Social media brings out the best and worst in people. And when a gang of like-minded individuals have a target acquired – someone who violates their in-group norms – people who imagine they are the epitome of courtesy and virtue belie these qualities and go hunting.
Doug Lemov is the author of Teach Like a Champion, a compendium of strategies that he compiled by observing effective teachers. Some of these are genius, others I’m not so crazy about, possibly because I haven’t tried using them, and some get a little lost in translation when they cross the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans. Regardless, TLAC is highly recommended. As an education book, it is rare in providing practical steps that are likely improve your practice.
A few months ago, at the height of the George Floyd protests, a maths education professor in the US decided to make a name for themselves by attacking TLAC for being ‘carceral’ (something to do with prisons) and therefore somehow racist. Bizarre, right?
Now, it appears that a baying mob of group-thinking individuals lurk on Twitter, looking for the opportunity to interpret Lemov’s tweets in the worst possible way and then prove their in-group membership by calling him out.
Take this tweet:
It’s a valid and not particularly controversial piece of advice that you may choose to agree with or not. During remote learning, I have asked students to have their cameras on so I can scan for confused faces in the way I do in the classroom and to keep a connection going. There have been times when this has not been possible due to poor internet connections. And if a student has let me know they were uncomfortable – or I got a sense they were – they were able to opt out. However, in general, I think having the cameras on is a good idea.
And this is where we run into the ‘dogs have four legs problem’ of uncharitable interpretation. When someone in real life says that ‘dogs have four legs’, others understand this as a generalisation. They don’t attack the person by saying, ‘How dare you say that – some dogs may have had a leg amputated due to a road accident!’
However, on Twitter, such uncharitable takes are sadly to be expected. In this case, people pointed out that it was not impossible for students to talk with the cameras off.
Lemov was some kind of monster who, with no care for the privacy or wellbeing of students, would enforce the switching on of cameras at any cost!
It soon became clear that this was not really about Lemov’s tweet but the wider campaign against TLAC.
And, as ever, people gloried in the ‘ratio’ on the tweet ie the fact that they and their like minded friends had said lots of unpleasant things in response to Lemov’s tweet, as if this was some kind of achievement.
So there you are – a coordinated internet trolling event in all its ugliness.
If you have reasoned disagreements with Lemov’s techniques, then I think that’s fine. You should maybe blog about them or post to Twitter. However, try not to assume bad motives on Lemov’s part. I’m pretty sure we are all doing our best here and it is possible to have the right motivations and still be mistaken.
If you don’t know what to think because you haven’t read TLAC then, if you have the means, I would encourage you to go out and buy a copy. It really is a great book.
And if you love TLAC, consider adding your views on the subject to social media.
I am grateful to Lemov’s contribution. Without his early blog posts on remote learning, I don’t think my school’s approach, although not perfect by any means, would have been as good as it has been. We need a few more practical people like Lemov in education and we can probably do with a few less virtue-signalling ideologues.
Update: Doug Lemov has now posted about this incident and about the reasoning behind his tweet.