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Education, Twitter and the Herd Mentality

During my teacher training, Twitter proved an essential tonic. Sat at the back of the latest class in which some daft idea was ‘offered’ (I’ll keep it vague because, seriously, we do not have the time), I knew that I only needed to retreat to the digital community I had discovered through Twitter to be reminded that my doubts and objections were shared by a whole host of other teachers. And not just some digital rump of eccentrics (though that too), but dynamic, high quality professionals.

And so the lectures became bearable. Being a sceptic alone in a crowd is one thing – being supported with the arguments, language, data, evidence and anecdotes of a whole group who share that scepticism is quite another. And so the features of the teaching landscape became clearer and there stood I, keyboard at the ready, mockingly dismissing VAK, and NLP, and Brain Gym, and myriad other fashions as being the unmistakable marks of an educational regressive. If I’m honest this probably filled me with a sense of superiority (did I mention how high quality, dynamic and professional those on ‘my side’ seemed to be?), and more than once I guffawed at the apparent herd mentality of those on the trendy side of the teaching divide.

Now this is an important bit: I haven’t changed my views on those issues one tiny bit. If anything they have become more entrenched.

Now we have that out of the way (that I felt the need to say it will hopefully come to prove my argument), I can proceed with my main point, which is this: the iconoclasts have become icons. The non-conformists remarkably conformist. The radicals have become…. you get the idea.  

In other words, what started out as a loose band of folk seeking to challenge some of the dafter ideas permeating the education debate, has since become a remarkably homogenous tribe in itself which in many ways emulates that which it sought to replace. It used to be all about independent, critical, evidenced thought, and for many it no doubt still is – but it has outgrown its original brief and has come to resemble something more akin to a culture war. Which I suppose is fine, so far as it remains authentic. Grown around it, however, is a whole grammar of thought and debate which is becoming every bit as conformist, intolerant, credulous and quite frankly repetitive as that edifice which it sought to haul down.

This is not to say that the more mischievous, and weary, side of me is not still engaged by the debates taking place – hear that? He used ‘engage’, oh my God, that’s weasel word number 1! What a loser!  – but it can also be tiresome. If we’re going to insist ideas stand or fall by their merits, then discussion has to remain about ideas. Scanning through the Twitter timelines it seems the emphasis has become lost amongst a scrabble to retweet with scorn anyone who happens to use a proscribed word or show even the slightest glimmer of possibly, in some sense, now and again and in certain circumstances, depending on context, be mildly sympathetic to something which seems to be connected with an idea that has been defined as progressive. All too often it’s not about substance but catchphrase. It has turned tribal, with an incredible readiness to denounce, primarily (or so it seems to me) in order to assert one’s own ‘new traditionalist’ credentials.

I must, at this point, say two things. 1) I’m not thinking of any one individual in particular when I write this, and 2) I’m as guilty as anybody else. But it’s something of which I’m becoming increasingly aware. And increasingly penitent.  

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