Category Archives: advocacy

Writing for Rights

In 1988, when I told people I had joined AI, they did not think of Artificial Intelligence. Instead, they probably knew I had joined the international human rights organization, Amnesty International. Like many of people, I became aware of the organization (it had begun in 1961) because of the musicians who headlined the Human Rights Now tour in 1988, especially Peter Gabriel.

I wa part of a local group that met at a Quaker Church and wrote lots of letters for Amnesty International over the years as part of their Write for Rights program. I haven’t been involved in recent years beyond making a donation. So, when I stumbled on this year’s membership card, I wondered if, in this day of AI and online forms, letter writing was still part of the mission.

Amnesty continues the tradition with a focused event related to Human Rights Day on December 10. They haven’t posted anything about this year’s event but you can learn more about the power of letter writing at the website. They continue to encourage us to handwrite our letters along with personalizing the recommended language. In this day of AI and copy/paste, a handwritten letter makes a personal connection between writer, reader, and, in this case, the person who is the subject of the appeal.

Ending Solitary Confinement

In 2015, in honor of long-jailed South African activist Nelson Mandela, the United Nations updated and adopted the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, calling them the Nelson Mandela Rules. These rules include guidelines for the use of solitary confinement:

The Mandela Rules, updated in 2015, are a revised minimum standard of UN rules that defines solitary confinement as “the confinement of prisoners for 22 hours or more a day without meaningful human contact.” Solitary confinement may only be imposed in exceptional circumstances, and “prolonged” solitary confinement of more than 15 consecutive days is regarded as a form of torture.

United Nations Report on Use of solitary confinement in United States, february 28, 2020

This week, news came of a hunger strike by prisoners in Texas prisons to protest the extensive and prolonger use of solitary confinement. The practice is often used “proactively” by separating gang members and others considered a danger even if they have not committed infractions. According to PBS News Hour, some 3100 prisoners are in solitary confinement in Texas, many of them held that way for more than a decade. This is, under the Mandela rules, torture.

Virginia’s General Assembly is considering a bill that would limit the use of solitary confinement using the Mandela rules as its guideline for no more than 15 consecutive days over the course of a 60-day period. I have contacted my representative to let him know that I support this legislation. I also used it as an opportunity to remind him that I am against the death penalty as well. You can read the legislation at the Virginia’s Legislative System website. While you’re there, you can browse other legislation, and if you feel called to contact your representative but aren’t sure who it might be, use the Who’s My Legislator website to find out.

Virginia does not have a good track record when it comes to the use of solitary confinement. Twelve inmates and former inmates filed a lawsuit against the Virginia Department of Corrections, alleging that VDOC has been using semantics to get around its own program to end solitary confinement. The investigation into the death of an inmate in solitary confinement in January 2022 provides some insight into the practice as well as the semantic games: solitary confinement is now called “restorative housing.”

It Would Be Funny If It Wasn’t So Serious

I had already heard about John McCain’s inability to use a computer even before I read Tim’s post at Assorted Stuff yesterday.  I certainly agree with Tim that if this man is going to be our visionary, it seems essential that he at least have a passing knowledge of the potential of these tools.  As Sarah Lai Stirland points out in her post, these tools are the way to reach out to Millenials:

Even if he doesn’t feel the need to e-mail, perhaps he should check out tools such as Twitter to reach the Millennials. It’s not just about the coolness of such tools; it’s about getting a candidate’s unique persona and voice through a medium to connect to a new generation.

It occurred to me that John McCain may not be concerned about reaching the Millenials.  Maybe he figures he’s already lost them to his rock star opponent so why bother  to reach out to them.  But, there is something much more serious at stake here.

I believe one of the primary reasons teachers don’t use technology as much as they might to support teaching and learning is because they simply don’t have access to technology on a regular basis.  Access comes through funding, mostly federal funding.  How many other senators don’t use computers to support their own learning, thus making it difficult for them to understand why a teacher might want to?  Throughout the year, we in the ed tech community have been fighting to retain the EETT funding for K-12 and just yesterday I got an email from ISTE asking me to contact my senator about the “Preparing Teachers for Digital Age Learners” program that should be part of the Higher Education Reauthorization Bill.  The purpose of this legislation is to extend the Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology (PT3) program that provided funding for projects related to preparing new teachers to make effective use of technology.  But the funding is not included in the Senate version of the bill.  I wonder if John McCain had anything to do with that?  You still have time to contact him as well as your own representatives to make it clear that this funding must be included if we are going to be able to educate the next generation on how to use computers effectively in the classroom.  For more information about the Preparing Teachers for Digital Age Learners program and a copy of the legislation please go to:

One more comment from this teacher educator about the importance of this funding.  I’ve been reading a lot lately that the use of technology in schools will change once the current generation of teachers retires and the digital natives move into the classroom.  I don’t think that’s an accurate prediction.  I think the next generation is comfortable using technology but being able to text message and post pictures in Facebook is a far cry from using technology with students in the classroom in effective ways to support learning.  Please take the time today to contact your legislator (and Senator McCain, too) to let them know that this is important to you and to our students.