed up for grabs, including the Comintern’s policy toward recruiting and organizing African Americans.

During a session devoted to the “national and colonial question,” Fort-Whiteman was given the floor. Stalin was in the audience, along with foreign delegates such as Palmiro Togliatti, a leader of the Italian Communist Party, and Ho Chi Minh, then a young Vietnamese socialist, who had travelled to Moscow on a fake Chinese passport. Fort-Whiteman began by explaining the Great Migration: Blacks were moving north, he said, not only in search of economic opportunity but also as an “expression of the growing revolt of the Negroes against the persecutions and discriminations practiced against them in the South.”

Fort-Whiteman suggested that issues of race and class, in varying and overlapping ways, were responsible for the oppression of African Americans. “The Negroes are not discriminated against as a class but as a race,” he said, seeming to acknowledge that this was a controversial statement. For Communists, he continued, “the Negro problem is a peculiar psychological problem.”

Much of the congress was leisurely. Delegates went boating on the Moscow River and attended a classical-music concert held along the shore. At the end of the three-week event, Fort-Whiteman decided to remain in Moscow. He was invited to enroll as the first African American student at the Communist University of the Toilers of the East (K.U.T.V.). White Americans attended the International Lenin School, Moscow’s premier academy for foreigners. But, because Soviet policy deemed African Americans a “colonized” people, they were to study at K.U.T.V., alongside students from China, India, Indonesia, and elsewhere. (Ho Chi Minh was a student there; so, too, was Deng Xiaoping, the future Chinese leader.) Students spent ninety minutes a day on Russian lessons, and the rest of their time reading Communist texts.

That summer, Fort-Whiteman embarked on a tour of the Soviet Union. Gilmore, in her book, recounts that a Cossack division in Ukraine made him an honorary member; in Soviet Turkestan, residents voted to rename their town Whitemansky. The archives of W. E. B. Du Bois contain a letter from Fort-Whiteman, written “from a village deep in the heart of Russia,” in which he describes how the many nationalities of the Soviet Union “live as one large family, look upon one another simply as human beings.” He tells Du Bois of evenings spent with his K.U.T.V. classmates, staging open-air theatrical performances in the forest: “Here life is poetry itself!”

Back in Moscow, Fort-Whiteman settled into his room at the Hotel Lux, where he wrote a number of letters to top Communist officials. I read them in the Comintern archive, held in the building that once housed the Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute—a five-story edifice in what is now a posh stretch of central Moscow, across from a Prada boutique. Fort-Whiteman asked Grigory Zinoviev, a powerful Bolshevik and the head of the Comintern, about the possibility of enlisting “the discontented elements of the Negro race in America into the revolutionary movement.” He noted that, though African Americans were the most oppressed group in the United States, American Communist organizations had done little to reach out to them. Even if most Black workers had not read Marx, they had been pushed toward radicalism by the crucible of American racism. The Party, he wrote, must “carry Communist teaching to the great mass of American black workers.”

Fort-Whiteman soon returned to Chicago, where he established the American Negro Labor Congress (A.N.L.C.), a forum for Communists to make their pitch to Black workers. Not long after he arrived, he ran into Oliver Golden, a friend from his student days at the Tuskegee Institute. Golden, who was in his late thirties, worked as a railway porter. Fort-Whiteman was walking down the street in a Russian blouse and boots. Golden later recalled, “I asked him what the hell he was wearing. Had he come off stage and forgotten to change clothes?” Fort-Whiteman said that he had just returned from Russia, and asked if Golden wanted to study in Moscow. Golden remembered, “At first I thought he was kidding, but, man, I would have done anything to get off those dining cars!” A couple of weeks later, Golden was on a boat headed across the Atlantic.

That year, Fort-Whiteman dispatched ten Black students to study at K.U.T.V. “Feel assured that the university will be satisfied with the group of young men and women I am sending,” he wrote to K.U.T.V.’s director. The New York Herald Tribune reported that Fort-Whiteman hoped for his recruits to “do some real upheaving when they come home,” and that he planned to open a K.U.T.V. branch in Harlem with courses such as “Economics of Imperialism” and “History of Communism.” The journalist, clearly alarmed, wrote, “The flame of Bolshevism, kindled by Lenin and threatening at one time to set all Europe ablaze, is being quietly concentrated upon the United States through the instrument of the American Negro.”

Harry Haywood, a child of enslaved parents, who had served in a Black regiment in the First World War, helped Fort-Whiteman organize the American Negro Labor Congress. (His older brother Otto was among the men whom Fort-Whiteman convinced to study at K.U.T.V.) Haywood, in his memoir, “Black Bolshevik,” published in 1978, wrote, of Fort-Whiteman, “There was no doubt that he was a showman. He always seemed to be acting out a part he had chosen for himself.”

On the evening of October 25, 1925, five hundred people assembled in a rented hall on Indiana Avenue, in Chicago, for the A.N.L.C.’s founding convention. The program, which Fort-Whiteman had arranged, quickly went awry. A member of a “Russian ballet” company—actually made up of white American dancers—shocked by all the Black faces in the audience, shouted a racial slur. Someone yelled back, “Throw the cracker bitches out!” The company refused to go on. A Soviet theatre troupe performed a one-act Pushkin play, in Russian. “Of itself, it was undoubtedly interesting,” Haywood noted. “But its relevance to a black workers congress was, to say the least, quite unclear.

After the convention, Fort-Whiteman mounted a barnstorming tour of industrial cities, inviting press attention wherever he went. In Baltimore, the local African American newspaper wrote, approvingly, “If this is red propaganda, then for God’s sake let all our leaders supply themselves with a pot and a brush and give 12,000,000 colored people in this country a generous coating.” The white press reacted with predictable hysteria. In 1925, an article in Time referred to Fort-Whiteman as the “Reddest of the Blacks.”

Fort-Whiteman never ventured farther south, where the vast majority of African Americans lived. The A.N.L.C.’s recruitment efforts floundered. A Communist Party directive in the Comintern archive notes the failure of Fort-Whiteman’s mission, informing Party members that “all shortcomings in tactics and organization must be frankly brought to light.” One high-ranking Black official in the Workers Party of America declared that the organization ended up “almost completely isolated from the basic masses of the Negro people.”

Fort-Whiteman was removed as head of the A.N.L.C. in 1927. It appeared that his great ambition had failed: he hadn’t convinced many African Americans that socialist revolution was a means for combatting racism, nor had he convinced his Communist brethren in Moscow that African Americans were oppressed based on their race. But Fort-Whiteman wouldn’t let the matter drop.

In an article in the Comintern’s official organ, he wrote that “race hatred on the part of the white masses extends to all classes of the negro race.” This debate about the roles of race and class in the perpetuation of inequality continues among leftist activists and thinkers today. “It was clear then, as it is now, that, in America, race classes you,” Gilmore told me. “Fort-Whiteman and others were talking about which should be fixed first.” If race is a social construct, then an egalitarian revolution could be seen as a means for achieving racial equality, too. But, Gilmore added, Fort-Whiteman had a different notion: “Even as a devoted Communist, he understood that, in America, it always came down to the fact that he was a Black man.”

In the Comintern archive, I read an “editorial note” that Fort-Whiteman’s comrades later attached to his essay, calling his position “very superficial.” Fort-Whiteman, they warned, was “shifting from the Communist to the petty bourgeois nationalist point of view.”

At the Sixth Congress of the Comintern, in the summer of 1928, there was a major debate about how best to agitate for Communist revolution among African Americans. Some people within the Party pushed for recruiting sharecroppers and rural laborers in the South. Fort-Whiteman, who had returned to Moscow as a delegate, argued that it was better to wait out the Great Migration, organizing Black workers once they became urban proletariat in the factories of the North. His position aligned with that of Nikolai Bukharin, the editor of Pravda, who saw capitalism as ascendant; worldwide revolution, Bukharin argued, would have to be deferred. Stalin, of course, disagreed.

But, even as Fort-Whiteman found himself in opposition to the Communist mainstream on the “Negro question,” as Comintern ideologues called it, he was thriving in the Soviet Union. He studied ethnology at Moscow State University and spent a summer in Murmansk, in the Arctic Circle, researching the effects of hydrogen concentration in water on fish metabolism. The Moscow Daily News, an English-language paper, hired him as a contributor. His clips reflect an omnivorous mind, on subjects ranging from early radiation therapies (“The result of this experiment was a 70 per cent cure of cancerous mice”) to the fauna of western Siberia (“The expedition reports the presence of an abundance of elk”). In an interview that Smith conducted for the Chicago Defender, a Black-owned paper, Fort-Whiteman described the Soviet Union as a place where “the Negro is untrammeled by artificial racial restrictions to make a genuine contribution to human culture.”

