Did I see that coming? Well, possibly, but I didn’t consciously set out to provoke such a Twitter response when I posted a link to my most recent academic publication on social media. Within a few hours of my article, New Right 2.0: Teacher populism on social media in England, being published by the British Educational Research Journal (BERJ) on Friday 24th July, the article was receiving unprecedented attention on Twitter. Unprecedented, not only for me, but for BERJ and for an academic publication on education research more generally.
Colleagues and friends contacted me over the weekend to ask me if I was OK. It seems that for many of my associates, the response to my BERJ article was predominantly hostile. A ‘pile on’ as it is frequently referred to.
It wasn’t so one-sided, however, I was receiving at least as much support through other communication channels as I was facing robust criticism on social media.
The article itself considers how Twitter – and specifically ‘#EduTwitter’ as is my research focus – can be productive and collaborative, but it can frequently become divisive and angry. The educational schism that my paper considers is between the Trads and the Progs. The Trads or traditionalists are a consequence, I argue in the paper, of three factors: the New Right, the coalition of social conservatives and economic liberals that emerged in the 1950s in the UK and US as a reaction to post-war social democracy, Keynesianism and the welfare state; the erosion of state-sector teachers’ working conditions over the last twenty years; and as a result of effects of social media. Trads advocate for robust discipline in the classroom, educational practices that are orientated toward memorisation and for research evidence based on ‘scientific’ research methods. The political positioning of the Trads is characteristically populist, the unheeded teacher against a progressive elite. I coin the term ‘micropopulism’ to distinguish this niche populist tendency. The Progs emerged as a less coherent and less organised reaction to the Trads’ social media presence.
It was pointed out that while much of the reaction to my article denied the existence of Trad micropopulism, the actual Twitter reaction to the article provided demonstrable real-time evidence of the phenomenon and the main argument of the paper: that social media is divisive and can amplify populism in unproductive ways.
The reaction to my article did feature a populist attack on institutions – the academy (i.e. higher education institutions), the British Education Research Association (the professional association for which BERJ is the flagship academic journal) and for peer review.
In the reaction, I am characterised as a ‘gatekeeper’ for the progressive elite that exists in the academy and that has been central to the power that has foisted unscientific progressive education approaches on teachers. There were further important observations in the reaction to my article. I was robustly challenged as characterising Trads as right wing. In fact, at no point during the paper do I make such a suggestion. I do argue that there is a relationship between new right think tanks and Trad micropopulism on social media, but I have never believed that Trads’ primary political associations or voting have been for the Conservative party. What I do find interesting is those self-identifying leftist teachers should be so enthusiastic about the reforms of a new right politician such as Michael Gove. The apparent benefit of Gove’s curriculum reforms seemingly outweighs the transfer of millions of pounds worth of public assets to private interests as part of the ramping up of school academisation since 2010 by the Coalition and subsequent Conservative governments.