I teach, therefore I am.
I love a good debate; it’s often where I come closest to finding answers to the complexities of education. I find it invigorating to have your ideas challenged and to be forced to think beyond your own remit. As a student I remember being hugely frustrated when mid-debate, someone would close it with “I don’t want to have an argument” as if the passionate exchange of ideas was somehow negative or designed to attack. As a teacher, I have enjoyed the battle of ideas that is found within schools, at conferences and online.
However it seems that increasingly these debates on Twitter are being reduced to slanging matches, where personal insults are attached to academic arguments and groups of people from all parts of the education spectrum are accused of neglect and cruelty towards the pupils they teach, because of the views they hold.
When I first joined Twitter, I was overwhelmed by the positive network of teachers and educationalists all striving for ways to become better at what they do. I loved the collaborative nature of the online education community: the shared resources; the offers of help and support; the way in which a few exchanges of tweets would often lead to an offer to visit someone’s school or work together on a project. I loved the chance to read other people’s blogs and the chance to think about education from a different perspective. In the last three years, I have been incredibly enriched by this all and the relationships which I have built.
Yet now when I open my Twitter feed I find endless strings of Twitter arguments, mostly which don’t even attempt to be constructive but simply harass people for thinking differently or for posting something which they don’t agree with. I hate the way cliques have grown and wars rage between them following every Tweet or post. I hate that when someone talks about their experiences in the classroom or their ideas about education, people seem to think it’s ok to completely destroy their character with petty insults. Most of all I hate the way there is an assumption that some teachers out there have a nasty agenda rather than thinking that they are simply trying to find a way to help their pupils learn.
We should be using Twitter and blogging to argue ideas, to passionately defend our views of education and point out weaknesses in arguments. Yet can’t we do this without the biting insults and tirades, without character assassination and accusations of Machiavellian motives?
As teachers we often get it in the neck, whether it be from parents, politicians, or the media. What I loved about my experience of the education community was the feeling that we were in this together; that we were all trying in our own way to make a difference for our pupils. No matter how much I disagree with someone; I don’t want to lose this sense that the majority of us are in it for the right reasons. That doesn’t stop us getting it wrong, and we should fight against policy or practice that we feel negatively impacts on the children in our care.
All I’m saying is, can’t we do this with a bit of grace and decency? Can’t we just assume – unless proven otherwise – that the person we disagree with is just as committed as us to getting it right? I know I’m much more likely to listen to someone who disagrees with my argument respectfully rather than someone who makes negative assumptions about my character. I also know that constructive comments and passionate debate that stick to the arguments in hand is where a difference can be made; where we can find a way to persuade others to change their mind or can have our own views changed for the better.
I believe in fighting for your beliefs until your last breath but can’t we just make the fight fair?