Along the way, he married Marina, a chemist in her late twenties, although, as Smith recalls, Fort-Whiteman’s Russian was still rudimentary, and Marina’s English wasn’t much better. Soviet authorities opened an Anglo-American school in Moscow, to educate the children of foreign workers; Fort-Whiteman took a job there, as a science teacher. Yevgeny Dolmatovsky, a celebrated poet, wrote a verse about a visit to Fort-Whiteman’s classroom: “The black teacher Whiteman / Leads the lesson. / From in my heart I draw my words / From the deepest reaches within / I see again, and again, and again / You, my Black comrade!”

Fort-Whiteman was eager to mentor the other African Americans living in Moscow. He regularly hosted lunches at his apartment, where he expounded on Marxist theory and boasted about his connections to top Bolsheviks, such as Bukharin and Karl Radek, an Austrian-born Jewish Communist and a former secretary of the Comintern. He also implored his visitors to remain acutely aware of their race. This emphasis on color consciousness, which ran counter not only to reigning Communist theory but also to the everyday experience of being Black in Moscow, was often met with resistance. One of Fort-Whiteman’s guests suggested that, if he enjoyed “going around with a black chip on his shoulder,” he should return to the American South. Smith later wrote, “His Negro guests relished the food and drinks, but the indoctrination dish did not prove as digestible.”

In 1931, a production company financed by the Comintern backed a big-budget movie, “Black and White,” about the American race problem. The film was set in Birmingham, Alabama, and featured Black stokers in steel mills and domestic workers in affluent white households. Fort-Whiteman was enlisted as a screenwriting consultant. A number of aspiring Black actors in the U.S. expressed interest in taking part. Langston Hughes joined on as a writer.

In the early-morning hours of June 14, 1932, twenty-two Black students, teachers, actors, and writers set off from New York, travelling to Germany on the ocean liner Europa, and then by train to Moscow. Fort-Whiteman met them on the platform with a welcome party that included most of the city’s small African American community. As Hughes later recalled, invoking a popular spiritual, “Certainly colored comrade Whiteman didn’t look anything like a motherless chile, a long ways from home.”

The Americans spent the next few weeks dancing at the Metropol Hotel, cavorting with nude bathers along the riverfront, and embarking on love affairs. A member of the company was soon engaged to a Russian woman; Mildred Jones, an art student at the Hampton Institute, in Virginia, was pursued by an official from the Soviet Foreign Ministry. According to Smith, one couple were so engrossed in their rendezvous on a rowboat in the Moscow River that they failed to notice the boat was sinking.

Fort-Whiteman had helped write the first draft of the “Black and White” script. I found a copy at the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art, where a typewritten note from the esteemed Soviet filmmaker Boris Barnet was attached to the first page. “This picture tries to provide a historical perspective to the narrative of the enslavement of American Negroes, which is part of the general enslavement and exploitation of the capitalist system,” Barnet wrote. “Even if individual events in this picture may seem grotesque or almost incredible, the fault lies not with the author but with the viewer himself, who deliberately closes his eyes to the cruelty of the capitalist system.”

Hughes, put in charge of revising the script, found the draft “improbable to the point of ludicrousness.” He recalled, “I was astonished at what I read. Then I laughed until I cried.” A number of the film’s scenes, including one in which the son of a rich white industrialist asks a Black servant to dance at a party, were “so interwoven with major and minor impossibilities and improbabilities that it would have seemed like a burlesque on the screen.” At one point, a well-heeled capitalist hatches a plot to keep labor unrest at bay, saying, “You see, racial hatred allows us to avoid more serious conflicts.” The workers, however, aren’t having it: “The proletariat does not see racial differences,” one of the union leaders proclaims.

“Black and White” was a dream world of Fort-Whiteman’s making. As Smith put it, “He was a negro intellectual and so steeped in party dogma that he had completely lost touch with America.” Hughes told his Soviet hosts that the script was beyond saving.

In the end, the project fell apart for reasons that had nothing to do with Hughes or Fort-Whiteman. In the autumn of 1933, after years of negotiations, the United States agreed to grant formal diplomatic recognition to the Soviet regime. The agreement, Stalin hoped, would help secure the loans and the foreign machinery needed to realize his Five-Year Plan, an ambitious race to build up industry and modern infrastructure. But in return the Kremlin was required to limit its dissemination of anti-American propaganda. “Black and White” was cancelled before a single scene had been shot.

By the mid-thirties, Stalin had squelched internal debates about the pace and the objectives of the Communist project. His secret police, the N.K.V.D., was sending previously loyal Party members to an expanding network of work camps, the Gulag, in the harshest corners of the country. Smith began to sour on the Soviet Union, wondering, “Was the racial equality worth the bare subsistence living in an atmosphere filled with fear and suspicion?”

Even Fort-Whiteman was having doubts. He confided to Smith that he feared Stalin was leading the country away from the original tenets of the Revolution. In October, 1933, he sent a letter to the Workers Party head office, in New York. “I wish to return to America,” he wrote, proposing that he work as a lecturer at the Party school on East Fourteenth Street. Soviet authorities monitored the correspondence of foreigners in Moscow, and the letter was intercepted before it left the country. I found it in Fort-Whiteman’s file at the Comintern archive. A handwritten note from a top official at the Comintern’s Anglo-American secretariat, scribbled across the page, instructed subordinates to bring Fort-Whiteman in for a talk. His request to leave was denied.

Letters documenting Fort-Whiteman’s activities began piling up in his personnel file. His informal apartment gatherings were a cause of concern: “Fort-Whiteman held the most backward view that a group of this kind should not exist as a political entity nor within existing structures.” Indoctrination was the exclusive role of the Party, and Fort-Whiteman was going off script.

During the purges, ideological disagreements and skirmishes over bureaucratic positioning often blended with petty personal grievances. In April, 1935, at the Foreign Workers’ Club, Fort-Whiteman led a discussion about “The Ways of White Folks,” a new collection of fiction by Hughes, which depicts the immutability of racism with tragicomic irony. Fort-Whiteman, perhaps still stung by his experience on “Black and White,” was not a fan of the work, dismissing it as “art, not propaganda.”

William Patterson, a prominent Black Communist and a leading civil-rights lawyer, who had travelled to Moscow from Harlem some months before, was in the audience that night. He seemed to harbor ill feelings toward Fort-Whiteman, and moved to strike against him under the pretext of defending Hughes. In a letter to the Comintern, Patterson wrote that Fort-Whiteman had used his review of the book as cover for making “a very open attack upon the Comintern position on the Negro Question,” adding that Fort-Whiteman should be “sent to work somewhere where contact with the Negro comrades is impossible.”

That summer, at the Seventh Congress of the Comintern, a few American delegates met to discuss what to do about Fort-Whiteman’s efforts to “mislead some of the Negro comrades.” It was agreed that Patterson and James Ford, a Black Communist who had run for Vice-President of the United States on the Party’s slate, would take charge of the question. During the next several months, Patterson filed a flurry of letters with the Comintern. In an elegant cursive, he alleged that Fort-Whiteman had a “rotten” attitude toward the Party and was preoccupied with “the corruption of the Negro elements.”

Once a person was identified as unreliable, the pile-on was inevitable; the only danger was to be seen as inadequately vigilant in calling out class enemies. A kindly archivist passed me a summary of the “secret” portion of Fort-Whiteman’s personnel file, still technically off limits nearly a hundred years after its compilation. According to the accounts of unnamed informants, Fort-Whiteman had been overheard saying that the work of the Comintern had amounted to “empty talk,” that Stalin was a “minor” figure in the Bolshevik Revolution, and that Communists held their “white interests dearer and closer” than those of Blacks. Fort-Whiteman, one source claimed, considered himself a natural “leader of the people” who would return to the U.S. and create a movement among African Americans outside Soviet influence.

Reading the list of Fort-Whiteman’s supposed transgressions, I pictured him strolling through Moscow in those days, projecting an air of headstrong industriousness. He was still working on manuscripts and speeches, teaching, travelling, and attending the theatre—generally enjoying the kind of spirited intellectual and social life that would have been impossible in the land of his birth. In the spring of 1936, when he was ordered to report to N.K.V.D. headquarters, on Lubyanka Square, how could he have foreseen the cruelty that his adopted country was about to inflict on him? By the time Homer Smith knocked on Fort-Whiteman’s door, a few days later, he was in exile.

After the Soviet collapse, many archives in Russia were suddenly accessible. Alan Cullison, who worked as an A.P. reporter in Moscow during the nineties, spent much of his free time researching the fates of Americans in the Soviet Union. In the Communist Party archive, he found a partial record showing that Fort-Whiteman had been banished to Semipalatinsk, a distant outpost in the eastern reaches of Soviet Kazakhstan. It was a hard, unforgiving place, but Fort-Whiteman made a life for himself. He found work as a language teacher and a boxing instructor, attracting a circle of curious locals to his sports club.

