Email from a school leader about the New Right 2.0 article

Hi Steven,

Please can I congratulate you on your article. I am sure you are going to be deluged by negativity from the “trads” you mention.

As a partisan senior leader just trying to do the best for my pupils, I have to tell you how reassuring your article has been for me.

I have only recently re-joined twitter out of a misguided paranoia that I was “missing out” and hence becoming left behind on the best methodologies/ ideas of how to meet my goal of doing the best I can for my students.

After only a few weeks I have quickly noticed a decline in my own self worth and overall mental health. A constant feeling of thinking I have no idea what I am doing unless I read, X,Y Z quickly became embedded.
The people who I was following were some of the best known “trads”. I was astounded by the authority and absolute certainty from which they spoke. Oh to only have half the number of answers and confidence of them!

I feel that within teaching there is a neurosis that pervades every teacher, which is paradoxically what actually makes a good teacher. I refer to it as the “not good enough gene”. We are constantly striving to improve and ensure we meet the needs of all students no matter how inconceivable that may be.

I have come to the conclusion over the last few weeks that these people prey on this quality for self promotion and profiteering. How many books have these people sold? How much money have they made?
I wish I had the time to write as prolifically as they do, and keep up with my workload to a standard with which I am happy.

Anyway, one thing I am grateful for, is that these people have signposted me to your article in their outrage and this is the one thing I have read that I can say I whole heartedly agree with.

All #edutwitter has done is make me once again reaffirm my commitment to remove myself from these platforms as even in these so called professional communities the damage to mental health far outweighs the positives. This is my conclusion in regards to all social media, and so once again  today I will delete my account. An account I actually only set up to just read information and not Interact, which even this has done more harm to me than good.

Thank you for your work and wisdom.Feel free to show this to whomever you wish  if it aids you in any way.

Kindest regards
Dawn Johnson
Vice Principal Sandymoor Ormiston Academy

In support of ‘trad’ educational micropopulism (mostly)

Yes, there has been some utter guff drivelling out of university schools of education in recent decades. Weakly conceptualised research, ideas and approaches that have little empirical justification and spurious ideology. I completely agree with the traditionalist using a grassroots social media-based activist base to challenge this.

I was, as a teacher, subject to the National Strategies (from the early noughties). New Labour’s centrally bureaucratised approach to teaching and learning. It included models of practice, the infernal three-part lesson and endless assessment. It was de-professionalising and invasive.

I am not inherently opposed to populism. I see it as a part of liberal democracy, it is the means by which institutions are forced to adapt and respond to the needs of people.

One caveat though. If you adopt a populist strategy it is important to be clear who the unjust elite are. Trad micropopulism largely identifies progressive academic elites as the authority in suppressing the teacher and foisting unscientific approaches on them. The real power though is not the academic elite, although they (I mean me and we) should not be let off scot-free. The elite that we should all turn our focus on is those that have control over capital, resources, infrastructure and media. It is the flow of capital and the distribution of resources that much more strongly define teachers’ experiences of their work than does the odd teacher educator promoting ‘learning styles’ or group work.

There is a danger in characterising the progressive academic as the ‘unjust elite’ in a populist rupture since it aligns with some pretty extreme far-right tropes about cultural marxism and the promulgation of culture wars. Here is where we can get buried in unproductive identity politics. I use the term identity politics here advisedly. I recognise fully that identity as political motivation is an important aspect of challenging existing representations. However, changes in representation without systemic changes to society do not in themselves lead to social justice.

For more on this issue see my article in the British Educational Research Journal

It all kicked off on Twitter after I posted a journal article

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.

A screenshot of a cell phone

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A screenshot of a cell phone

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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.

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A screenshot of a cell phone

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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.