Can we all please just agree to disagree?

dissent

Do you ever feel as if the teacher community on Twitter is just one big echo chamber? I’m not intending to be disrespectful to anyone here, its just I’ve noticed, after 4 years of tweeting, that those in my PLN seem to agree on almost everything.

I realise this is a result of following like minded people. I  follow people who are teachers like me, and with whom I’ve had some sort of positive engagement. We may have had an enjoyable exchange in a chat, or perhaps they retweeted one of my blog posts and made a positive comment. I follow people who tweet things that resonate with me, or who share things that I find interesting, or who write blogs that I enjoy reading.

So, its somewhat inevitable that my feed will become full of those who think like me.

But without dissenting voices, we leave ourselves open to some troubling habits and I write this post to urge some caution.

I fear at times, my network and I are developing a sort of group confirmation bias where ideas are accepted as true, because they appeal to our collective view of how we would like the world to be. We start to accept ideas without appropriate scrutiny.

A sort of group-think starts to emerge. There are so many expert voices and loud voices on Twitter advocating for the same ideas – 1:1 ipad programs, inquiry learning, flexible classroom spaces . I wonder if there are people out there who have some doubts about these ideas, but adopt them anyway because it seems as if everyone else is, and if all those expert, leading teachers say these are good, well they must be, right?

I’ve also noticed a rather troubling tendency for people to squash dissenting voices on the odd occasion where they emerge. If someone says something that challenges group norms, rather than engage in a productive dialogue, finding out how a person might have come to a particular, dissenting conclusion, and being open to discussion, people try to ‘correct’ their point of view. This may be done by telling them directly that they are ‘wrong’, or by rounding up other ‘right thinking individuals’ to help convince dissenters that they are wrong. An almost moral outrage seems to flare up from time to time if someone dares say that they like to use text books, or that they believe teacher centred methods are appropriate.

Some people take dissenting views very personally. Perhaps they feel so invested in an idea that a criticism of an it is perceived as a personal attack. I’ve been unfollowed by people I’ve engaged with positively, after they’ve discovered we have different views on particular issues, and I’ve seen whole groups of people unfollow those who express dissenting views too often.

I’ve started to become disenchanted with the echo chamber. I still love Twitter. I love the community, the friendships, the support and help that my network provides. However, I feel like I’m  learning less and less because I’m not being challenged as much.  We’re all just agreeing and reinforcing the same ideas.

Increasingly, I’m finding myself drawn to people who I don’t agree with. A few months ago, I tweeted something critical of direct instruction. It was retweeted a number of times and a person I’d never interacted with me before, started arguing with me, wanting me to justify my position. I didn’t have the energy to engage in a debate, with someone who was clearly a lunatic (after all, we all know that direct instruction is bad and inquiry is better, right?) and was tempted not to respond. Instead,  I chose to ask him how he came to his views. He linked me to his very reasoned blog, and while I still didn’t change my mind about the value of inquiry learning, I shifted on the issue of direct instruction. I could see that there is value in it, and I’ve softened my stance. I’ve been reminded that I’m not an expert and perhaps need to examine the evidence for and against my position more deeply.

The beauty of genuinely engaging with someone I don’t agree with, rather than trying to argue against them, is that it stretches me. It forces me to re-examine my beliefs and put them under scrutiny. I may emerge with an even stronger commitment to a particular stance, or I may find my self shifting on issues and adopting a new position. This is healthy, and it is to be encouraged. For me, encountering ideas that force me to re-think my own, is what keeps Twitter a vibrant place of professional dialogue and learning.

Dissent is not negative, its a sign of a vibrant and healthy community. In fact its just not normal to agree on everything all the time. Constant agreeing and echoing of views leads to a sort of smug, self satisfied stagnation that I don’t want to be a part of.

So here’s to those who are brave enough to express their dissenting views. I applaud you. Now can we all just agree to disagree please?

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24 thoughts on “Can we all please just agree to disagree?

  1. At the risk of irony… I agree.
    But I see the issue is much wider than just our PLNs. It is becoming systemic in our culture. Those with differing opinions are either radicalised or marginalised but rarely engaged in debate that seeks justification and clarification.
    If we want our students to think and challenge thought, we need to model that. To model it, we need to exercise it is our own lives.
    Thanks for a wise post.
    David
    davidw.edublogs.org

    • HI David, Interesting observation about the radicalisation or marginalisation of people who have different opinions in the broader community, and the lack of willingness to actually explore and clarify things. I’ve certainly seen examples of that.