Back in Moscow, the purges had taken on a fearful momentum. Radek, the former Comintern secretary, who had mentored Fort-Whiteman, was declared a traitor and sent to a labor camp. Bukharin was executed after providing a false confession at a show trial. On November 16, 1937, a squad of N.K.V.D. agents showed up at Fort-Whiteman’s apartment in Semipalatinsk. Fort-Whiteman’s investigative file at the agency’s Kazakh bureau was unearthed by Sean Guillory, a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh who is working on an audio documentary about African Americans in the early Soviet Union. The file includes the testimony of a young man, whom Fort-Whiteman tried to recruit as a boxing pupil, reporting that Fort-Whiteman had recommended foreign literature and said, “Come join my club, we’ll earn a lot of money, travel across the Soviet Union and go abroad.”

For the next eight months, Fort-Whiteman was held in a prison cell in Semipalatinsk, while a “special council” of the N.K.V.D. was assembled to decide his fate. The Kazakh prosecutor’s office sent me a copy of his case. It showed that, in August, 1938, he was found guilty of crimes including anti-Soviet agitation, slandering the Party, and “cultivating exiles around himself while instilling a counter-revolutionary spirit.” He was sentenced to five years in a correctional labor camp.

His destination was Kolyma, a region in the Russian Far East which Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn described as a “pole of cold and cruelty.” Fort-Whiteman was assigned to a network of forced-labor sites known as Sevvostlag, where convicts mined for gold and laid new stretches of road on the frozen tundra. The prisoners were outfitted with crude boots and thinly padded jackets—little defense against temperatures that regularly dipped to fifty degrees below zero.

Within a few months, Fort-Whiteman fell behind on his work quota, and his daily food rations were withheld. Camp guards beat him brutally and often. A man of so much vitality, even glamour, was reduced to a dokhodyaga, camp slang that roughly translates as “a person nearing the end of his walk.”

None of his Moscow friends had any idea what had happened to him. Among them was Robert Robinson, an African American toolmaker from Detroit who had been recruited to work in Russia by Soviet emissaries who were visiting the Ford Motor plant. Robinson ultimately stayed in the Soviet Union for more than four decades. In a memoir, he described an encounter with a friend in Moscow who had been a prisoner in Kolyma with Fort-Whiteman. “He died of starvation, or malnutrition, a broken man whose teeth had been knocked out,” the friend said.

The final document in Fort-Whiteman’s long record is his death certificate, a faded sheet of paper held in a distant archive in Kazakhstan. Just after midnight on January 13, 1939, Fort-Whiteman’s frozen corpse was delivered to the hospital in Ust-Taezhny, a settlement carved out of fields of snow. The official cause of death was “weakening of cardiac activity.” Fort-Whiteman is the only African American recorded to have died in the Gulag, but in his final moments that distinction made little difference. He was buried in a mass grave with thousands of fellow-inmates who met the same fate. ♦

Joshua Yaffa is a contributing writer at The New Yorker and the author of “Between Two Fires: Truth, Ambition, and Compromise in Putin’s Russia.”

Kerry McKeon recently received her Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Policy from the University of Texas at San Antonio in December of 2021. Her dissertation focused on neoliberal rhetoric and its use in advancing the privatization of public schools. It is titled Neoliberal Discourse and the U.S. Secretary of Education: Discursive Constructs of the Education Agenda (2017-2020).

She writes, in a summary:

Corporate reform of education has taken hold in the U.S., with neoliberal values regularly propagated and normalized—even among some public-school leaders. I witnessed this transition firsthand, beginning as a U.S. Senate aide, and then over decades as classroom teacher. In recent years, one voice has echoed above the rest, as a consequence of her privilege, power, and opportunity: former Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.Listening to her stump again and again for the privatization of public education while pursuing my doctorate in educational leadership and policy, I became fixated on her language choices. The right words can make or break a given argument, and as a teacher, I know that language is the portal to meaning-making. So, I set out to investigate her linguistic and rhetorical strategies, as she sought to drive her neoliberal agenda forward.

Using a corpus of twenty-eight DeVos speeches over her four years in office, I explored the ways she tried to influencethinking around public education in favor of privatization—and how she aimed to normalize and naturalize certain neoliberal beliefs, while minimizing, discrediting, and ignoring other problems and solutions. Given the strength of her platform as education secretary, her messages were often replicated and amplified, while other vital voices in the education community were muted.

While others have explored the causes and effects of neoliberalism’s incursion into public education, little research explores how strategic linguistic maneuvers can reshape American ideas about public education over time. To understand and unpack her persuasive strategy, I identified and mapped thelinguistic formulas and frameworks she used to influence audiences in favor of neoliberalism. When I dissected her speeches, I found neoliberal ideology layered throughout—in everything from her word choices to the personal stories she shared.

For example, DeVos repeatedly expressed disdain for the federal government’s role in education, and advocated more power to individuals and to the private sector. Even with a D.C. officeaddress, she regularly attacked all things “Washington,” including education-advocacy groups, teachers’ unions, and other experts in education policymaking. She also lambasted the elusively defined “elites,” ranging from Democratic political donors to university scholars. While distancing herself from present-day government structures, she averred a near-mythical allegiance to the U.S. Constitution and founding fathers—arguing that current federal oversight in education violates the founders’ intent for the role of government.

Likewise, DeVos expressed economic values that criticize government spending and regulation, while promoting the private sector, marketplace competition, and the rights of the taxpayer. Her economic values were articulated through keywords that celebrate the free market: innovation, results, metrics, efficiency, prosperity—all while presuming that all free-market participantsare equally capable to prosper. In doing so, she disregarded stark and obvious social inequalities that make the market an unequal space.

DeVos eschewed virtually all discussions of inequity, except when it helped her make arguments for school reform or choice. In fact, she regularly employed keywords such as opportunity, choice, freedom and options, and downplayed language relating to economic, racial, or social injustices. DeVos also decentered and discounted teachers and teacher-led classrooms, advocating instead for increased use of classroom technology, including the much-touted personalized learning (technology-enabled learning that is moving schools to a greater reliance on data, data systems and other technology products).

Over and over, DeVos proposed radical change to public schools by rooting educational values in a marketplace reality. In order to do this, she distanced herself from public schools through “othering.” She described public schools as flawed, failing monopolies, consistently underperforming, and failing to innovate. At the same time, she glorified all manner of non-public schools—charter schools, magnet schools, online schools—regardless of their records, eschewing the results and metrics she so strongly promoted elsewhere. And she often plugged a skills-based curriculum with a jobs focus. DeVos sought to create a market of education choices and so-called freedom by depicting families as customers and education as a product, while paying no mind to how communities or the democratic purposes of education may be compromised by a commoditized education system. Rarely did she speak of the important role teachers play in advancing education, and ignored any equalizing effects of education on child poverty. Indeed, she asserted, without evidence, that school-choice fixes all problems with public schools and even went as far as to say that public schools are un-American when choice isn’t an option.

In my exploration of her speeches, I identified a pattern of strategies—a framework—which I call tiered operations for ideological impact that is rooted in how we think and process information. I found that DeVos’s neoliberal ideological language is evident on three levels in her speeches: the micro, the meso, and the macro.

On the micro-level, I found that her word choices delivered a constellation of concepts to the listener. By repeating a set of neoliberal keywords, the scene is set. DeVos aligns educational values with market values, including the belief that school systems should provide “profit opportunities” for capitalists, and the primary outcome of education is to produce employees with skills employable in the free market. She continues by dividing people and things into divisive categories like good or bad, friends or enemies. Just like a novelist focuses on character development, DeVos instructs her audience on who to love and who to fear. In her narrative, the public school system is a disaster. Her anointed heroes want to dismantle the system, while her anointed villains wish to protect it. DeVos is creative with word-formation, whereby two or more words are combined to create a word cluster. These blends are sometimes charged, seeking to provoke audience anxiety or anger. For example, her phrase “the shrill voices of the education lobby” may trigger the sensation of high pitched voices or scraping chalk on a blackboard). Conversely, the blends are sometimes intended to inspire (so-called, hooray words) and thereby assist in the marketing of her ideas to her audience. In both cases, the word clusters impact the way the brain processes information by blending two concepts into a new, unified concept.

On the meso-level, she uses topics to organize her individual speeches, selecting which topics are included or left out, which topics are foregrounded or backgrounded. Through her argumentation strategy, she asserts that opponents of school choice are attacking core American values such as freedom, patriotism, and human rights. By promoting such a polarized perspective, DeVos flattens the complexity of issues, to offer a simpler version of the world in line with her own perspectives. The process of limiting audience attention to a smaller focus is known as windowing. In the current discursive climate, where individuals are exposed to huge amounts of information every day, windowing is one way to manage information overload and guide an audience to embrace a particular worldview.

On the macro-level, DeVos uses her speeches to align with the cultural climate of the current historical moment. Of particular note are ways DeVos engages in relentless “othering.” She depicts a society divided between patriots who value educational freedom and choice, and a corrupt elite who value public education in the form of community schools. Her biased and misleading claims contribute to a crisis of confidence in education. She promotespublic education as a commodity to be bought and sold in a competitive marketplace, rather than as a collective common good. She elevates choice, while humanitarian discourse is undervalued. In the process, she damages the reputation of public education, contributing to the erosion of America’s commitment to public schools an equalizing institution.

