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

Trolling, abuse and harassment on Twitter: the context of education (eduTwitter)

I will begin with a little context, for those of you who are not involved in education and social media in the UK. The issues of trolling, abuse, harassment, free speech on social media are general, so it is probably worth you tolerating an explanation of context to begin. Following this are my own views about how to deal with such issues.

In the last seven years, a growing group of activist teachers have been espousing a return to traditional teaching. An approach where the teacher leads and learning is characterised by the memorisation of facts, methods and information. It demands a strict approach to behaviour management. There is a widespread view that teaching methods should be assessed using  science-based research. There are teachers who share some of these views, but they do not believe in all these principles of teacher-led teaching, learning as memorisation or science-based education. For them traditionalism is not a panacea or a global solution to education. The traditionalists (trads) identify this dissenting group as progressives (progs). Progressives are all educators and teachers who are not traditionalists. I imagine the traditionalists view this more as a factional dispute. But I see it as a struggle of one group to assert power and a particular viewpoint over all of education. The traditionalist would view it as two tribes, trying to prove the validity and effectiveness of their preferred method over the other’s preferred method of teaching.

On Twitter, of a weekend, evening or during the school holidays, you will observe some intense interactions. Whether you see it as one side trying to assert their view or whether you see it as two tribes. Interactions are passionate, sometimes fierce, they can be aggressive, people get furious, things can become tense. Nothing every really gets resolved, the traditionalists don’t seem to persuade the progressives and vice versa. It is a stalemate, unresolved, tensions persist; it can appear really tense and tribal.

So you have the context.

I want to talk now – within this context – about trolling, abuse, harassment, insult and offence. First trolling. A trad may put a tweet on twitter, something like “progressives ignore science and harm kids in school [link to related news article]”. To the trad this looks like a fair comment. “It’s evidenced-based, it’s true, there is no arguing with it. It’s fact.” To the prog this is first-order trolling. “Oh! Dear God! It’s more complex than that! Why would they be so reductive?” They tweet: “Trads are like fascists, they want everyone to do it their way. Idiots.” Or something of the like.

Day-in-day-out, twenty-four-seven, you can find trolling and counter trolling. It may or may not erupt into combat. If a twitter battle ensues, the warriors rush in, daubed in their war paint. They arrive in hordes. Shoulder-to-shoulder they battle. A war of words in 140 characters. “Take that!” They cry. When pride is injured, tiredness takes over or they have something other to do, they limp back home.

It’s generally good fun. No one really gets hurt. Each army usually consist of the same people. They all know each other. They are sworn enemies, but they are regulars. Just like the Sealed Knot. Nothing ever gets resolved. No one ever says, after one of these exchanges, “You know what, I was wrong, let me join your gang.” Well, not as a result of a twitter skirmish anyway.

So trolling is OK generally. It’s a thing that happens on Twitter. It happens on British EduTwitter. It’s provocative, the language can be rich and colourful. The accusations and assertions and the ad hominem can be quite fruity, on both sides. It is mostly in general terms: “trads are like …” or “progs are like …”. You know, it’s bit like West Side Story.

Abuse is more serious. This involves singling someone out and attacking them individually. Intimidating and undermining them. If this persists, then it is harassment. Repeated abuse is harassment. It is up to the individual to deal with abuse and harassment when they are subject to it. It is hard and emotionally demanding.

In the first instance, if you find that you are subject to abuse and harassment on Twitter, it is important that you are assertive. If the abuse is concerned with race, gender or sexuality, then it should be reported to Twitter and to the police. If it is a threat of violence it needs to be taken seriously. The following advice is from Twitter:

Online abuse
Being the target of online abuse is not easy to deal with. Knowing the appropriate steps to take to address your situation can help you through the process.

When to report it?
We’ve all seen something on the Internet we disagree with or have received unwanted communication. Such behavior does not necessarily constitute online abuse. If you see or receive an reply you don’t like, unfollow and end any communication with that account.

If the behavior continues, it is recommend that you block the account. Blocking will prevent that person from following you, seeing your profile image on their profile page, or in their timeline; additionally, their replies or mentions will not show in your Notifications tab (although these Tweets may still appear in search).

Abusive accounts often lose interest once they realize that you will not respond. If the account in question is a friend, try addressing the issue offline. If you have had a misunderstanding, it may be possible to clear the matter up face to face or with the help of a trusted individual.

If you continue receiving unwanted, targeted and continuous replies on Twitter, and feel it constitutes online abuse, consider reporting the behavior to Twitter (see Twitter online support for further information).

Much abuse and harassment is at a lower level. It is still serious, upsetting and unhealthy, for all involved. In these circumstances, if you find yourself the subject of abuse, if it is directed at you personally, a useful starting point is to let the person know how you feel. This might be enough to make them stop. They might have been unaware of the impact of their words or actions. It might have been a misunderstanding. It is important that the person being abused lets the abuser know the impact of what they are doing. It is only the abused person who experiences those feelings and the interaction with the bully, it is only they that communicate this to the bully. An individual being abused may not feel they can do this. The abuser or harasser may seem so much more powerful. This is where friends can lend support and should encourage the individual to be assertive.

From the bully’s perspective, the testament of the abused can be very powerful, in my view it is more likely to change the character of interactions and relationships than punitive measures.

It may not work, the bullying behaviour may persist, if so then mute, block and report. But it is a an important and powerful first step.