  2. This is a really sage point, and I happened to write something similar myself a few weeks back.
    http://markomeara.net/2014/01/11/flexible-learning-actually/

    I happen to work in a school where open-space, student centred is mandated but not terribly successful, and it is very difficult to have a sensible discussion about the limitations and issues because so much of the zeitgeist is right behind these practices and concern is misunderstood as knee-jerk conservatism.

    I, too, wish we could just discuss the issues we have. We all want children to learn, and surely it should be okay to discuss how we go about doing this.

    Thanks for your level-headed and sensible thoughts.

    • Hi Mark, I absolutely love that post you linked to. And I agree, I’ve seen similar issues in schools where people who question norms are seen as trouble makers, not supporting the vision etc. I find it interesting that we are so willing to put eachother in boxes. I can see how questioning the efficacy of open learning spaces could see you pigeonholed as a conservative – we seem to create these false dichotomies where if you’re not in one camp, you must be in the other. A point you also made in that blog.

      I’m really glad you found this post resonated. Thanks so much for sharing yours.

  3. Hey Corinne,
    Interesting piece. I don’t necessarily agree that we always simply agree or find voices that we agree with. Maybe to riff on John Goh, that is our ‘default’ setting online. I find that there are many contradictions that we are endlessly battling, they just don’t necessarily stand out as they are rather nuanced. Really liked David Truss’ piece last year on the same matter http://pairadimes.davidtruss.com/networked-chambers-do-not-echo/.
    One thing that worries me about disagreement is that there is a danger in forming tribes. I may disagree with you about instructional model, but are these simply points of ‘differend’ as Jean-François Lyotard might have it http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Differend The question to me is how do we evolve the conversation without simply regurgitating the same old lines of argument. I wrote a response to the Joanne O’Farrell affair last year http://readingwritingresponding.blogspot.com.au/2013/12/tribes-are-good-but-do-they-really.html You may disagree, but that is a good thing. As you touch upon, it is what we make of such disagreements that make the difference. Another interesting post is Peter DeWitt’s ‘Is There No Common Ground?’ http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/finding_common_ground/2014/04/education_is__there_no_common_ground.html
    Anyway, that is enough rambling from me.
    Thanks again,
    Aaron

    • Hi Aaron, Thank you for your comments and for the links. I found your response to the Joanne O’Farrell affair very interesting. The idea of tribes is interesting too. It reminds me of the points Mark O Meara made in his blog, which he linked to above. We don’t have to form tribes, but we do, and as Mark pointed out, when people go against the norm of the tribe, we often assume they’re in an opposing tribe, rather than exploring the ideas.

      I think I have inadvertently created a situation where the voices I listen to are similar to mine and I need to proactively go out and start including voices that challenge me in my feed. I choose the people who are in my feed, so if Twitter is an echo chamber, its of my own making.

      That said, I follow you, and I always find your contributions inspire me to think deeply about things.

  4. I like your idea of the echo chamber of twitter being of our own creation. I know that when I was really struggling at work I unfollowed quite a lot of the teachers on twitter, much as I liked them personally. The din of the echo chamber was doing my head in.

  5. Hmmm … is that really true that most in our Twitter PLNs are just nodding in agreement and that the odd dissenter is silenced with a spontaneous wack from the PLN fly swat? I hadn’t thought about this until I read your post Corrine. I think I am going to agree AND disagree.

    In the real world of school you have a full on battle ground. There is no shortage of dissenters in staff meetings and there are plenty of allies as well. Bring on the debates! However, in that real world of any school, the full chocolate box of educators are in play. In contrast, on Twitter we are all Turkish Delights (or maybe Fruit and Nuts)! As you said, on Twitter we have liked ‘like’ people and they are our PLN. We are like a bunch of Hawthorn supporters celebrating the Grand Final together!

    Twitter itself is a filter. If I mention Twitter at school I get interest from a few and eye rolls from others. If we could get the eye-rollers onto Twitter, then we would be up to our neck in dissenters, but they wouldn’t waste their time on anything as airy fairly as Twitter. Maybe using Twitter for PD, (it would have to be a compulsory PD), would expose more eye-rollers to the dissension opportunities it offers, but it is a challenge to get them to bring their laptops to a PD!

    I think the reason for the “echo chamber” phenomenon you mention is as simple as that. Switch from education to politics Corrine and your blog post would be completely untrue – dissension is rife!

