I have been blogging and tweeting for six years. For much of that time, I have been involved in vigorous debates both on Twitter and in the comments section of my blog. However, when a recent debate flooded my notifications, I realised that my involvement is such discussions has become far less frequent.
There are two reasons for this. The first is a shift in my own attitude and the second is a shift in the character of EduTwitter itself.
People who don’t stand for anything
A few years ago, I would agonise over blocking people. I would warn them first and only make a block temporary. These days, I am far more ready to block and mute and I don’t feel the need to explain myself.
This shift initially came about due to a rise in anonymous trolls who specifically targeted people like me who write about education. They would have names like ‘Mr Strict’ and they would pop up to offer abuse. I began to block as soon as I was aware of them.
However, there are other, more subtle ways of wasting time on Twitter. The recent growth of identity politics has seen an increase in the number of people who want to infer racism where it does not exist or call-out others on their ‘white privilege’. When I have tried to engage, I have been told to read some obscure book because explaining any of this to me is ’emotional labour’. So I now completely ignore these people. It seems a shame because they may have valid points to make.
And for a debate to be worthwhile, both parties need to hold a position that can be scrutinised. My position is pretty clear: I believe in explicit instruction, a knowledge-rich curriculum and strong whole-school approaches to behaviour. The position of others is often more obscure. I have a lot of people who follow my output very closely and say things like, “I see Greg has tweeted about x. This paper is also about x and makes a slightly different claim.” This may or may not be a valid comment, but without an alternative position to scrutinise, any ensuing discussion rapidly descends into one of definitions and the relative merits of complexity versus simplicity. I know from experience that these discussions can go on for days or even weeks without getting anywhere and so I don’t bother any more.
Twitter has changed
I also think there has been a net growth in the number of people who won’t commit to a position on Twitter. We have seen a great deal of debate denial. People say things like, “The progressive versus traditionalist debate only happens on Twitter; it’s all a false choice; nobody is against teaching knowledge,” and so on.
It is invariably progressivist teachers and educationalists who make these claims and it is a way of avoiding scrutiny of this ideology. It works pretty well out in the real world when these people hold positions of authority, as many of them do. It means they can pursue their agenda whilst removing the grounds for challenging it.
However, Twitter is not hierarchical in this way. Imagine someone joining our little corner of EduTwitter for the first time. They will see, on one side, blogs about Cognitive Load Theory and knowledge-rich curricula, and other the other side, statements that, “Nobody is against teaching knowledge”. It would look like a consensus has been reached. With nobody making the progressivist case, it would appear that the debate is over and the argument won.
This is perhaps not true of the debate over behaviour. There are still many who will loudly complain about strong behaviour policies and argue for permissive ones, usually framed as a discussion about exclusions. So that’s still going on.
And a debate won on Twitter is not a debate won. People may hide their positions from scrutiny, but they will still be pursuing them in schools, universities, governments bureaucracies and through politics. The challenge for us all is to take the fight to these institutions without being assassinated in the process.