Since moving to Australia almost two years ago, I have been made to feel welcome. With an Ashes series starting this week, I reserve the right to change my mind, but it’s been an easy transition thus far. The social hierarchy and class structure is less pronounced than in the UK, though I’m pleased to note the obsession with where you went to School remains, at least in South Australia. People are easy-going, and the word ‘banter’ has yet to be corrupted as it has been in the UK. Some semblance of wit still remains.
It seems quite difficult to genuinely offend an Australian – that is, until one enters the world of education.
Education is complicated. There are relatively few absolute truths, it is difficult to say with certainty ‘what works’, and even the purpose of education is up for debate. Is it to provide skilled individuals for an uncertain future workforce, to create a community of cultured intellectuals, a bit of both or something different entirely? I think everyone who works in education should find it interesting to debate these ideas. I’d be surprised if anyone wasn’t interested in these ideas, given that we have all been to School, and must have some opinion on what education is for, and what constitutes a successful education.
Twitter is an excellent forum for education debate, and by this I refer to pre-planned debates such as happen on the #AussieEd hashtag. It allows people from different backgrounds and timezones to come together, make their points, support the views of strangers and challenge the views of colleagues. This all happens in a space where hierarchy is removed, where no single ‘voice’ can dominate. Ideas are promoted, and people are free to agree or disagree with these ideas. Ideas do not have feelings, and we should all be happy for our ideas to be challenged. We should be willing to defend our ideology, willing to take on board the wisdom of others, and willing to change our mind. If conflict is the problem, education is usually the answer, and by discussing ideas in education, we become more educated and hence more effective educators. I am grateful to those people who act as administrators for pre-arranged conversations to take place; these specifically arranged discussion topics help to keep the conversation on track. It also provides a space where it is natural to interact with strangers, those who see things from a different perspective and who might learn from you, as you may do from them.
It can be unnerving for a stranger to appear from the ether and take you to task over something you have posted, but if you post in a public forum (which is what I think Twitter should be), it is reasonable to receive comment or challenge.
But it doesn’t tend to happen like this. Australian education on Twitter seems to think it is Australian education on Facebook/Instagram. I know I shouldn’t tell people how to use social media, but the platforms (in general) serve a very different purpose. Facebook is about friends, likes and platitudes. A photo is posted; it garners likes from your friends, who write ‘awww’ or ‘so cute’ or ‘looking beautiful, lovely’. Everyone wins. This isn’t a debate, or a challenging of ideas. People don’t post critical comments under photos of babies. No-one expects their choice of Sharm as a holiday destination to be questioned. The etiquette of Facebook gives rise to a cycle of likes, shares and phatic commentary.
Australian edu-Twitter has a Facebook mentality; a mentality that say if I post a statement, I expect likes and platitudes. Here’s a statement:
And here’s another statement:
Maybe you agree with the statements and maybe you don’t. But when similar statements are made as part of an organised discussion on education, it should be possible to challenge those statements in a reasonable manner, rather than simply re-tweeting with a comment ‘This’.
Twitter is not Facebook. If you don’t want ideas you hold dear to be criticised, you are probably better off posting them on Facebook, preferably with a photo of your young family enjoying a holiday sunset. You can then gather all the ‘awww’s you like, without every being required to reflect on your position.