Tweet tweet! That’s the sound of the police…

6364040129_125d4754ef_mI’ve been thinking about (and will probably have been writing this post) for quite a long time – collecting examples of a kind of twitter behaviour that has been interesting me for some time.

A key feature of many edu-twitter users’ online life is the seeking out of practice that they disagree with or find abhorrent, in order that they can publicise their worries and coral condemnation from their followers.  I’m writing this piece not as a form of condemnation, but as an opportunity for me to  explore why this phenomenon makes me so uncomfortable. It’s inspiration is this tweet by @mrhistoire, a brilliant and thoughtful teacher who I have followed for ages – and with whom I agreed when he tweeted:

This isn’t history – nominally it is about the past, but that doesn’t mean ‘history’.  I could imagine ways of improving this, but not without relating to wider histories of gaming or leisure. Even with much effort not to such an extent that I can imaging spending any of the precious and restricted curriculum time reserved for history in primary or secondary schools.

So, I agree – end of post?

Well, no.  I wanted to know where Toby had found this poor bullet point – so I asked him. It turns out that this was from a page that was tweeted around by @C_Hendrick – another tweeting teacher whose work I’ve long read and admired.

Carl’s tweet included more items from the list of activities that this teacher was recommending:

Carl’s comment made me uncomfortable, especially when considered in the light of a tweet that he sent earlier in the week:

I’m not getting here at Carl personally.  These are just two examples of the kinds of tweet that I’m concerned with – there are many others.  In fact they have a long (hey, everything is relative) history.  We could argue that there is a tradition which has seen followers of various tweeters present them with ‘gifts’ of tweets or webpages that they hope might be tweeted around as examples of practice, beliefs or resources that can be pronounced as ‘beyond the pale’.


There will be other examples.

Why do these things worry me so much?  Why do I find them unpleasant – so much so that I have un-followed many (not all) of those who do this?

A big part of this might be because I (like many other people) don’t enjoy having my ideas challenged.  I’m quite interested in the sociology of education, and therefore how theories such as Bourdieu’s might be used to understand aspects of it.  @JamesTheo’s post might therefore be one that I find distasteful because it challenges my own preconceptions and beliefs.  Even though I’m also someone who tries to seek out ideas that challenge my views – and enjoy reading and being convinced by others perhaps sometimes these tweets force me to face up to things that are at the core of my world view – this might explain some of the feelings they inspire.  However many of these tweets I agree with (Toby French on the value of creating a ‘history of pokemon’ for instance).  Nonetheless, it is highly likely that some of this discomfort comes from feelings of disorientation and challenge.

What partly worries me is the way that these tweets make twitter the sort of place where one comes for a duel, a spat, rather than a place to find out, explore or improve.  I’ll admit that I’m someone who doesn’t like conflict or aggression – emotionally as well as intellectually.  I just feel uncomfortable when I see others being attacked, even @philipdavies (though he seems to like it).  I can’t help wondering how they feel, what effect this is having on them.

Intellectually I fear that such tweets are counter productive – that they create feelings of aggression and being under-attack which make it hard for anyone to understand either (1) how others are to be persuaded to change or (2) why their ideas or practice might need to be re-examined.  Misapprehensions and conceptions which are attacked to aggressively tend to be un-examined and instead tenaciously defended or driven underground in silent protection.

I detect a righteousness in some of these types of tweet, and as I reflect on that I think I detect in myself another form of envy. I wish I knew what I thought about things with such confidence, such decision and righteousness – really, I do.  No doubt a some aspects of my personal history leave me wishing I was one of those people who could come up with a supported opinion about something without worrying that I might be wrong.  Perhaps I’m also envious of the groups of followers that tweets like this inspire. Do I wish my social media footprint were bigger? This might be true – though I’d probably force myself to write more controversial blog-posts if were an important ambition for me.  I always hate pressing the ‘publish’ button, and much of this is driven by anxiety about whether I’m making a fool of myself.  I certainly envy those who can do this with fluency, free of such worries.

However, what worries me much much more is the way that some of these tweets – even by the most thoughtful and inspiring teacher – have the effect of closing down the categories of what it is acceptable to post about.  We might cite Carl’s insistence that some practice be ‘eradicated’ when it is clear from a moments reflection that aspects of the work in the post above could well be viable and valuable in many classrooms.