Essentially, her discursive strategies amount to a cognitive suppression of certain humanitarian, social-justice values.Furthermore, DeVos participated in populist, anti-elite, and anti-establishment discourses by positioning the privatization of education as a grassroots effort to overthrow an oppressive system. In addition, she embraces an anti-expert and anti-intellectual worldview, as she attacks education advocates, teachers, local leaders, while elevating the education outsider: the education entrepreneur. These post-truth discourses characteristically appeal to emotion and partisanship over reason and rationality. DeVos may also be furthering anti-democratic work by disparaging others in the democratic process, including public schools and teachers’ unions.

Some might highlight that DeVos’s legislative accomplishments were few. Yet, ideological acceptance almost always comes before policy change. Thus, her impact may reveal itself in time. While she failed to meaningfully impact federal law in favor of neoliberalism, she succeeded in further normalizing ideas that continue to be taken up by Republican-led state legislatures. She succeeded in shifting the federal discussion on education from matters of equity and inclusion, to delivering a manifesto on the importance of flexibility, choice, and opportunity. Increasingly, Americans are more focused on individual educational needs than the needs of the larger community. She also reframed the shortcomings of public schools as an existential threat. By invoking a narrative of crisis and a politics of fear, she commands an increased power of persuasion and betrays the possibility of pursuing more practical, modest, and cooperative modes of change.

Neoliberal political and cultural values that currently inform education policy creation can be identified and decoded, by deconstructing and analyzing the political speech of prominent actors like former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. A close look at her speeches revealed various cognitive triggers that attempt to persuade audiences. DeVos’s political speech contributes to a symphony of powerful voices in the education-policy community, whose messages are replicated and amplified, while other vital voices in the education community are muted. Public education advocates would do well to learn more about the rhetorical strategies through which neoliberal ideology is promoted

The Arizona Republic conducted an intensive investigation of the effort by the Trump campaign and discovered some fascinating details.

Rusty Bowers was talking on his cellphone to Karen Fann after church services on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, looking ahead to another hectic week.

It was Nov. 22, 2020. The counting was done and Joe Biden led Donald Trump by a razor-thin margin, but the presidential election results in Arizona still had not been certified.

The state’s House speaker and Senate president have a bond that stretches back decades, forged by family friendships. This time, the two Republicans conferred about something that surprised them both.

Fann told Bowers that the president’s allies had called her repeatedly. They wanted to get her involved in a plan to help deliver an election result more to his liking.

By then, it was clear to most that Trump had lost his reelection bid for the White House and that Arizona had helped elect Biden.

Seconds after Bowers hung up with Fann, and while he still sat parked in his driveway in the driver’s seat of his Toyota Prius, the dashboard on his car lit up.

Bowers had a phone call. It was the White House.

Trump and Giuliani wanted Bowers to help ensure President-elect Biden’s 10,457-vote win in Arizona would not be formalized a week later. They told him “there’s a way we could help the president” and Arizona had a “unique law” that allowed the Legislature to choose its electors, rather than voters, he recalled.

“That’s the first I’ve heard of that one,” a skeptical Bowers told them. He told the men he needed proof to back up their claims: “I don’t make these kinds of decisions just willy-nilly. You’ve got to talk to my lawyers. And I’ve got some good lawyers.”

Bowers told them he supported Trump, voted for Trump and campaigned for him, too. What he would not do is break the law for him.

“You are giving me nothing but conjecture and asking me to break my oath and commit to doing something I cannot do because I swore I wouldn’t. I will follow the Constitution,” he told the men.

Trump, who was gregarious throughout much of the call but quiet during that exchange, told Bowers he understood.

Trump told Bowers, “We’re just trying to investigate.”

Giuliani repeatedly assured Bowers he would send the evidence to attorneys at the state House of Representatives.

The evidence never arrived, Bowers told The Arizona Republic.

But Fann proceeded with the ballot review Trump wanted.

Why did this scene unfold in Arizona?

This is how Arizona plunged into a fog of conspiracies, riven with partisanship and targeted by opportunists from across the country.

Trump led the effort to undermine the results after some projected Arizona to slip to Democrat Joe Biden.

The state was one of two targeted by congressional Republicans on Jan. 6 who were willing to disenfranchise millions of voters in a brash legal experiment that would have redefined the election-certification process.

And even before Trump left the White House, Fann put in motion a ballot review.

Of the swing states, Arizona perhaps was the most susceptible to an election challenge.

Biden’s margin of victory in Arizona was the smallest of any state he won. State government was in Republican hands, providing plenty of potential allies, from the governor to the leaders of the state Legislature to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

Trump, who viewed the focus on Russian interference in the 2016 election as an effort to delegitimize his victory, now heaped doubt on Biden’s win. But Trump’s loyal base didn’t see how tenuous his hold on Arizona had grown. While Trump evinced confidence at rallies, behind the scenes his campaign team knew the state was up for grabs.

Trump’s push to challenge the election results in Arizona provided balm for a man unwilling to accept defeat. It also sowed lingering doubt that would fuel an attack from people all over the country on the state’s election systems.

Many Republicans quickly joined Trump’s unfounded accusations of fraud, some more forcefully than others. A few, such as Bowers and Gov. Doug Ducey, resisted the public and political pressure to get behind the narrative of a stolen election.

One Arizona member of Congress participated in protests outside Maricopa County’s election facilities even as ballots were being counted; three GOP members of Congress from Arizona later voted to set aside the state’s election results.

The circuslike atmosphere drew Trump die-hards, election conspiracy theorists and far-right media that simultaneously created buzz and fed off it.

It raised cash for Republicans and doubts for voters, threatening public confidence in elections here and elsewhere.

Interviews with dozens of people connected with the drama at the Arizona Legislature and the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, where the ballots were examined for months, make this much clear: The spectacle that unfolded here was a partisan obsession pushed by Trump’s close allies and made possible by just a handful of people in Arizona.

It didn’t have to happen this way.

Before Fann ordered the ballot review, for several days in December, Bowers, Fann and the Republican chair of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, Clint Hickman, tried to reach a deal for a joint audit conducted by an accredited firm.

Over four months, The Republic examined a trove of text messages, emails and court records, many made public after suing the state for access. Reporters spoke to decision-makers, consultants, staff, contractors, campaign aides and others tied to the review of the presidential and U.S. Senate races. Some talked on the record about their experiences, while others spoke on the condition they not be identified in order to speak candidly about private conversations.

The Republic uncovered efforts to circumvent the popular vote to engineer an illegitimate Trump victory. Once the results were certified, Trump and his allies shifted to a campaign to pressure local Republicans to overturn election results from voters who were using an early ballot system largely shaped over decades by their own party.

Trump, Giuliani, Fann and others who helped bring about the ballot review did not respond to repeated requests to discuss their recollections of the events leading to the review.

Bowers shared his story for the first time over three interviews totaling nearly six hours. The interviews took place by phone, in his office suite, and on the patio of a Cracker Barrel in the East Valley, where he verified key dates from his red leather-bound journal.

Like most of Arizona, the speaker watched the scenes unfold from the periphery as Fann steered the Senate into a probe led by the Florida-based Cyber Ninjas, a company with no prior experience in election reviews that is run by a man who publicly stated the election was tainted by fraud.

Fann has not yet explained her U-turn from favoring an accredited audit to authorizing a review led by partisans. Those who know her and did speak said she sought to quell Republican anger over Trump’s loss and could not resist the pressure campaign from his allies.

Early on, Bowers remembered offering her a stark assessment: Some of Trump’s most ardent supporters in the GOP-controlled Legislature viewed Trump’s election grievances as political opportunity.

“Karen, this is about trophies,” he said he told her. “This is about trophies on the wall — that individual members want to be able to say, ‘I forced them to do this.’”

Before the Veterans Memorial Coliseum became the proving ground for conservative conspiracies, it was the location of a rally at perhaps the high-water mark of Trump’s presidency.

The economy was in the final days of the longest expansion in U.S. history. Coronavirus seemed like a foreign problem in a faraway land. Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont who described himself as a democratic socialist, had won the New Hampshire primary the week before. Biden finished fifth.

Trump’s approval rating was inching upward after his acquittal in his first impeachment trial.

So it was on Feb. 19, 2020, when Trump strode onstage to a near-capacity crowd at the coliseum. Like most of his campaign events, it seemed to mix the noise of a rock concert, the passion of a religious revival and the sideshow elements of a carnival.

Two supporters carried Ervin Julian, a 100-year-old World War II veteran, down the coliseum’s steep stairs to a front-row seat on stage behind Trump and in front of the boisterous crowd. 

