For reasons I cannot recall, I recently listened to this podcast in which an Australian education academic is interviewed about a book chapter he has written on teachers and social media. The discussion is largely about the unpleasant nature of EduTwitter and how it has not led to a greater voice for teachers. I have provided a link to the podcast even though I would never expect the favour to be returned.
I find these kinds of discussions grimly fascinating. I have no problem taking a view on the major issues affecting education and yet the two people in the podcast position themselves as seated at a pavement cafe, observing the debate. As they smoke their metaphorical gitanes, they analyse and critique what all those other silly people are doing.
And yet their subjectivity is obvious. The academic talks of being criticised by people in England for referring to himself as a ‘teacher’. These people are clearly ‘angry’ because, of course, it is not possible to simply disagree with the academic on something in a calm way, you must be emotional and irrational. When the discussion turns to traditional media, the academic refers to ‘The Murdoch Press’ and their ‘strawman arguments’. As has become the fashion, we hear that EduTwitter itself is hopelessly tribal with everyone (else) stuck in their own echo chambers and nobody ever willing to change their views. ‘Trads’ and ‘Progs’ are just like Trump and Bernie Sanders supporters in the US (and I think we know which is which, am I right?). And for some reason it also seems necessary to conflate EduTwitter with the people on Twitter who abuse others on the basis of race and gender. Therefore, EduTwitter is interesting, but a bit pointless and possibly dangerous. Teachers be warned.
This picture is false. A few times a week, I am contacted by someone new through my blog. Typically, they say something like, “I have often held different opinions about education than those that are dominant in my school and it is only through Twitter and blogs that I have learnt that I am not alone”. So, if nothing else, the medium helps keep some teachers sane. However, it is more than that because we are now seeing ideas that germinated on Twitter and in blogs taking hold in schools. These schools are mostly in England, but there is clearly a growing influence in Australia too. I have been able to connect with educators across the country to communicate and share ideas and resources in way that would be inconceivable without social media.
I am also aware that, far from EduTwitter being an isolated bubble, Australian education journalists follow some of the key discussions which often then emerge into the traditional media. So we do have a new, relatively democratic means for teachers to be heard. Anyone can start a blog, fewer manage to continue to post regularly, but if they do and they build a following, they have a genuine opportunity to influence the national discussion.
I think educationalists also know this at some level because a few years ago, there was a flowering of personal blogs by Australian academics. These now seem to have largely fizzled out. I’m not sure why, but perhaps that has soured the outlook.
The biggest mistake that people frequently make when discussing EduTwitter is to assume that it is all about the two people who are having a debate. It is not. It is about the many silent onlookers who have not committed to one side of any particular argument. The ‘performative’ nature of the debate throws light on the best and worst arguments on both sides of an issue and helps teachers take an informed view.
So why might an academic find it important to construct EduTwitter as pointless and negative?
We all need to sleep at night and one way of doing that is to tell ourselves bedtime stories in which we are the good ones, the wise ones. It is fair to say that EduTwitter is challenging much of the group think in education faculties. Rather than have an existential crisis, it is far easier to construct EduTwitter as a mean thing and try to dismiss it.
What about the pretension to objectivity – the claim to a seat at the pavement cafe? Why construct the debate as something going on between other people, while obscuring your own position and stance on the matters under discussion? Well, that’s another way of avoiding challenge. If debate occurs between other people then your own assumptions are safe. Let these ignorant pawns fight their battles.
Is this a conscious strategy? I doubt it. If it were, I suspect it would be less transparent.