Conspiracy Theory and the City

And The City | Prima Abdullah

In 2008, 23 public schools were about be closed by D.C. mayor Adrian Fenty, whose political agenda included aggressive educational reform, claiming that public education in the US, particularly in troubled urban neighbourhoods, had been broken for a long time.[1] At the beginning of his term, public schools in DC were considered the lowest performing in the US. Collapsed infrastructure, non-merit-based teacher salaries, and bloated central office bureaucracy were said to be the main causes of low performing students. He had defined the problem and aimed to fix it.

One of his working examples was Sousa Middle school, where fewer than 16% of students could read and do math at grade level at the beginning of his term. Within a year, the school had improved enough to meet federal benchmarks for progress the first time in its history, while other schools that could not meet those standards were closed.

However, not everyone was pleased with this vision. John Burrough Elementary School was one of the 23 schools that was closed down. One of the parents claimed that the reasoning for closing the school down was unfounded. The school was 15th in reading out of 81. It was in the top 20% in math. The parents worked well, the PTA body was active, and the community loved the school.[2]

The community came up with an explanation: it must be a land grab. The school is located on a beautiful long block, and there is a large green field that was available for the children to play on. Everyone in the community seemed to think that developers had converged upon DC and were targeting the properties they wanted. Another school building had been closed and replaced with million-dollar condos.[3]

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[1] Rhee, M., Fenty, A., “The Education Manifesto”. The Wall Street Journal. 30 October 2010.
[2] Jeter, Jon. “Human Resources”, This American Life. 29 February 2008.
[3] Jeter, Jon. “Human Resources”, This American Life. 29 February 2008.
[4] Rotschild, Mike. The Plan to Take Washington. Skeptoid blog. 29 July 2013.
[5] Jeter, Jon. “Human Resources”, This American Life. 29 February 2008.
[6] Rotschild, Mike. The Plan to Take Washington. Skeptoid blog. 29 July 2013.
[7] Hopkinson, Natalie. “Farewell to Chocolate City”, New York Times. 23 June 2012.
[8] Morello, C., Keating, D. “Number of Black DC Residents Plummets as Majority Status Slips Away.” The Washington Post. 24 March 2011.
[9] United States Census.
[10] Washington DC Income Map, Earning Map, and Wages Data.
[11] Franciska, Christine. “How fake news and hoaxes have tried to derail Jakarta’s election” 18 April 2017.
[12] Tarrant, Bill. “Special Report: In Jakarta, that sinking feeling is all too real”, Reuters. 22 December 2014.
[13] Erkens, G., Bucx, T., Dam, R., de Lange, G., and Lambert, J.: Sinking coastal cities, Proc. IAHS, 372, 189–198,, 2015.
[14] A. Koulali, S. McClusky, S. Susilo, Y. Leonard, P. Cummins, P. Tregoning, I. Meilano, J. Efendi, A.B. Wijanarto, (2017), The kinematics of crustal deformation in Java from GPS observations: Implications for fault slip partitioning, Earth and Planetary Science Letters,458,69-79 .
[15] Gregory, Andy. “Giant sea wall ‘must be built quickly’ to stop Indonesian capital sinking into sea, president says” 27 July 2019.
[16] Paat, Yustinus. “Anies Defends Coastal Reclamation in Ancol” Jakarta Globe. 13 July 2020.
[17] Hern, Alex. “Cambridge Analytica did work for Leave. EU, emails confirm”. 30 July 2019.
[18] Cadwalladr, Carole. “Facebook’s role in Brexit – and the threat to democracy”\TED. 10 June 2019.
[19] Rosenberg M., Confessore N., Cadwalladr C., “How Trump Consultants Exploited the Facebook Data of Millions”. The New York Times. 17 March 2018.
[20] Mozur, Paul. “A Genocide Incited on Facebook, With Posts From Myanmar’s Military” The New York Times. 15 oct 2018.
[21] Robert S. Gottfried (11 May 2010). Black Death. Simon and Schuster. p. 74ff. ISBN 978-1-4391-1846-7.
[22] Odell, Shanon. “A Neuroscientist Explains What Conspiracy Theories Do To Your Brain | Inverse” 15 January 2019.
[23] Satya-Murti, S. “Recognizing and reducing cognitive bias in clinical and forensic neurology” Neurology Clinical Practice. 5 Oct 2015.
[24] Zizek, Slavoj. “‘The real problem with fake news....’: Slavoj Zizek in RT’s ‘How to watch the news’, episode 03” Youtube/RT. 8 February 2019.
[25] Warburton, Eve., Gammon, Lia. “Class dismissed? Economic fairness and identity politics in Indonesia” New Mandala. 5 May 2017.
[26] Coman, Julia. “Michael Sandel: ‘The populist backlash has been a revolt against the tyranny of merit’” The Guardian 6 September 2020.