One of the men carrying Julian wore a shirt that said “We are Q” on the front and “17 WWG1WGA” on the back. It is a phrase adopted by the QAnon conspiracy movement that stands for “Where We Go 1 We Go All.”

One by one, Ducey, all four of the state’s Republicans in Congress, Fann, Bowers and Kelli Ward, the state Republican Party chairwoman, took the stage as Trump praised the state’s GOP team.

“With your help, we are going to defeat the radical socialist Democrats,” Trump said early on. “We have the best economy, the most-prosperous country that we’ve ever had and the most powerful military anywhere in the world.”

Trump’s 82-minute, triumphal speech left his supporters delighted and his campaign confident that he was well positioned to again win a state he had narrowly carried in 2016, when he defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton by 91,234 votes.

Trump’s victory that year extended Arizona’s run of wins for Republicans in presidential races. The GOP won 16 of 17 presidential contests in the state beginning in 1952.

Trump’s electrifying optimism, shared by thousands of his supporters inside the coliseum, seemed rooted in political inevitability. In hindsight, Trump’s prospects began dimming almost immediately after that rally.

Less than a month after Trump’s speech, Biden took control of his party’s nomination, pitting Trump against the candidate best positioned to win Arizona and the one Trump worried about most. The coronavirus soon exploded into a pandemic that locked Americans inside their homes, upended the political agenda and brought a sudden end to a decade-long run of economic growth.

The state’s presidential preference election on March 17 and the rapidly worsening health crisis raised the first real concerns about voting and election management in Arizona, and they largely came from Democrats.  

By then, COVID-19 was beginning to spark fear across the country, and the White House had called for a 15-day national quarantine to halt the virus. Democrats moved their final presidential debate to Washington, D.C., from Phoenix because of the widening crisis.

Sinema sent Hobbs a link to a Twitter post by a political website that said polling sites could be hazardous during a pandemic. At the time, little was known about the virus and its spread. Some feared shared items, such as pens, could help spread the coronavirus.

“File a request to the Az Supreme Court ASAP asking you (to) postpone,” Sinema texted. “This is what Ohio just … Did. You can file a special action right now.”  

“Who is this,” Hobbs responded in a text.

“Kyrsten. I would file a special action NOW. We do not want to be the state that violated the 15 day effort to stop the virus. The governor has been very slow to move on every precaution. That is his choice, I guess. But you do not have to be like that. You can do what needs to be done. I am going to say the election should be postponed publicly very soon.”

Hobbs responded, “Understood.”

Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes, a Democrat, wanted to mail ballots to every voter in the primary because of the coronavirus. 

Neither change happened, but for Republicans, who didn’t have a primary election, both ideas raised concerns about voting.

The GOP-dominated Maricopa County Board of Supervisors had taken greater responsibility for management from Fontes in 2019, especially on Election Day operations and emergency issues. But the state’s far-right figures didn’t view board members as reliable allies if there was to be a battle over results.

Meanwhile, Trump had his own worries in Arizona. 

In May 2020, the president held a meeting in the Roosevelt Room in the White House to discuss the state of play in Arizona.

Trump was worried that Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., was losing to challenger Mark Kelly and could “drag” him down as well, those familiar with the discussion said. The president wondered whether the GOP should run someone other than the incumbent against Kelly, the well-known retired astronaut. Then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who had joined the discussion, made it clear he stood by McSally.

The GOP ticket had other worries, too.

On July 1, Vice President Mike Pence flew to Phoenix to assure the public that Arizona would have enough ventilators to manage the rising COVID-19 caseload.

Privately, Pence had other matters on his mind. 

Away from the news cameras, inside a conference room in the Lincoln J. Ragsdale Executive Terminal at the Phoenix airport, Pence asked how the campaign was preparing for November.

“What is your plan for absentee early voting? Are you guys ready for any of the changes that would come of COVID?” Pence asked, according to someone familiar with the conversation. 

People on hand told the vice president that 80% of Arizona’s electorate routinely vote by mail. It startled Pence, who was following up on concerns Trump had raised because other states, such as Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania, were expanding mail-based voting because of the pandemic.

Election officials in key 2020 swing states made significant changes to their election systems. For example, Nevada sent every registered voter a mail-in ballot for its summer primary. Several Pennsylvania counties, including those in the Democratic-heavy Philadelphia area, extended the postmark deadline for that state’s August primary. 

Pence learned Arizona has signature verification and other security provisions in place. 

Arizona Republicans assured Pence they were “comfortable” with the state’s early voting system and would “keep our eye on Adrian Fontes.”

Ducey expounded on voting in Arizona during an Aug. 5 public appearance at the White House, with Trump at his side, to discuss their management of the pandemic. Trump groused about mailing ballots to voters in Nevada. Ducey defended the widespread practice in his state.

When the cameras were gone, Trump seemed pleased with the governor’s answer. The president exuberantly asked Ducey if his state needed any additional help. 

But the August primary created more anxiety for Republicans. Democratic turnout matched the GOP’s, and after Trump’s attacks on mail-in voting, many Republicans held onto their ballots until the last moment before dropping them off at the polls.

One GOP figure said the daily mailed-in returns of Republican early votes had “fallen off a cliff.” Trump’s team on the ground in Arizona was alarmed. 

Trump always had another, unique problem in Arizona that would cost him: his feud with the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

McCain forged a bond with Arizona voters over his almost 36 years in office. He won all 11 House, Senate and presidential races he ran in the state. In 2016, McCain received more votes in Arizona than Trump did.

Trump’s broadsides against McCain, extending even after his death, didn’t matter to most Republican voters. But they did matter to some, and in a close race, it had an outsized impact.

Beginning in the early days of his presidential run in 2015 and continuing into the final months of the 2020 election, Trump attacked McCain in personal terms. 

The attacks cost Trump support among women, moderate Republicans and independent voters who respected McCain and found the attacks unpresidential.

For more than a year ahead of the election, political pollsters and experts warned that Trump was in danger of losing Arizona, in part as support eroded among these key constituencies, especially in parts of Phoenix and its suburbs where the late senator had dominated his races.

Despite the warnings, Trump kept up the attacks.

At one point, Trump personally asked Ducey to help keep the senator’s widow, Cindy McCain, neutral in the race, people familiar with the request said.

A person close to Cindy McCain said the governor never asked her to withhold an endorsement in the race. A spokesman for the governor would not characterize Ducey’s conversations with McCain, saying they were private.

Though Trump’s campaign hoped “to keep her on the sidelines,” they sensed she was “moving in the wrong direction,” someone familiar with the strategy recalled. “And that’s going to be a problem for us.”

In September, The Atlantic magazine published a story citing unnamed sources that said Trump complained when flags were lowered in observance of McCain’s death in 2018.

“What the (expletive) are we doing that for? Guy was a (expletive) loser,” Trump said, according to The Atlantic.

The president denied The Atlantic’s story, although other media outlets substantiated some of the remarks attributed to Trump.

Trump responded with a tweet saying, “Never a fan of John. Cindy can have Sleepy Joe!”

Democrats followed her announcement with an ad blitz that put her words on screens across the country, especially in Arizona.

The Arizona Republican Party later censured Cindy McCain.

In a series of Saturday video conferences from their homes in the final weeks before the election, Ducey and his team advised top staffers in Trump’s campaign to maximize their visits to the battleground state with appearances outside of Phoenix.

Trump and Pence visited eight cities other than Phoenix in the final month in an effort to build a rural firewall. 

Ducey’s team suggested Trump call into country radio shows and talk about how his policies affect their jobs, their pocketbooks and their families. 

One person familiar with the calls said Trump’s political team knew “Arizona was going to be tough.” Election workers drop ballots into a ballot dropbox at the Maricopa County Elections office at 510 S. Third Ave. in Phoenix on Oct. 16, 2020.Arizona counts its mailed-in ballots first, and fewer Republicans sent in early ballots in 2020, instead dropping them off at the polls.Thomas Hawthorne/The Republic

While Trump, Pence and their surrogates zipped in and out of Arizona to try to shore up support, Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, barely visited.

The GOP campaign rallies left Republicans fired up about their prospects — and poorly prepared for an election loss.

Hours after the polls closed on Election Day, Fox News made an aggressive, but ultimately correct, call that Biden had won Arizona. Four hours later, The Associated Press followed suit. 

Arizona was the first state projected to fall from Trump’s winning 2016 coalition, and it raised the specter of further losses in states such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. All of those states, plus Georgia, eventually did flip to Biden, but it wasn’t immediately clear that would happen.

Trump responded to the quick Arizona call in an overnight news conference from the East Room of the White House that effectively gave license to his supporters to cast the election as stolen.

“This is a fraud on the American public,” Trump said at 2:30 a.m. Nov. 4 to a cheering crowd. “Frankly, we did win this election. … So our goal now is to ensure the integrity for the good of this nation.”

