On being a step builder

I’ve had many stimulating conversations at the workshops held the last several days at the Engagement Scholarship Conference. But the really mind blowing realization over the last two days is that I am seeing things in my discipline unseeable by my strongest mentors. I am questioning their insights and I am realizing they fall short of where we need to be if we together are to achieve human flourishing. But I am seeing these things because of the wonderful job they did building the step on which I stand. And in seeing these things, I now realize in a new way my life’s work — to quickly shore up the tentative step I now am on. Even as I do so, my students are already using it to see things I cannot. As my mentors did, I need to encourage my students to begin constructing the next tread in our stairway. This is a good thing. This is a thing worth giving one’s life for.

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Printing a fabric poster

A colleague, Aiko Takazawa, was telling me about a wonderful new services she had discovered — printing posters on fabric. In researching it further, I came across a post regarding different fabric poster options on the American Society for Cell Biology website.

MentoringFutureEngagementLeadersPosterFollowing their recommendations, I placed my order with Spoonflower.com September 10th. The poster arrived today, September 22, and I’m very pleased with the results, especially given the price of $21.60 (I also paid $15 for express shipping since I wanted leeway in case it didn’t work out well).

The performance knit option is very pleasant to the touch in addition to being very functional. Given Spoonflower is a fabric shop more generally, perhaps next time I’ll get extra in a repeating pattern so that I can also wear my poster. But for this coming month, I’m very glad I don’t have to carry a poster tube with me as I travel internationally to present.

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Labor Day and Digital Literacy for ALL Learners

The following is a post I just made to our project page for a project I am leading called “Digital Literacy for ALL Learners, funded by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity through their Eliminate the Digital Divide program. We are working at five public computing centers to teach basic computer and digital literacy skills by doing projects that matter to the community.  While the post was written for that specific project, I share it broadly in hopes that it will inspire reflection to all who work to build stronger communities, one aspect of which today usually includes working with digital technologies.


In honor of Labor Day, we shall not labor but take time to celebrate the contributions and achievements of workers everywhere. In Lieu of our meeting, here’s a reflection regarding the holiday and the parallels with today, but also my thoughts on what it means for our activities through this project this year.

CNN posted a helpful reflection on the history behind the holiday back in 2011 that’s a good starting point for the reflection:


Since its writing in which the author notes the lack of violence in our own time, we have seen more action in the streets, some of it seemingly unrelated to labor, such as in Ferguson, but perhaps less removed than we might at first imagine. Without reform, I wonder if we might see more?

Today and next week as you engage with community coming to your sites, pause for a minute and know that for many, they, their parents, or their close friends and family may be working 12 hour days 6 and 7 days a week with no holidays or benefits, as they cobble together multiple jobs to just eke out a living wage.

At the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, labor reform champions like Jane Addams worked with people where they were at in their neighborhoods to learn, build relationships, and meet immediate needs. But they also worked to leverage their broader connections to champion systemic change for all people. Our approach is inspired by many of these historical leaders but also by our contemporaries like Virginia Eubanks who has been likened to a modern-day Jane Addams.

Take a minute over the Labor Day holiday to read through the article and to reflect on what our role might be this year through this project. I just came from Kenwood where I spoke in part about the amazing things they are doing because of their vision: technology and literacy for the community.

Let’s hold each other accountable to assure we never get this backwards. For as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

“We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

And let’s remember, too, Florynce R. Kennedy’s caution:

“Where the system of oppression has become institutionalized it is unnecessary for the people to be oppressive.”

I would argue our thing-oriented approach to technology specifically and our economic drivers broadly have become institutionalized. Therefore, how can we approach our activities every day as a people-oriented counter-hegemony, not just in honor of Labor Day but as leaders championing a new approach that others can also implement in their own activities?

