For some involved in the education debate, there is a lot to agonise about. I have been told, for instance, that I am not political enough; that if I want to convince people of my position then I need to be less extreme in my view that teachers should use explicit instruction all of the time. If you are in the habit of reading my blog then you will know that this is not my view. It is a projection.

I recently read a very thoughtful blog post by Bryan Penfound where he describes the existence of an in-group and an out-group. He writes about calling-out a member of the out-group in order please members of the in-group: A form of tribalism.

It is true that we all have our biases. We feel cognitive dissonance when someone disagrees with us. We delight in being able to prove opponents wrong and we find it easy to imagine that they are bad people. The converse of this is that we feel affirmed by those who agree with us and we are quick to assume that they are good people.

But if you are writing blog posts attacking ideas in order to please other people then you are doing it wrong. If someone has a public platform and uses it to make statements about education that you disagree with or think are harmful then you have every right to refute those statements, particularly if you have a reasoned argument or supporting evidence. This is not tribalism; it is a contribution to a much needed debate.

Unfortunately, education generally lacks this kind of critical challenge. This is why non-teaching consultants with half-baked ideas can make so much money from us. Everyone is too polite. And this is why you see such extreme reactions to criticism: it is because criticism is so unusual.

I don’t think debate necessarily leads to tribalism. My views on education are shared by many whose views on politics are quite different to mine. And I find myself at odds with those who would otherwise be my allies on issues as diverse as Scottish devolution, free/charter schools, the legacy of the enlightenment and the vacuity of superhero films.

I’m not interested in being political. I would prefer to be anti-political. I think we’ve all had enough of spin and manipulation. I believe that they are far less persuasive than people think. I would draw a broader thesis here but this is not the place.

With me, what you see is what you get. If I write that I agree or disagree with an idea then it is because I agree or disagree with that idea: nothing more and nothing less. And I’m probably wrong a lot of the time.

You can make your own mind up.


7 thoughts on “Tribalism

  1. To me, it’s really disheartening to see:

    Person A states “I am right because of X.” without taking the chance to hear the side of Person B. Typically, this would elicit Person B to have more firm faith in their beliefs (whether or not they are truthful). Perhaps Person B argues back stating “I am right because of Y.” causing the cycle to continue.

    What I would like to see more of is based on self-affirmation theory:

    Person A asks Person B why they believe the thing that they do. Person B has a chance to elaborate. Person A takes the time to think about this response, and perhaps shows Person B items that go against Person B’s experiences. Since both sides have listened to each other, we are more likely to see a change in opinion (rather than each becoming more entrenched in original beliefs).

    I see a lot of case 1 happening in real life and in the Twitter-sphere.

    • I don’t think we need to restrict or overanalyse debate in this way. Just say what you think and why, preferably with some supporting evidence. Sometimes we might agree. At other times we might not.

      • I agree. Too much of modern discourse is dominated by distractions of the sort that someone is accused of violating another person’s feelings or sensibilities, or simply just offending, and can’t you just be a little nicer? And the conversation is effectively derailed, and a point of substance is lost.

        As Ben Shapiro is famous for saying, facts don’t care about your feelings. They also don’t care “which side you’re on”. As humans, of course, we care who is in our social circle, and we do well to make an effort to remain civil in all our conversations. But I think we must rise above the level of human emotional gamesmanship when dealing with matters of import that are subject to rational debate and empirical investigation. Life is too short to subvert matters of great weight by turning them into negotiations for personal social status in a milieu consisting largely of deliberately crafted internet personae. The strength of the web as a medium for dialogue ought to be that it provides an arena that transcends petty personalities. I am sad when I see it degenerate back toward that side of things.

  2. Spot on. Reminds me of what the Tooley Report said about academic educationalists – that they worked in isolation, ignored by everyone else, and neither confirmed nor refuted each other’s views. I think it is large part a function of the sort of relativism that says that people’s views are just a function of their subjective inclinations. If that is the case, then what is there to disagree about anyway? I wrote recently about this in

    In answer to Bryan, I am not sure that there is anything wrong in person A saying “I am right because of X”. The problem starts with person B, who should have said “X does not justify your position because of Y, but I am right because of Z”. That starts the conversation. A certain amount of adversarial debate is beneficial – it doesn’t all have to be touchy-feely empathy.

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