The president said he wanted “all voting to stop” and said his campaign would be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Instead, the Trump campaign leaned heavily on officials at Fox News, hoping to undo their Arizona projection. In the days after the quick call, Ducey’s 2018 deputy campaign manager walked conservative host Sean Hannity and two senior executives with Fox News through scenarios that indicated why the state remained within Trump’s reach. The Ducey aide gave a similar briefing to the Trump campaign.

While Trump could not fathom how periodic updates could shift the race so dramatically in Arizona, campaign insiders were long accustomed to close races and results that changed over days as ballots were counted.

Arizona counts its mailed-in ballots first, and fewer Republicans sent in early ballots in 2020, instead dropping them off at the polls. Those votes were tabulated last, after Election Day voters’ tallies.

In 2018, Sinema won her Senate seat after six days of counting. In 2016, U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., won his first primary election by 16 votes after a recount shifted only a few dozen votes over 17 days.

After the quick call for Biden in Arizona on Nov. 3, raucous protesters gathered outside the building where Maricopa County officials counted ballots.

By then, some Trump supporters suggested — falsely — that election officials provided them Sharpie pens that could bleed through their ballots and eliminate their votes. It was a conspiracy theory amplified in conservative circles, including by Eric Trump, the president’s son.

For people like Fontes and Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone, also a Democrat, it was not a moment to explain the intricacies of ballot markings; they feared violence.

Dozens of people — some clearly carrying firearms — swarmed the parking lot area outside the county’s election offices.

Mindful of the deadly clash in 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, Penzone put several armed response teams inside the building and had dozens of other deputies in the area on standby “to protect the systems, the ballots, the people — everything in there.”

Fontes, the county recorder, called it a necessary response to a charged situation. At one point, the angry crowd pulled an election worker into their unprotected area.

“This person literally had to get physically wrestled away from a group of them and pulled back into the building,” Fontes remembered. “It was in my head that there would be casualties. It was in my head that we would have to be cleaning blood out of the warehouse because they were ready, they were armed. … They came to assault my staff.”

Protests went on for days, with U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., fueling accusations of a stolen election. Alex Jones, a conspiracy monger who called the 2012 massacre of children at an elementary school in Connecticut a “giant hoax,” used a megaphone to exhort protesters to maintain their fight for Trump.

The Sheriff’s Office has spent an estimated $1.2 million on law enforcement efforts tied to the election and ballot review, including on demonstrations and protection efforts. The tab may not yet be final.

While Trump signaled the beginning of a drawn-out fight in the hours after the election, McSally, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, all but disappeared from public view.

McSally didn’t formally concede her race for days, but by Nov. 9, several of her key campaign staff were vacationing in Mexico. She wound up losing to Kelly by 78,806 votes.

When the presidential ballots were fully counted on Nov. 14, just 10,457 votes — fewer than the number of people who fit in the coliseum — separated Biden from Trump. The 0.3 percentage point difference made it the tightest presidential race in state history.

Unpredictable: A pandemic and the president’s anti-mail-in ballot rhetoric turned the conventional wisdom about Arizona votes upside-down

It was a bitter disappointment, but it wasn’t a complete loss for Republicans.

The GOP maintained its hold on the Statehouse, and Arizona’s four Republicans in Congress were reelected. Republicans accepted those results, made in the same election that delivered Trump’s loss.

But Republicans loyal to Trump could not accept his defeat.

Along with daily protests at the Capitol, thousands of emails, voicemails and text messages were left for Arizona officials in the days following the election.David Wallace/The RepubliTrump supporters across the country bombarded Arizona election officials and lawmakers with staggering numbers of emails, voicemails and text messages.

Like Trump, many voters could not reconcile the energy of his campaign with the quick call for Biden and the ever-tightening margins in Arizona. Democratic gains in traditionally red Maricopa County fueled suspicions that Trump’s loss owed more to cheating rather than his limited appeal.

State Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, said she received 57,000 emails in the first two months after the election — and still gets some.

At one point early on, Bowers’ secretary told him the office received more than 20,000 emails and 10,000 voicemails each day. After receiving 9,000 text messages at one point, now-Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, got another phone number.

The messages often maintained fraud tainted the election, and Democrats and their allies were covering it up. Many were vulgar; some were threatening.

“It is criminal for state legislators to certify a fraudulent election,” one message to Bowers said.

“Rusty is going to prison,” another email said. “80,000,000 patriots will make sure of this.”

“Fix this mess of an election now, do NOT let the people who committed obvious fraud, intimidation, threaten & lie & who did Not win into our Whitehouse,” read another.

The din included more than just Trump supporters, lawmakers said.

“In all of my time in office, I’ve never seen the magnitude or type of people telling me their concerns about the election,” said state Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler. 

“Many of them have been from far-off places,” said House Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria. “It’s safe to say there’s been a ton of pressure to do something.” 

One thing that set Arizona apart from other close states was the trajectory of the race.

In Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Biden staged come-from-behind victories. Trump drew closer in Arizona’s initial count before falling short.

Trump and Giuliani zeroed in on people in Arizona who could still make a push.

It wouldn’t be Ducey, who had shown little interest in raising doubts about the election. And it wouldn’t be Hobbs, the Democratic secretary of state, who defended it on national television.

The president and his lawyer targeted Bowers and Fann, the Republican heads of the Legislature. 

The weekend before Thanksgiving, a top White House aide called around, looking for cellphone numbers for both.

Those close to Fann said she felt squeezed by the most conservative members in her caucus. She was preparing for the holidays and didn’t want to discuss the election. She seemed to want to put off talking to the president and his surrogates. 

When the White House came calling, Fann needed a strategy. 

“What are we going to do? … They’re putting pressure on me — the national folks want to have fact-finding committees to find out about the fraud in Arizona,” Bowers remembered Fann saying. “She said, ‘They’re trying to get in touch with me and we’ve got to make sure we’re on the same page.’”Arizona Senate President Karen Fann stands on the floor of the Senate at the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix on Monday, May 27, 2019.Both Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers (top) and Arizona Senate President Karen Fann were in the Trump team crosshairs.Thomas Hawthorne/The Republic

They never had a chance. Right after he hung up the phone with Fann, Bowers received the call from Trump and Giuliani while sitting in his Prius.

By itself, the call was memorable for Bowers. It became amusingly so when he needed to search the small screen on his cellphone to find his lawyer’s contact information for the president. 

A natural raconteur, Bowers joked to Trump and Giuliani he might have a story for his grandkids one day: that he accidentally hung up on the president.

“Trump just busted out laughing,” Bowers remembered. “He said, ‘That’s funny.’”

Then Bowers really did accidentally hang up.

The White House called him back, and Bowers and Giuliani shared a laugh. 

Bowers needed some levity. 

While Arizona’s election stirred national passions, Bowers, 69, was privately tending to his dying daughter. Her liver was failing, and she was rejected for an organ transplant. 

Inside his house, and later in a hospital, Bowers saw his daughter’s life slipping away.

Bowers documented the eventful period, as he routinely does, in his handwritten journal through pages and pages of tight cursive writing. It is a distinctive practice for a man with many interests.

Bowers’ weathered face betrays his love of the outdoors, but perhaps his greatest passion is art. He paints and has sold sculptures. At least once, Bowers passed time in the often-mundane setting of the Legislature by building a miniature pinewood derby car for his grandson on his desk during breaks. 

Bowers’ call with Trump and Giuliani revealed two of his more obvious traits: Bowers can be pleasant, but he’s no pushover.

“Rusty is a cowboy,” said one Capitol insider, in a reference to his independent nature.

Fann, 67, grew up in Prescott, one of Arizona’s most conservative areas. Decades ago, she started a transportation business that puts up guardrails to keep motorists safe. 

She was elected to municipal government around the Prescott area where politicking didn’t overshadow problem-solving. 

‘What’s happened to Karen?’ Election audit puts spotlight on Senate president after decades in office

She brought political pragmatism to a legislative seat at the Statehouse, where she has served for a decade, the past two terms as president of the Senate.

Fann, too, has a life outside politics. She likes to golf and cook. She is known to bring homemade pies to friends and is part of a dinner club. 

Her agreeable nature often leaves her in the middle of the warring factions of her Republican caucus.

Her confidants at the Statehouse include lobbyists from both political camps who have worked with her for years. Her philosophy on the job is “‘We’re in this thing together, we’ve got to pick up the trash, we’ve got to do it, let’s work together, let’s figure things out,’” one Democratic lobbyist friend said. 

If the ballot review sometimes felt like a political crucible, it also gave Fann a national political identity

But at the Statehouse, she had one goal: retain her role as Senate president. Unlike Bowers, who won his leadership post despite the misgivings of his party’s far-right members, Fann owed her position to the more conservative members of her chamber. 

Her friend, former state Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, a relative moderate, lost his title as Senate president after the 2012 elections to then-Sen. Andy Biggs and spent four lonely years out of power. Her friends say it was a loss Fann didn’t want to repeat.

Includes information from Arizona Republic reporter Mary Jo Pitzl.