Carl’s earlier tweet, that a Philosopher’s thought experiment about preventing parents reading to their children, was ‘beyond parody’ is a great example of this last concern.  The report was an excerpt from a longer interview about about ‘familial relationship goods’ – the things that parents can do to confer advantage on their children.   Andrew Swift considered that the benefit of reading to children at bedtime conferred a bigger advantage than sending them to ‘elite private schools’.  Their conclusions were that parental reading should _not_ be banned (the opposite of the headline) because that would interfere with the proper establishment of ‘loving, authoritative affectionate’ family relationships.  (Interestingly they decided that we _could_ prevent people sending children to private school without making a ‘hit’ on family relationships, and at the same time prevent un-fairnesses for other people’s children).

These are important questions to consider – and it is the job of philosophers to do this. Not all the examples above are those in which such important questions are at stake, but all are examples of the ways in which debate is shut down on twitter.  I bet I’ve done it myself on occasion – but I hope I think more carefully before doing so again.

[NB – there is a twitter vigilante! ]

5 thoughts on “Tweet tweet! That’s the sound of the police…

  1. oooh, courageous post Ed! Like you I don’t posses such confidence in my beliefs to present what I think as a universal ‘this is X!’ type statement. Early on, when I first let myself look at education, I did try this style in one Huffington Post article; to this day it remains the single article I’ve been personally attacked on, sparking real effort on my part to get better at writing. Last week (in a politics podcast interview) the interviewer commented that I’m definitely saying things that would normally get people’s backs up, but as I come to them from my own honest experience and genuine wish for things to be better for everyone, it’s hard to be angry and that sets a different tone – one where others can validly add to it with their own experience.

    My feelings on being at the receiving end of ‘shut down statements’ are that, while I respect the intelligence and assertiveness of the other person, I’m sad the conversation has ended because it’s clear that to continue would look more like I’m pushing for squabbling than a learning opportunity. Only a few months back it surprised me to realise my interest in certain individuals had significantly waned because of seeing these kinds of engagements too often and therefore finding no way to contribute and learn in dialogue. To be clear though, I’m not wishing anyone to change as I’ve found plenty of other people talking online who speak in ways I personally learn from more effectively.

  2. A great Blog. There’s a lot of put downs and pomposity on Twitter. Its a shame some like to pigeon hole people e.g. the Progs vs trads argument. The truth is that good teachers choose content and style to suit the class and the objectives to get the best learning outcomes. I used to respect the stance and intelligence of some of these aggressive tweeters, but these days less so, as their debate is hardly intelligent if they simply shut down the debate crudely, or resort to conflating your points with the extremities of the issue. There are lots more interesting people on Twitter.

    • Oh yes, agree that the tendency to divide into sheep and goats is very harmful – think Robin Alexander has written well on the damage of dichotomy. Recent blog by Tom Sherrington called ‘more carrot more stick’ also makes a similar point. I’ve always been bemused by the idea that you can’t be a teacher who uses direct instruction and at the same time one who is ‘student focused’.

  3. Brilliant Ed. I very rarely log into twitter or read teaching blogs nowadays. A couple of years ago I spent quite a lot of time reading them and when I first discovered all this stuff it seemed amazing to read like-minded people and great pedagogical ideas and discourse. I vaguely considered writing a blog but, felt, as you express, that I don’t have the confidence that I’ve got anything worthwhile enough to add to the already considerable noise. I love a good debate, got involved in a few I got blocked by someone who refused to acknowledge my point in a debate about a phonics (in which the phrase ‘phonics denialist’ seems to be the ultimate way to shut down opposing arguments), read the whole Mr Men history book debate with bemusement and eventually became fed up with the whole thing. I grew tired of the self-righteous, binary nature of much of the debate, and how it invariably seemed destined to lose perspective and become personal.
    In my view it’s very hard to judge any teacher by what they do in their classroom. Every class and child is different (especially in the SEN sector where I work) and what might be a superb idea in one context might be a total waste of time in another. The pokemon timeline idea might be a great short activity for certain students even if it’s not really history per se. At the end of the day it’s just an off the cuff idea someone’s thrown into a document. It’s really not worth condemning, unless you enjoy condemning stuff and want to look like some sort of authority in the field.
    Also, I think the whole nature of Twitter makes this kind of discourse inevitable. 144 characters discourages balanced viewpoints!
    So, I don’t use twitter as an educator anymore which is a shame but I will start reading your blog… 🙂

    • Hi Neil, thanks for the comment, and the encouragement – which I only just realised was there 🙂

      I’m sceptical about the value of twitter as a CPD agent on its own. To be honest I use it mostly to keep in touch with developments in history as a discipline, and for a giggle everynow and then. What worries me about it is the way that debate is shut down in the way that you describe – using words like ‘denial’, which have pretty terrible connotations.

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