I was involved in a discussion this morning about this (with a trad :)). Their view was that friends and associates should confront abuse on behalf of the person being abused. I disagree. In the prog versus trad context, this just exacerbates the tribalism and deepens tensions. It is important that your ‘tribe’, should you be associated with one, support you and not try to rectify the situation through confrontation, by proxy, with the bully. This leads to gang warfare and not to a productive solution. It also leads to false flags about online abuse i.e. using vexatious accusations of abuse in a harassing and intimidating way.

There are many things said and presented on Twitter that are offensive and insulting. It has to be remembered that offence is not necessarily abuse. If something is insulting or offensive and it is not aimed at you personally, you are not being abused, you are being offended. This is uncomfortable, but healthy. It is the exercise of free speech. If you don’t want to be offended do something else and don’t engage with social media. Offence as hatred toward a particular race, gender or sexuality is a hate crime that’s different. That must be reported.

Social media is a vibrant space for free speech and to share ideas. It should be kept that way. Hate should be called out. Prepare to be offended or insulted. Act assertively, if you are intimidated, bullied or abused.

On this issue, I welcome your comments below.

It’s good to talk

This I wrote earlier this year in response to furious ‘debates’ on twitter about pedagogy. I decided to post it on my blog in response to this tweet. This is not the only piece of research that establishes that evidence alone does not change people’s views.

The debate over the relative merits of traditional or progressive teaching has become boring. This suggestion has caused outrage in some corners of education social media. While it has prompted a shrugging indifference by others. Since there are strongly held views about the right to have this debate, I thought I would re-examine it. I also examine the nature and value of debate in resolving this issue.

The main objection to subduing this debate is, first of all, simply, that it closes it down. But more importantly – and with some allusion to a sinister plot to undermine open discussion – it removes the right of teachers to express their views and have a voice. Moreover, that it is an attack on teachers’ professionalism. I use little hyperbole in conveying the strong feelings that were prompted by the suggestion that the trad/prog debate was over.

There is more.

There have been arguments that it goes against fundamental democratic principles by not allowing debate on this issues. Appealing to the precedence of academic and philosophical discursive engagement as established practice.  There have been claims too, this debate is central to improving education. Indicating a view that debate would be the means by which one or the other, traditional or progressive, could be proven the most effective.

On the other side of this debate about a debate. Teachers have argued, from a practical perspective, that I do both anyway; I have some rote learning and learning of facts, but I have some groupwork and project work. Others, have argued that the debate cannot really help improve things. Traditional and progressive are abstractions of what really happens in classrooms: they do not reflect what goes on in schools.

A further issue is that there are differences in the extent to which the two approaches can be defined. Traditional can be more clearly defined as a teacher-led transmission approach to learning, featuring teacher explanations, demonstration and instruction, followed by student practice or exercise, followed by review or assessment. Progressive approaches are less easy to define, yes you can say student-centred, you might refer to inquiry- or discovery-based learning, and you might refer to dialogic teaching, student collaboration or groupwork. But the variants are vast and approaches diverse. It is easier to define progressive forms as the things that are not traditional. The debate becomes traditional (T) vs not-traditional (not T). This makes debating the issue almost impossible, for reasons that I will attempt to make apparent.

What is a debate?

The purpose of academic debate is to explore different positions and viewpoints. It involves people communicating their views and presenting an argument and evidence in support. There is opportunity to question each other’s positions and examine the arguments. This presents each with an opportunity to reconsider and explore their thinking. It allows the quality of argument to develop. It is a meeting place of ideas, some of which might be in opposition. So it is a forum to formulate new understanding based on the ideas put forward. It might be opportunity for synthesis; for participants to formulate new positions or perspectives with which they collaborate and contribute to a shared and inclusive position. The character of debate is one of collegiality, which does not mean accepting without question what participants have to offer, but it does require that views are respected.

Suppose the debate begins and ends with opposition, that there is no ultimate agreement and that parties cannot find any shared ground. The debate is characterised by some strongly held entrenched positions with opponents unwilling to give any ground. Beliefs and views become fiercely contested. On social media this is where debates can end up.

The debate is no longer a debate it is a dispute.

How do you proceed once in dispute? I have observed people try to examine the logic of their opponent’s argument and to impress on them the sheer weight of scientific evidence supporting their position. With what aim? Presumably the aim would be to change the opponent’s beliefs. Yet changing someone’s beliefs in a dispute situation is unlikely.

In the traditional versus progressive debate, whichever side you take – assuming you do take a position – the evidence is equivocal. There is always going to be an argument, one way or the other. The implication is that the views on either side of the debate are based on beliefs rather than certain truths.

As an opponent in a dispute, what are the options? Agree to disagree? Or, pursue further argument and attempt to disarm the opposition with overwhelming evidence and by exposing the holes in their arguments?

If you pursue the latter course what is the likelihood of changing their view? The answer is close to nil. To change peoples’ views, it necessary to engage with their ideas over a period of time, to understand their perspective and the basis for that perspective. You collaborate. In return they do the same. In the end you learn about yourself and others. They learn about you.

Debate will get you so far with this, but only so far, because you don’t have opportunity for shared experience of practice (that’s where collaborative action research is a valuable activity).

What is destructive is the point at which the debate becomes a dispute. It becomes intractable and irresolvable: views even become more entrenched. Of course you might resolve a dispute in a civil court of law, but even after a judgement has been made, it is not going to change people’s beliefs.

Debate is valuable, but if it ends up in dispute, continuing the trad/ prog debate is so much worse than boring.