Andy Hargreaves is an internationally renowned scholar and author who taught for many years at Boston College. He wrote this article about education technology for Valerie Strauss’s blog “The Answer Sheet.”

I previously posted a presentation that Andy delivered at an international conference in South Korea, where he described his vision of the future post-pandemic. It was brilliant and points in the direction we should be heading.

Strauss writes about Andy (who is a personal friend of mine):

Hargreaves is a research professor at Boston College and visiting professor at the University of Ottawa who has been working for decades to improve school effectiveness. He has been awarded visiting professorships in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Sweden, Spain, Japan, Norway and Singapore. And he is past president of the International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement.

Hargreaves founded and serves as co-president of the Atlantic Rim Collaboratory, or ARC, a group of nine nations committed to broadly defined excellence, equity, well-being, inclusion, democracy and human rights. He has consulted with numerous governments, the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, universities and professional associations. He has written more than 30 books — and received numerous awards for them — and he was the founding editor in chief of the Journal of Educational Change.

Andy Hargreaves writes:

As we head into the dog days of summer, a new mantra is being spread across the world’s governments and through its media. It’s called “reimagining education.” On the surface, much of it, even most of it, sounds helpful and positive. It’s rightfully concerned about the physical health of children and their teachers. Its visions of innovative learning are engaging and purposeful. But eventually, the conclusion is drawn that these interests can be best advanced by digital technology.

In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) signed an agreement with billionaire businessman Bill Gates to “reimagine” public education in the state through technology. Cuomo dredged up outworn and inaccurate stereotypes of “the old model of everybody goes and sits in the 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.” “Why,” he wondered, “with all the technology you have?”
Cuomo questions why school buildings still exist — and says New York will work with Bill Gates to ‘reimagine education’
A report in May by Microsoft, co-authored by its staff, on reimagining education has constructive advice on how to create meaningful learning and provide health protections and social distancing once children return to school. Yet its ultimate vision is for a “hybrid learning environment” where “technology will be prominent.” “A blend of real-life and online learning will concur. Learning will happen at school, at home, in the community and beyond.”
This kind of talk is energizing education ministers, international lending banks, technology consultants and not-for-profits, who are eager to reimagine a better post-covid future for public schools.

In effect, though, a lot of reimagining education is about how learning will be leveraged or delivered in a blended or hybrid format that is available anytime, anywhere, through public-private partnerships involving digital technology.
Yet, after years and billions of dollars of investment in digital technology in schools, there is little firm evidence that it substantially improves children’s learning. In her book “Slaying Goliath,” Diane Ravitch, former assistant secretary of education and public education advocate, showed that there is no evidence to support (and there is much to contradict) the claim that superior performance results from online learning.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is cautious about the benefits of technology for learning. Its own evidence is that “computers do not improve pupil results.” The OECD’s education chief, Andreas Schleicher, has warned that despite some promise shown by technology options during the coronavirus pandemic, “education systems need to pay close attention that technology will not further amplify existing inequalities in access and quality of learning.”

“This is not just a matter of providing access to technology and open learning resources,” Schleicher said. “It will also require maintaining effective social relationships between families, teachers and students — particularly for those students who lack the resilience, learning strategies or engagement to learn on their own.” A July OECD report further advises that “any digital strategy should take into account potential risks” of things like digital distraction, “and balance digital use with screen-free activities.”

Even before the novel coronavirus, excess screen time and technology use had already increased adolescent anxiety, especially after the global penetration of smartphone use among adolescents beginning around 2012. Digital addiction also distracts young children from outdoor activity, free play and face-to-face relationships. During the pandemic, young children up to age 11 have been spending more than double the amount of screen time recommended by pediatricians.
Necessity is the mother of invention. During the novel coronavirus, digital learning at home has been an invaluable stopgap to enable children’s learning to persist somehow. It’s hard to imagine how everyone would have coped without the Internet and other digital technologies if this pandemic had happened even 20 years ago.

But if necessity is the mother of invention, we should also avoid making a virtue out of a necessity. Kids, parents and teachers have been experiencing endless problems with digital learning at home — kids who can’t concentrate; devices that break down; families with several kids, only one device, and practically no space; lessons devoid of humor or emotion; young kids walking off or hiding under tables during the middle of a Zoom class (I’m talking about my own 5-year-old twin grandchildren here!); insufficient instructions for parents to do things like help the child practice cursive writing (but how, exactly??).

Teenagers are now the greatest mental health risk of all age groups during the pandemic. Adolescents need to go to school to be with their friends, develop their senses of identity, become responsible citizens, learn about how to deal with racism and prejudice (especially if they live with parents who may be racist and prejudiced), and so on. They need less time on screens, not more. We don’t need to be downplaying the importance of physical schools just yet.

When they get back to school, children will not need more of the anytime-anywhere Big Tech strategy. They will need more face-to-face support in the here and now — to get back the habits of lining up, taking turns and listening to others; to get help dealing with the post-traumatic stresses that accompany disasters such as this; to get the special education support to help them deal with learning disabilities and ADHD distractions for which there was little or no support at home, and so on. Learning in the here and now in school will need more human and less hybrid learning. It will need less technology, or more judicious use of it, than most kids have experienced during covid-19.

Of course, technology can and does enhance great teaching by using rich resources and methods for generating interactive student engagement. But technology will not make weaker teachers more inspiring, caring or empathetic, more able to understand and develop global learning competencies like collaboration or citizenship, more able to deal with prejudice and bullying, or more ready to help their children learn and play outdoors. Only effective selection, training and development of teachers can do that.

We can benefit from using digital technology in learning. But we need to do it in a way that deliberately uses technology in a balanced (not just a hybrid or blended) way, and that maximizes the benefits, while minimizing the clear risks of excess screen-time and digital addiction.

A balanced approach to digital technology use should also pinpoint areas where it uniquely provides something of value that cannot be offered in any other way. This is what the business field calls its “unique value proposition” (UVP). One UVP of digital technology occurs when children with special needs are given devices and programs to access and express their learning. Another is when teachers in small, remote rural schools can connect with and learn from colleagues in their subject or grade level who teach elsewhere. These are just two of the many UVPs of digital technology use in schools.

Balanced learning with judicious use of technology is an essential part of the physical schools we will always need. But once kids go home, they don’t stop learning. What happens then?

When I was a teenager, learning after school took place through the books I took home that were shared by my classmates, as well as in the public library that was available to everyone. After school learning was public, universal and free.

But digital learning at home — the new global public library — is not public, universal and free.

One thing the pandemic has reminded us of in U.S. education is about the great chasm that is the digital divide. So instead of leaving digital learning resources outside the school to market forces and privileged access, anytime, anywhere, we need to create conditions for technologically enhanced learning that are universal, public and free to those who need it. Learning-related technology outside the school should be a civil right, alongside food, shelter and education itself that is available everywhere and always to everyone as a universal entitlement. It should be free of charge to those who need it.

If this scenario sounds far-fetched, it already exists in several countries. They include one of the world’s highest performers in education, Estonia, where all curriculum materials were already online before covid-19.

In South Korea, access to the Internet and to digital devices is close to 100 percent. Then there is Uruguay, where every family has access to digital technology for learning. This has resulted from a policy of one laptop per child that was established in 2007, and from a national, government-funded innovation agency that has supported projects that are linked to but not driven by various kinds of technology, in more than a third of the nation’s schools. The existence of this national platform meant that within days of learning moving from schools to homes, use of the digital platform went up by over 1,000 percent.

Immediately after the pandemic, we need to focus on the here and now to help schools cope with post-traumatic stress and other mental health problems, and to reestablish relationships and routines.

Technology has an important role in schools to make good teaching and learning better. But even as a hybrid, it should not be the main driver or leverage for reimagining better learning in schools. It’s not just hybrids or blends we want. We need a thoughtful balance that uses the UVP of technology wherever it can improve learning and well-being, while actively avoiding excess screen time that might disturb that balance, and continuing to promote outstanding face-to-face teachers and teaching that are still the cornerstone of an effective school system.

At the same time, reimagining education should also ensure that additional learning opportunities at home are universal, public and free of charge everywhere and always to all those who need it.

Enough, but not too much, digital technology and a lot more face-to-face support for vulnerable students after the pandemic — that’s what our reimagined new normal now needs to include.

Veteran teacher Nancy Bailey offers some common sense advice about how to help students become better readers and writers. Her advice is meant for students with or without disabilities.

Here are first two suggestions:

I welcome teachers and parents to add whatever they’d like to share, what works for you, or special resource pages or links.


Teachers don’t always focus on handwriting because of other skills they are made to address. The focus on technology has sometimes pushed handwriting out of the picture. So, helping students, especially students with reading or writing (dysgraphia) disabilities, become better at handwriting at home, might be a beneficial exercise at this time.

Teachers struggle to understand what students mean when they turn in sloppy papers. Even if students misspell words, it’s much easier to see the breakdown of their errors and help them correct their papers, when letters are neatly printed or written in cursive.

