EduTwitter advice

There has been some poor behaviour demonstrated recently on EduTwitter and so I thought I would offer some advice, particularly to those who are new to the platform. Twitter has the potential to take over too much of your time. In particular, arguing on Twitter, although often worthwhile, can be time-consuming and pointless. Here are my views on what and who to avoid:

Nobody has a right to an audience

Some just want to lurk on Twitter, follow links and learn. That’s fine. However, once you start making statements of opinion, such as what you think the evidence demonstrates about a particular teaching method, you are likely to provoke a negative response. That’s also fine. Such discussions can be instructive. However, it is rare for an antagonist in such a debate to admit they are wrong. Instead, the best that can be hoped for is that others who are yet to commit to a view will be better informed by the argument. Such arguments can usually be explored to the fullest extent allowed by Twitter in less than about 20 tweets.

In my experience, people lose sight of this and persist in a debate for far too long. You may think you have completely demolished an argument and that your opponent should acknowledge this, but it takes a big person to do so. People are quite capable of applying a double standard. For instance, they will feign offence at the way you have framed your point, even if they have a track record of expressing strident opinions themselves. However, the most common way of avoiding being wrong is to question someone else’s interpretation of the argument and the definitions of common terms:

“When you suggest that gravity pulls object downwards, what exactly do you mean by ‘gravity’ and ‘downwards’?…. [after 24 hours more of the thread]… OK, so now let’s discuss what you mean by an ‘object’… [after another 24 hours]… You seem to think I said there was no such thing as gravity, but what I actually suggested was that gravity doesn’t exist…”

You are under no obligation to take part in these discussions. If someone insults you then block them. It is fine to block and mute people or mute threads in order to keep your timeline under control. When you do this and people find out, they will always accuse you of blocking or muting them for simply disagreeing with you. Live with that and try not to let it annoy you.

A fair trade

If you are going to express an opinion, then I believe it is important to articulate what you favour and not just what you oppose. Too many people on Twitter are negative actors. There are two basic kinds of negative actor. The first are classic Twitter trolls of varying levels of sophistication. They advance arguments against what you propose without ever proposing anything themselves. It can be hard to discern whether this is genuine or simply an attempt to get a reaction. The other kind of negative actor are the ones who pretend to be entirely above debate. They ask questions in order to help you learn, or so they think. However, they are too insecure to present any kind of platform of their own, aware that this means their own views could then be scrutinised in the same way.

Everyone has an agenda, it’s just that some people hide theirs. Ignore these people and quickly end discussions with them. Again, they will claim you have done this because they disagreed with you.

Avoid identity politics

Since about 2015, a growing subculture on the political left has taken up the cause of identity politics. This is particularly apparent in, but not limited to, EduTwitter in the U.S. Essentially, these folks have convinced themselves that they are dismantling systemic oppression by posting tweets that disapprove of it. If history is a guide, this particular vision of left-wing politics will last until it suffers a sufficient number of electoral defeats.

It is important to understand that, like cults, the power of ideological bubbles lies in the fact that they are unfalsifiable. An unfalsifiable theory is one in which someone who subscribes to that theory can suggest no conceivable evidence that would prove the theory wrong. Once targeted, whatever you say that does not align with the ideology is further evidence in support of the ideology.

For instance, ‘white fragility,’ may be demonstrated by the, “outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation”. In other words, if you are white and your accuser is minded to do so, any reaction to an identity politics argument other than agreement, even if you walk away from the discussion, may be used as evidence of white fragility.

And there is more to it than just white fragility. Proponents of identity politics have all bases covered and people of any background may come under attack. If you are from an ethnic minority and you reject identity politics then the explanation is that you must have internalised your oppression. This is a dehumanising ideology that rejects the role of human agency in forming a viewpoint and instead suggests that viewpoint is the result of external characteristics.

It is something of an indictment that the humanities departments of our universities would let unfalsifiable theories gain so much traction without challenge. However, as far as EduTwitter is concerned, an unfalsifiable view is one that it is pointless engaging with.

6 thoughts on “EduTwitter advice

    1. basic argumentation? Or just teaching kids how to read, write and do maths? Throw a bit of science and history in there and…voila.

    2. What about teaching knowledge about different arguments or viewpoints including their history and why some are more popular. (For the sake of argument with no student debate even though that could be beneficial). This would likely reduce conflict and improve understanding. This is largely domain specific with only a little transfer. At least at first. My experience of heated arguments is that people are unaware of the structure of the opposing view with definitions at the heart of the issue. (I disagree with Greg on that). The advise to walk away is still good though though I struggle to follow it.

      1. Hmmm…. I think it’s important to acquire domain specific knowledge. For instance, when the concept of ‘white fragility’ came onto my radar I researched it and read Robin DiAngelo’s essay. Most would I assume I wouldn’t do this, but to defeat a domain specific argument you always need domain specific knowledge. And, to be honest, when I started reading the essay, I wasn’t sure how it was going to go. There’s actually a lot she gets right.

      2. Apologies Greg I meant my focus on definitions being central and discussing them unavoidable if you want to progress ( though I agree walking away is often the only sensible option).
        I got the argument about domain specific knowledge primarily from your blog so I know your position on it.
        I reread my comment and I can see it wasn’t clear.

  1. Greg – There’s probably not a great deal we would agree on, but I thought I would just say I’m entirely with you on the subject of the unsuitability of Twitter for discussing complex educational issues!

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