I have been blogging about education for close to five years. When I first started, I never had an audience in mind (to be fair, I didn’t have an audience). It was more of a sandbox for setting out my ideas. I think that putting your ideas down in writing helps clarify your thinking and we don’t always have the opportunity to do that in real life. So blogging was an exercise that helped.
After a while, I began to receive feedback from readers. Much of this was positive and from people chewing over the same ideas as me. I started to realise that I was providing a useful resource. I would share papers and articles that I had read and they found this helpful.
Others would disagree with me. Again, I saw this as a way of testing out my thinking. Some of the arguments in the comments or on Twitter would go back and forth for days.
Then an odd thing started to happen. People would give me advice. “If you want to persuade me…” they would write before making comments about my tone or style. I genuinely found it astonishing that they thought I was trying to persuade anyone of anything. I now understand a little more about how writing is taught at school. It is conceptualised as writing for a purpose; narrative, persuasive, informative. It makes sense that someone would interpret the articulation of my views as an attempt to persuade.
Some of this advice seemed pretty restrictive: I should hedge everything; I should write more in the style of an academic paper; I should avoid saying anything that might upset anyone; I should be less abrupt on Twitter.
I never paid much attention to this advice because I wasn’t trying to persuade. I now realise that it’s almost impossible to persuade the people who strongly disagree with me and I wonder why they were offering me this advice. There are some people I’ve given up arguing with because they seem impervious to reason. More darkly, there have been attempts to shut me down with threats, complaints and abuse.
However, I now realise that there is a third constituency out there. These are the decent, hardworking teachers who are not ideologically committed to educational progressivism. They may have been taught this ideology during their training – without it ever being labelled as such – and had it promoted to them through professional development. But, as pragmatists, they are aware that it doesn’t work particularly well; it is impractical. I think it is no coincidence that the strongest progressive voices are those who don’t have to teach classes every day; consultants, academics, managers and commentators from other fields.
And I’ve realised that it is ordinary teachers who benefit from the airing of these opposing views. They see bloggers like me making a reasoned case and they see us attacked for our tone, insulted or labelled as fascists. They wonder if there is any rational argument hidden away behind those accusations and they suspect that they are made so vociferously because such an argument is lacking.
So I think this debate is good for teachers. As a profession, we can only gain from it. That’s what keeps me blogging.