***Don’t push a child to write if they have difficulty holding a pencil or if they are too young.

Holding a pencil.

This may seem strange, but many students don’t know how to hold a pencil! My husband teaches college students and remarks about the many strange ways he has observed students holding pencils and pens in a cramped and uncomfortable manner.

The pencil should be held between the thumb and middle finger with the index finger riding the pencil. The pencil should be grasped above the sharpened point. Pencil grippers are helpful, or some tape or a rubber band wrapped around the pencil can help with gripping.

Younger children work better with larger pencils.

As a left-handed writer with horrible handwriting, I should remain silent. But I have noticed young adults who literally don’t know how to hold a pencil and whose handwriting is even worse than mine.

I’m on an Amtrak train on my way to Washington, D.C., to see the new Democratic members of Congress sworn in. A friend, Donna Shalala of Miami, is one of that group. It’s a bright new day in America. The Constitution and its balance of powers is coming to life to rein in an unhinged, ignorant, vengeful President who arrived knowing nothing about government or policy and has learned nothing.

Ann Gearan of the Washington Post reported on Trumps bizarre Cabinet meeting, the first of the New Year, in which he found plenty of time to boast about himself. Bear in mind that Trump has never worked in an environment in which anyone had the power to say no to him. In his family business, he was King. For his first two years in office, no one dared challenge him, and in the rare instance where they tried, they were ousted (think Mark Sanford) or quit (think Flake and Corker).

Now the Emperor must face hostile majority in the Houseof Representatives. Democracy lives. The King is mad.

Here is a summary of yesterday’s Cabinet meeting:

President Trump, 12 days into a government shutdown and facing new scrutiny from emboldened Democrats, inaugurated the new year Wednesday with a Cabinet meeting. It quickly became a 95-minute stream-of-consciousness defense of his presidency and worldview, filled with falsehoods, revisionist history and self-aggrandizement.

Trump trashed his former secretary of defense, retired four-star Marine Gen. Jim Mattis, as a failure after once holding him out as a star of his administration.

“What’s he done for me?” Trump said.

He claimed to have “essentially” fired Mattis, who had surprised the White House by resigning in protest last month after the president’s abrupt decision to pull U.S. forces from Syria.

And Trump, who did not serve in the military and received draft deferments during the Vietnam War, suggested he would have made a good military leader himself.

“I think I would have been a good general, but who knows?” Trump said.

Trump on Mattis: ‘President Obama fired him and … so did I’

President Trump spoke about his former defense secretary at a Cabinet meeting Jan. 2, saying he was not “too happy” with how Jim Mattis handled Afghanistan. (The Washington Post)
He took credit for falling oil prices, arguing they were the result of phone calls he made to the leaders of oil-producing nations.

“I called up certain people, and I said let that damn oil and gasoline — you let it flow, the oil,” he said.

And Trump defended his push to fund his promised border wall, parrying complaints from Democrats who have called the wall immoral by remarking, “Then we have to do something about the Vatican, because the Vatican has the biggest wall of them all.”

Trump is entering his third year in the White House with his presidency at its most challenging point.

Democrats bent on investigating his administration and stymieing his agenda will take control of the House on Thursday. The thriving economy he once touted as evidence of his success is showing signs of strain, with financial markets tumbling in recent weeks due in part to worries over his policies and stewardship of the government. And his new year began with former GOP presidential nominee and incoming Utah Sen. Mitt Romney penning a harsh critique, cheered by the president’s Republican detractors, that argued Trump “has not risen to the mantle of the office.”

Trump seemed mindful of all this Wednesday as he attempted to seize the spotlight by staging an unusual Cabinet meeting that was geared more toward garnering public attention than serving as a venue for the internal deliberations of his administration.

After saying last month that he would proudly take responsibility for the government shutdown over wall funding, he sought to blame Democrats for not sticking around over the holidays to negotiate. He said he stayed in Washington because the border security debate was “too important a subject to walk away from.”

“I was here on Christmas evening. I was all by myself in the White House — it’s a big, big house — except for the guys on the lawn with machine guns,” he said.

But Trump added confusion to the debate by undercutting Vice President Pence, seated nearby, in dismissing the offer he and other administration officials made to Democrats late last month of accepting $2.5 billion for the wall.

He described the recent stock sell-off as a “glitch” and said markets would soar again on the strength of trade deals he plans this year. But House Democrats may stand in the way of the first of those, a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and markets have been rattled most by the tariffs Trump has imposed on China.

Trump dismissed Romney’s scathing criticism of how he’s conducted his presidency, saying Romney should be more of a “team player,” and played down the idea he could face a primary challenge in 2020.

“They say I am the most popular president in the history of the Republican Party,” Trump said.

Amid concerns within his own party about whether he will pull troops out of Afghanistan, Trump offered a discursive and somewhat inscrutable account of the fall of the Soviet Union, blaming it on the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

“Russia used to be the Soviet Union. Afghanistan made it Russia, because they went bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan,” Trump said.

His point was that the United States should pull out of hopeless and expensive wars, but he skipped over the many reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 as he held up the loss of empire as an example.

“The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there,” he said, breaking with the stance taken by past U.S. administrations that the invasion was an illegitimate power play against a neighboring nation. “The problem is, it was a tough fight. And literally they went bankrupt; they went into being called Russia again, as opposed to the Soviet Union. You know, a lot of these places you’re reading about now are no longer part of Russia, because of Afghanistan.”

The semblance of a traditional Cabinet meeting broke out from time to time, including when Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, joining by video connection, briefed the group on the administration’s border security efforts and set the tone by claiming, “Mr. President, now more than ever we need the wall.”

Trump’s Cabinet is pocked by vacancies, as the roster of deputies and placeholders around the table illustrated.

Mattis’s formerly prominent place at the Cabinet table was occupied Wednesday by a little-known deputy, Patrick Shanahan, who mostly looked down at his notes as Trump called Syria, where more than 2,000 U.S. troops are deployed, a lost cause of “sand and death.”

Several officials in attendance interjected praise for the president at different points.

“I want to thank you for the strong stand you have taken on border security,” Pence told him.

Trump, a large poster of himself evoking “Game of Thrones” on the table before him, complained about allies and partners from Afghanistan and Pakistan to India and Germany. They don’t pay their way or expect too much from the United States, Trump said, claiming anew that he is insisting on a reboot of the old expectations about U.S. aid and military obligations.

He claimed that if he wanted to, he could have any government job in Europe and be popular there. He cast his unpopularity among European publics as a sign he is doing his job well.

He defended his controversial negotiations with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by stating that if he had not reached out, there would have been a “big fat war in Asia.”

A second summit with Kim will happen soon, Trump predicted. He did not mention Kim’s veiled threat, in a New Year’s message, that the United States must not try his patience.

Trump’s critics and skeptics on North Korea say he lost leverage by agreeing to the first summit last year and would only lose more with another face-to-face meeting now.

The president, who frequently faces criticism for his light public schedule, also bemoaned the lack of credit he has received for what he views as the many accomplishments of his first two years.

“I have to tell you, it would be a lot easier if I didn’t do anything, if I just sat and enjoyed the presidency, like a lot of other people have done,” Trump said.

One of the favorite lines of Faux Reformers like Bill Gates, Lauren Powell Jobs, Michelle Rhee, etc. is that American schools haven’t changed in a century, maybe two centuries.

Larry Cuban posts a delightful remincence of Changing Classrooms by Henry Levin, a distinguished ecomist who taught for many years at Stanford and Teachers College.

As Levin shows, classroom technologies are continually changing. And continually becoming obsolescent.

He fondly recalls being the boy who changed the ink in the class pens. He remembers later technologies that were state-of-the-art but have disappeared.

I started school in 1943, and by the time we were in third grade we were introduced to writing cursive using an ink pen. Initially these were the pens with long tapered wooden handles with replaceable pen tips or nibs, but by sixth grade we were expected to use fountain pens because they were less messy. I remember filling carefully my pen by maneuvering a lever on its side that compressed a rubber bladder inside to draw ink from the inkwell on its release.

I was also given the responsibility of refilling the inkwells each day or every other day. We used huge bottles of Quink (perhaps a liter), and they had to be manipulated in just the right way to fill (three quarters), but not overfill the inkwell. My recollection is that this was a permanent ink that could not be removed from my clothing. Once I dropped the entire bottle on the floor, leading to a large spill. That required initially placing newsprint and paper tissues to soak up most of it, followed by a mopping and scrubbing with water and suds. Still, a shadow of the ink remained, and the teacher reminded me periodically that I needed to be careful not to further damage her floor. Towards the end of high school some very expensive ballpoint pens began to replace the ink pens, and we were no longer expected to use the ink paraphernalia.

But, the old desks last for a long time. Even in the late fifties (I was in college), I visited my old high school and found that all of the student desks still had inkwells. Students wondered what they were for.