In education news, essays may soon be graded by machine, but at the same time two community activists tell the Huffington Post about organizing to take back kids' schooling. Elsewhere, economist Richard Wolff has broken into primetime with his critique of our financial system and negotiations between FARC and the Colombian government could finally end a half-century conflict. 

— Alleen Brown focuses on education.

Essay-Grading Software Offers Professors a Break,” by John Markoff. The New York Times, April 5, 2013.

In the latest ed tech news, the non-profit known for making MOOCs edX introduced its automated essay grader last week. The technology reflects a system-wide move towards automation and standardization in education. Fans say it will give fast feedback to students and save teachers time. The organization Professionals Against Machine Scoring of Student Essays in High-Stakes Assessment points out that computers are not so good at judging "accuracy, reasoning, adequacy of evidence, good sense, ethical stance, convincing argument, meaningful organization, clarity, and veracity.”

 

— James Cersonsky focuses on labor and education.

Organizing for Educational Justice Rooted in Community,” by Donna Nevel. Huffington Post, April 9, 2013.

Count on HuffPo to put this piece in their "Impact" section rather than… Education. The ideas elaborated in this piece, an interview of Leticia Alanis from La Union in Brooklyn and Ujju Aggarwal from the Parent Leadership Project in Manhattan, could (should!) be the basis of how society thinks about education. Namely, participatory action research and community organizing, led by students and allies (most immediately, their parents), to define, investigate and lobby around issues that affect their schooling.

 

— Catherine Defontaine focuses on war, security and peace-related issues, African and French politics, peacekeeping and the link between conflicts and natural resources.

Korea: B2 bombers offering a path to peace?” by Pepe Escobar. Al Jazeera, April 9, 2013.

As the tensions between the United States and North Korea escalate, this article questions the underlying motives of the American administration. As Pepe Escobar points out, can we really believe that “mighty superpower Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) is about to bomb the poor, undefended United States of America into the Stone Age”? Indeed, as The Wall Street Journal “revealed,” the US wants to provoke North Korea, which proves to be very easy. North Korea’s paranoia is well known and the country still has the Korean War in mind, when “the North was virtually flattened” as the US “dropped more napalm in Korean cities than in Vietnam.” But then, what are the real motives of the Obama Administration? War? Invasion? Or just satisfying arms producing companies? In any case, it seems highly improbable that Kim Jong-un is insane enough to provoke a nuclear war with the United States.

 

— Andrew Epstein focuses on social history, colonialism and indigenous rights.

Richard Wolff on Curing Capitalism.” Moyers & Company, March 22, 2013.

Richard Wolff represents the best of the left tradition. With wit, clarity and common sense, he explains what economists have worked so hard to mystify (largely to justify their existence). And at a moment of unending crisis, his message is starting to break through. Wolff's appearance on Bill Moyer's program in February generated such response, he was asked to come back a month later. In this video, he takes questions from viewers around the country.

 

— Luis Feliz focuses on ideas and debates within the left, social movements and culture.

The Secrets of Princeton,” by Ross Douthat. The New York Times, April 7, 2013.

Ross Douthat writes well and thinks clearly, attributes that can easily beguile well-meaning liberals more accustomed to the digestible mishmash of cliché and moralism that mixes into the pablum of mainstream commentary. Underlying the seemingly progressive argument in this op-ed lurks a reactionary core. As expected of a bona fide traditionalist, Douthat counterposes the meritocratic elite against the noblesse oblige sort of a bygone aristocratic ideal society. Read, weigh, consider and refute.  

 

— Elana Leopold focuses on the Middle East, its relations with the US and Islam.

Death of a Revolutionary,” by Susan Faludi. The New Yorker, April 15, 2013.

This week my article has nothing to do with the Middle East, Islam or the US's relation to either. Instead, it is a fascinating profile of Shulamith Firestone, the second-wave feminist radical who died last August. Firestone was an incredible figure, and this is a must-read.

 

— Alec Luhn focuses on East European and Eurasian affairs, especially issues of good governance, human rights and activism.

Investigator Bastrykin and the search for enemies,” by Richard Sakwa. openDemocracy, April 10, 2013.

At a recent panel of Russian investigative journalists at Columbia University, one concern in particular was shared by all the speakers: the Investigative Committee's failure to open cases against the venal officials they exposed. As of late, the Investigative Committee has been ramping up its activity against opponents of the regime, and it will soon conclude its investigation of the 27 protestors detained after clashes at a rally in June, in which no law enforcement officials have been charged. Although Sakwa, oddly enough, makes only passing mention of this case, he has contributed a highly relevant piece of Kremlinology by explaining the history and allegiances of the committee's head, Alexander Bastrykin (previously known mainly for threatening a journalist with decapitation).

 

— Leticia Miranda focuses on race, gender, telecommunications and media reform.

‘Obama phones’: Right wing’s latest bogus obsession,” by Jillian Rayfield. Salon, April 10, 2013.

A short myth buster and relevant history lesson about the right's campaign against the Lifeline program.

 

— Brendan O’Connor focuses on media criticism and pop culture.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Art of Fiction No. 69,” interviewed by Peter H. Stone. The Paris Review, Winter 1981.

If I had been standing up when I read this, I probably would have had to sit down: "If you say that there are elephants flying in the sky, people are not going to believe you. But if you say that there are four hundred and twenty-five elephants flying in the sky, people will probably believe you."

 

— Anna Simonton focuses on issues of systemic oppression perpetuated by the military and prison industrial complexes.

Report: Ohio Is Illegally Throwing Poor People In Jail For Owing Money,” by Annie-Rose Strasser. ThinkProgress, April 5, 2013.

As surveillance and punishment extend beyond the institutional structures typically associated with the Prison Industrial Complex, more and more life situations are becoming criminalized. In February, Human Rights Watch issued a report detailing how, in Arkansas, tenants who don't pay their rent on time can face jail sentences. Now, a recent ACLU report has shed light on another state where falling behind on your bills is considered a crime.

 

— Cos Tollerson focuses on Latin American politics and society, and United States imperialism.

Colombia peace marches draw thousands,” by Peter Bolton. The Guardian, April 9, 2013.

In Havana, ongoing peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian government could bring an end to an armed conflict that has endured for over half a century and caused an estimated 70,000 deaths. The progress in negotiations is a cause for celebration on the streets of Bogotá, but former president and US ally Álvaro Uribe objects to the talks on the grounds that they might allow for the FARC's incorporation into Colombia's democratic process. In a region that has seen several leftist individuals and movements successfully transition from armed struggle to democratic politics, Uribe's fear that the FARC's political agenda will resonate with the Colombian electorate is hardly surprising.

 

— Sarah Woolf focuses on what’s happening north of the US border.

We Are All to Blame for Rehtaeh Parsons' Suicide,” by Anne Theriault. Huffington Post, April 9, 2013.

By now, most Americans will probably have heard of Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17-year-old from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, whose rape (and subsequent death) is horrifyingly reminiscent of the Steubenville rape case. Writing about rape is incredibly difficult for an infinite number of reasons; I chose this piece not because I necessarily agree with the writer word-for-word, but because it was compellingly written with nuance, compassion, rage, bewilderment and, most importantly, a call to action.