Today we’re going to look at some of the ideas found in The Promise of Access by Daniel Greene. Specifically we’ll look at libraries and schooling and how mere access to technology without fundamental reform in the structures of society will not change much.

This is a reader supported site. Become a member to keep the content coming.

What is Access Doctrine?

First we need to define what Greene means whey they say “access doctrine”, because that’s what the whole book was framed around. According to Greene the access doctrine is the idea that all you need is access to technology and then the onus is on you to succeed because you have access1. It ignores any of the structural issues like poverty or homelessness or redlining2 or the theft of wealth from BIPOC individuals, that has continually put some members of society on the receiving end of economic precarity and says that once they have access it’s a personal moral failing that you’re not doing better.

This is a convenient scape-goat for politicians and donors because then it doesn’t matter if your school was underfunded, or your parents have to work multiple minimum wage jobs because of a growing wage gap, or that transit is non-existent in your city so you have the extra tax of requiring a car to do anything. They can put a computer in your classroom and tell you to use it, of course in the ways they think are best, and then their job is done. They can ignore any wage gaps, or deteriorating public infrastructure and blame you because you have access.

I think it’s bonkers to expect anyone to train for a job of the future when they can’t put food on the table today3. In fact we know that when there is scarcity people don’t have the extra mental bandwidth to deal with anything but the immediate issue at hand.

Libraries are in Crisis

A few years ago I first looked at how libraries are in crisis when I read The Library Book and Greene continues that discussion while looking at the MLK library in Washington DC. Libraries have continued to take on bigger roles in society that are different from their original purpose of a book club where rich people could borrow books. It’s now often the only place those with housing issues can access a computer, or a safe warm place during the day. This place is only available though if they use the library in the ways prescribed by the often well off white people that do much of the work in funding the library. There is even a dystopian story of the MLK library needing to “clean up” and move along it’s regular users as the friends of the library supporters were going to show up and they wouldn’t want to see the regular patrons of the library.

To add to this we also see librarians under assault by conservative assholes that are all talk about grooming kids or making sure they don’t get forced into the LGBTQ+ community4 while participating in aspects of same sex relationships. Some states have gone as far as passing laws that would put librarians in jail if they allow children to check out books that are deemed “obscene” by some parents that are able to put up a big enough fight to make the ideas stick.

In the midst of this assault on libraries, they’re supposed to monitor and enforce the use of computers by patrons to make sure that they’re only using it for “useful” things like finding a job or adding skills to their resume5. Mere entertainment often doesn’t qualify so you can’t watch a movie, and heaven forbid some pornography show up on a screen that is secluded enough that only you can see it. Libraries are for adding to your job skills unless your white and employed, then you can read for pleasure and it’s seen as a valid use of the library.

Charter Schools are Experiments by Rich People

After the library Greene looks at how a Charter School is used to enforce “proper” technology use6. From using SchoolForce7, which is something like SalesForce but for tracking the performance of students, to continually changing how the school operates to meet the goals of the funding bodies, the students are the lab rats in the schooling experiments of rich donors like The Gates Foundation.

The school described teachers walking with their laptops open because if they closed them the startup time to get logged back in was monitored by SchoolForce and then viewed in a poor light by administration8. Teachers were supposed to model proper technology use, so getting an email done after they sit down in a class but before class starts, in a futile attempt to show students what it meant to be a productive person today. All of this Charter School crap just sounded like working to turn out good little workers for corporations to me.

One of the particularly gruesome parts of Charter Schools is that they don’t turn out better students than public schools9. The do however suspend or expel BIPOC students at a higher rate, which seems to increase later in the year. Greene draws a connection between this and needing to meet the numbers for school success, so if you expel a student they have to return to public school and they no longer are counted against your success numbers.

Overall, Greene paints a picture of public services pushed to turning out economic units at the expense of their original mission. Greene shows how startup culture and the “pivot” has come to frame the working of both institutions in a way that teachers and librarians can never keep up with the latest mission, and are blamed for it even though their funding is low and they’re always under fire for their lack of good output.

  1. Page 5 ↩︎
  2. See The Color of Law for more on redlining ↩︎
  3. Page 36 ↩︎
  4. To be clear I don’t agree with this idea that kids are forced in any way ↩︎
  5. Page 92, 93 ↩︎
  6. The Shock Doctrine is another great book looking at how people get charter school going in the midst of Hurricane Katrina ↩︎
  7. Page 114 ↩︎
  8. Page 124 ↩︎
  9. Page 117 ↩︎

Related Content