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Child immigrant crisis

We have reached a crisis point regarding the children who are coming, often unaccompanied, to the U.S. from Central America.  Vox has done a helpful two minute summary on the issue.  We recently watched The Stranger, a short film about the broken U.S. immigration system and another good source to consider alternative perspectives. On the other hand, I’ve been reading a number of memes posted by Facebook friends lately regarding the situation, with many expressing anger over the costs of dealing with the children and the delays in sending those from Central American nations back to their home countries. Murrieta, California has been the center of protests, with angry U.S. protestors holding up signs and shouting “USA”, demanding those crossing the border go home. This is my response especially written to fellow followers of Jesus.

First, the Bible makes it quite clear we serve a biased God. Indeed, Jesus not only sides with the least among us, he identifies as one himself. Those who Jesus sends away at judgement are those who did not help the sick, the hungry, the thirsty, those needing clothes, the oppressed, the stranger. For in so ignoring them, we ignored Jesus. Check out Matthew 25:31-46. Taken literally, our anger and dismissal is of Jesus. We are sending Jesus away from our borders. The question shouldn’t be “What would Jesus do?” but “How will we treat Jesus today as he crosses our border?”

Second, we heard a wonderful sermon at Twin City Bible Church today based on Ephesians 1:15-28. As I listened and reflected on the immigration issue, Pastor Allen’s consideration of verse 18 particularly caught my attention: “the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.” An increasing number of theologians are beginning to understand this clause as meaning God’s inheritance is us. We humans are worth that much. What does it mean when we reject so strongly a part of God’s inheritance? In expressing such anger, sometimes directly to their face, are we making the immigrants feel more or less human? More or less the children and inheritance of God that they are?

And when immigrants come seeking asylum, the U.S. has laws allowing for that. So it is not necessarily that they are coming illegally. But even if they were, let me ask those who have ever driven faster than the speed limit, or in some other way broken the law — why would it be that they are less deserving of grace than you? We are all human, we are all especially cherished in God’s eye, and we’ve all been shown grace in spite of the ways we fall short.

Third, while God is slow to anger, He also punishes the sins of the father to the third and fourth generation (see Numbers 14:17-18). I am more familiar with the history of East St. Louis than I am of Central America, but I know enough to know many of the issues are the same. Whether in the mid-1800’s or the late 1900’s, citizens of the U.S. wanted to be able to purchase things at the lowest price possible so that we could have more. Industries responded by finding ways to produce products more cheaply. In some cases, this resulted in the inhumane treatment of workers merely as a means to the end of low-cost production. Further, there was a lack of concern for the long-term human, economic, and environmental costs within the region where manufacturing occurred. In the mid-1800’s Industrial Suburbs such as East St. Louis, Illinois, or Gary, Indiana, were created by manufacturers acting out of concern that new worker and environmental regulations being passed by cities such as St. Louis, Missouri, or Chicago, Illinois, respectively, would negatively affect their profits. But make no mistake, the blame was not just the industrial leaders or their shareholders, but people acting at all points in the consumption economy that drives such behavior. One hundred and fifty years later, the people who struggle to overcome the disadvantage of the sin of the many visited upon the industrial suburbs affect us all as we miss out on their full participation in our society and as our meager but important safety net of essential services struggles to keep up.

When the human and natural resources of the Industrial Suburbs were used up, industry looked for other virgin territory to pillage so that so many of us in the U.S. can continue our gluttonous lifestyles. We are not solely responsible for the severe conditions being experienced in some Central American nations, but we bear our fair share. And those coming to our border fleeing those conditions bring to our borders the sins of our fathers – and our own sins. God regularly requires of us to confess our sins and the sins of our ancestors before He will remember us (for instance, Leviticus 26:40-41). We are all too quick to cast the first stone when we are far from blameless (John 8:2-11).

How will we treat Jesus today as he crosses our border? Will the stranger at the border feel more or less like the wonderful inheritance of God that they are? Will we show them the same grace that is daily shown to us? Will we confess our sins and the sins of our ancestors that have significantly contributed to the inhumane conditions being experienced by these strangers back in their home countries and which drove them to take such drastic actions as to pull up stakes, leave everything behind, and seek asylum from us?

