Be more amphoteric

“It is an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem.”

So wrote Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He was referring to the juxtaposition between the clearly superior intelligence of man over dolphins (as assumed by man), and the opposite view (as assumed by the aquatic mammals).

Remaining in the water, the H2O molecule is a good example of something that is not always what it seems. It is amphoteric, meaning that it is able to react as both an acid and a base. Given that acids and bases are chemical opposites, this means water is a molecule that struggles to make up its mind. In the presence of an acid, it behaves as a base, and in the presence of a base, it is acidic.

I consider myself to be a centrist and there are few (if any) hills I will chose to die on. I am a social liberal but a fiscal and educational conservative. I can understand and accept most people’s views, even if I do not agree with them. The reason for disagreement is sometimes an inability/unwillingness to see things from another’s point of view, and I’m aware that I am guilty of this on occasions. We are never able to see the same thing with the same set of eyes, and from the same angle, so making the effort to see a different point of view is as essential as it is difficult.

I feel like a water molecule every time I engage on social media, particularly Twitter. When debating education, I am classified as an out of touch right-winger, given that advocating for teacher subject expertise and strong discipline inexplicably characterises one as a staunch Tory/Liberal (via the UK/Australian definition). Concerning Brexit, however, I’m apparently a woolly liberal, naive in the hope that we should believe in a European ideal. Twitter is dominated by strong acids and bases and each are assertive in their own way. 280 characters gives little room for nuance, hence conversations are punctuated by bold assertions, vigorous certainty and pugilistic defence when challenged. It seems more important to win than to be made to think, and if in doubt, just make stuff up. I realise that when debating on Twitter, you are less trying to  change the mind of the person you debate with, than persuade the silent onlookers (or floating voters) with reason and logic (as opposed to relying on bombast and sloppy spelling).

There are so many ‘untouchables’ in Australian education that even trying to open up a discussion is difficult. Poke the bear just once, it seems, and the bear attempts to rip your head off. Try for yourself – suggest that perhaps examinations are a fair way to assess student knowledge, and see what vitriol comes back your way. It seems that throwing acid isn’t wrong, at least in some people’s eyes. Or maybe suggest that students shouldn’t be given much choice in what they learn; or that ‘student voice’ tends to be more tokenistic than of genuine value; or that School funding is perhaps not the main reason for improving or declining educational outcomes…

If we can’t debate these issues, and refuse to listen to alternative views, we end up splitting into acids and bases. We agree with everything our fellow acids say, and excuse their rudeness as mere ‘passion’. We reject anything the opposing bases have to offer and consider them not only wrong but morally corrupt. I suspect that most of us are more amphoteric that we let on, and we’re forced into acidic or basic behaviour by the people with whom we choose to interact. This is ok, so long as it doesn’t force us to one or t’other end of the continuum on a permanent basis. The last thing we need is even less nuance on these platforms.

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