These bastards stole their power from the victims of the Us v.
Them years, wrecking all things virtuous and true.
The undermining social democratic downhill slide into abysmal
Lost lamb off the precipice into the trickle down runoff pool.
Ignoreland – R.E.M.
As the OGAT scandal rumbles on through the twittersphere, polarising debate from the #ZeroTolerance lovers and haters, it would seem that we are in the midst of yet another round of Us v Them debates. The unwillingness to debate the actual issues, whether through ideological or other lenses, seems to just make it acceptable to sneer from whatever side of the debate you sit.
However is this indicative of the greater issues in English education right now? Are we being pre-programmed to sit on a particular side of a debate; “Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters” as Jesus reportedly said (Matthew 12:30).
So this issue of polarisation is not new. What we see in edutwitter is education in a microcosm. We know well that the majority of working teachers in England are not on Twitter but we pontificate as if we are preaching to the masses at times. I’ve blogged before about the loss of nuance in communications in the age of 280 character arguments but this time it really does seem like some wish the division to run deep.
The reality of the situation is that if some people on twitter were students in the schools they teach in then they would find themselves in isolation for the voracity of their opinion. Whilst nobody wants the bad things that happen in clasrooms across the land to happen, it would seem if you are willing to speak out against #ZeroTolerance behaviour policies then you are willing to allow stabbings and rapes in your classroom. The hypocrisy of some is laughable at times, although the seriousness of the subject should not allow this.
However is there a solution to the increasing divide between both camps? Is it time for some electronic olive branches to be extended? Maybe in order to do this we need to be slightly more introspective and look at what we believe ourselves. I’ll use “flattening the grass” as my own analogy here:
When I was starting out in Initial Teacher Training I went to a school for a visit. At the time I was still serving in the Royal Air Force and you could just about see my office from the playground of the school I was in. Stereotyping took over as the HT informed me that “I couldn’t shout at the children like I did at recruits”. This stunned me silent for a moment. That another human being could make such a snap judgement of me having only met me minutes earlier. I certainly hadn’t turned up at the school shouting; I’d been fairly quiet in the staffroom, exchanging pleasantries with a couple of people I knew whilst waiting for the head. Was it my physical appearance that prompted this idea? I’m 6ft tall, an ex prop forward so understand that I might appear physically imposing at times but was so much being placed on perception and appearance? When I challenged the statement I was met with a gruff apology and a swift change of subject. With this bias firmly entrenched I knew I wouldn’t be working in this school anytime soon (bizarrely one of the governors was one of my senior officers at the time and told me about some of the discussions they had about supporting my training – they didn’t offer me a place despite his protestations).
It would seem that we are looking for bias at every opportunity nowadays though. Whether to back out theories or to counter argue, we use our pre-existing thoughts to favour one side of an argument (all edu consultants are bad, everyone who doesn’t like silent corridors is an bad teacher etc). Some even stoop to scorn in order to belittle an opinion that they do not hold.
So for a profession that wants to see itself as evidence based we are doing ourselves a disservice with our online presence at times. In the days of employers searching candidates on Google and checking their opinions are we in danger of taking ourselves off the market? Conversely are we reinforcing our position to mould ourselves to a particular kind of employer?
Maybe what we need to display more of is compassion. We need to change our mindset about right/wrong, black/white and open ourselves up to the grey. Sometimes listening to the other side of an argument instead of closing down the debate will change our thinking slightly. Maybe it will help us see someone else’s point of view and allow us to make real, evidence informed judgements. You see it is this compassion that is currently missing in the majority of edutwitter debates and I make no apology once more for the use of the bible quote. You aren’t either with us or against us, you can engage more fully in the debate and we can find a more acceptable middle ground. Because I think as educators that we actually find both sides of the ‘flattening the grass’ debate equally abhorrent, it is just that our ideological standpoints don’t allow us to display this in public. Anyone who takes pleasure from the reported ritual humiliation of children has no place in our education system; equally anyone who allows an ‘anything goes’ culture for behaviour in our schools should not be there either.
There are far bigger issues facing our schools at the moment. We need to refocus our efforts into dealing with falling numbers, bigger classes, reducing budgets etc in order to deal with the challenges of the next 5 years. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t challenge issues like ‘flattening the grass’ but the stark reality of the situation is that Twitter is not judge and jury. Whistleblowing procedures have to exist in these workplaces by law and we have to allow due process.
However as educators we have a duty to provide a safe place for our pupils. We don’t always know what they have faced each day just in order to get themselves to school. We owe them an education, we owe them compassion and we owe them the right to feel valued and respected for who they are. Let’s start to display this behaviour to each other. Maybe, just maybe, we can all be better educators for it.
This is the type of education setting I want to work in…
This is an inclusive school where pupils feel valued and respected. Pupils spoken to see their school as being a warm and welcoming place where all adults will care for them.
Pupils who have recently joined the school are very appreciative of the help and support they are given and feel that they are immediately included in the school community.
Ofsted Report – March 2019