Our choice will determine whether God will remember His covenant with us, or whether He will show hostility and dismiss us as a people.

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Of Gardens and Walled Communities

2014-07-06 09.06.56This morning I laid in bed listening to passersby walking or biking down our street commenting on our garden. A few minutes later I was walking through the garden assessing the impact of the overnight rains. I pulled a few weeds to feed to the livestock and ended up chatting for a while with the custodian from our building at work just happened to be biking by. When your garden is mostly just off the street, garden tasks are often intertwined with neighborhood tasks.

Backyard gardens, backyard chickens, backyard grilling, backyard pools. A couple of Sundays ago Ana Caughey reported back to Twin City Bible Church about her first experience joining us on the youth mission trip to East St. Louis. She commented on how she noticed the folks in East St. Louis spend their leisure time on their front porches and visiting with neighbors. We often spend our time in our backyards with our immediate family but closed off from our neighbors.

Gated communities are exclusive neighborhoods with carefully controlled access. Something about them has always been off-putting to me. They seem the opposite of how I understand Jesus lived in the world, and as a follower, seem the opposite of how I should live in the world. But is it possible that we’ve made the backyard a more palatable, but still problematic, equivalent?


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Facebook Does Mind Control


The only thing I would add to what Mike writes is the importance of recognizing that ALL of our technologies are a relationship of the technical with the social/political/economic/cultural. Ideologies, economics, and even epistemologies are embedded within the technologies and have subsequent influence on our trajectory as a society, an effect that can only be minimized when we approach them critically and appropriate them strategically.

The last paragraph raises an important point that deserves considerable ongoing discussion regarding the need for international oversight. I would add the importance of improved and new pedagogy taking a sociotechnical systems approach to facilitate greater local agency in critical appropriation and co-creation of innovations. We need both top-down and bottom-up activism.

Originally posted on Gurstein's Community Informatics:

News is coming out about Facebook initiated and largely conducted social research experiment examining the effects of various types of emotionally loaded messages on the “mood” of selected Facebook (FB) users. The details of the study are now becoming widely known and it is clear that the actual study was the result of a combination of naivety and hubris on the part of FB staff who didn’t realize that there might be a very strong negative reaction to this kind of activity.

The actual experiment (and results) are quite interesting from a social research perspective and the undertaking of this kind of research is fairly unproblematic (or apparently at least not illegal according to FB terms of use) although it is unlikely that most universities would have allowed it to pass an internal ethical review (on the basis of a lack of “informed consent“). The findings do in…

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Wealth requires commonwealth

I’ve had a phrase running through my mind recently about how there isn’t wealth without commonwealth. But for the life of me I couldn’t place where I had come across that phrase. Finally, this morning I found a reference to a sermon by Martin Luther King, Jr. titled “The man who was a fool.” Sure enough, it was the most recent sermon I had read out of the book Strength to Love, compiled by Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1963 and most recently published by Fortress Press. 

The sermon is based on Luke 12:16-20, a parable about a rich young man who decides to build up more barns to store his surplus grain so that he can relax, eat, drink, and be merry. Perhaps half way through the sermon, Martin Luther King, Jr. says (emphasis mine):

The rich man was a fool because he failed to realize his dependence on others. His soliloquy contains approximately sixty words, yet “I” and “my” occur twelve times. He has said “I” and “my” so often that he had lost the capacity to say “we” and “our.” A victim of the cancerous disease of egotism, he failed to realize that wealth always comes as a result of the commonwealth. He talked as though he could plough the fields and build the barns alone. He failed to realize that he was the heir of a vast treasury of ideas and labour to which both the living and the dead had contributed. When an individual or a nation overlooks this interdependence, we find a tragic foolishness.

And so it is…

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