    I am going to say though that I have learned a lot from my Twitter PLN Corrine – from people just like you. Instead of the “echo chamber” phenomenon, maybe think about the ‘exemplar phenomenon’ … all the people, most of whom you are not even aware of, who have learned from your Tweets!

    • Hi Alan, thanks for sharing your perspective here.

      I certainly can understand how refreshing it is to find like minded people on Twitter. I know many teachers on Twitter who feel like outliers in their own schools and find that online environment such a haven. My own experience is very different from yours, however.

      I’m fortunate to work in a school with staff who generally are like minded. We don’t experience a lot of dissent at school, and while there are a range of opinions and teaching styles, I think most of us share a very similar philosophy and work towards very similar goals.

      At times in places I’ve worked, people have been unhappy with decisions but not expressed that at the time, even though honest feedback was sought. This has also frustrated me because hearing those concerns would have helped avoid future problems. So my concerns about agreement are related to my personal work context as well.

      While I think most teachers conduct themselves well on Twitter. I’ve certainly seen people on Twitter slapped down for expressing divergent views. In fact, this particular post grew out of an interaction I observed on the weekend that I found particularly odious, where a group of teachers started to personally attack someone who had expressed a dissenting view. It was disappointing and frustrating to watch, and it also seemed like a lost opportunity. Discussion of the views would have been very worthwhile, but instead they chose to personally attack the blogger in question.

      I agree with you about how fiesty the political tweeters can be. I’m not so comfortable with that. I love the positive and respectful discussions educators have on Twitter most of the time. However, I’m also aware that I need to diversify my feed in order to challenge my own thinking by exposing myself to a broader range of view points.

      • Certainly it is the dissenters who sharpen you. For example when you develop a school vision or such like it is important to be able to defend it (or any decisions you make). You don’t learn well how to do that in a room of nodding heads.

        I too have experienced the delayed disagreement – even after honest feedback was sought. It is frustrating as it delays implementation. One factor is that it is harder for those at the lower end of a power hierarchy to speak out, even if those in leadership positions do all they can to be as approachable as they can. One to one discussions seem the only solution there and even then not always. It is hard to be the dissenter in a staff meeting unless you have a lot of self confidence.

        I know you know all of that, but I think that Twitter is probably a place to build that confidence to strengthen you for those combatant discussions in school.

  6. Vanessa Hiser says:

    Thank you for all your intelligent and well reasoned comments-very refreshing. Twitter as a filter is an excellent observation! My first thought was that the agreement could be a symptom of a wider trend in teaching. People are scared to disagree for fear of being misunderstood. Our profession (very) generally comprises a mixed bunch of dedicated learners and collaborators, disillusioned, grumpy clock watchers, pioneers and stick-in-the-muds. Just like any other profession really, and yet we don’t have the confidence of the other professions to publicly debate our ideas.

    We already struggle to be respected as a profession, on the same level as engineers, doctors and the like. Perhaps there is an unspoken culture of not disagreeing because teachers can not afford to be seen as an uncertain or splintered group. Our funding and possibilities are so reliant on public money, have we just got to the point where we behave ourselves? Returning to the little picture, I’m a contract teacher and can’t afford to voice differences of opinion, as that could make it difficult to stay employed! It won’t be a hard habit for me to break!

    Keep up the thought provoking blogs, Corinne.

    • Hi Vanessa,
      Thank you so much for leaving your thoughts here. It’s interesting that idea of trying to avoid public perception of being a splintered group. I can see how that could be possible. The public does judge teachers so harshly and I think all of us on Twitter are very mindful of our digital footprint, doing our best to keep it positive.

    • Thank you so much for leaving a comment and the link through to your post. (If people are reading these comments, then I recommend that you follow the link as well!) Tom Sherrington’s experience is quite extraordinary and I suppose illustrates the worst of what can happen when people decide to discourage dissenting views. I think I need to make an effort to start following those people I disagree with. To be honest, I used to find that stressful, so consciously only followed those I felt were on the same page as me, but now I’m at a point where I feel I need that challenge

      • Hey, yeah I was the same. It was a conversation about unfollowing someone I disagreed with which led my colleague to make the comments which led to my view changing.

  7. Dissenting and divergent opinions crucial to even getting close to how complex human society is. I just keep thinking about the situation in Ferguson, Mo & Gaza… the really hard issues in the world have to seek all voices involved in finding solutions. Thank you for the reminder!

    • Thanks for your comments – I like what you said about seeking all voices to find solutions. I think that stakeholder consultation is essential. Just as a very small example, last year I ran a review of our school homework policy and consulted with all stakeholders (students, parents, teachers) from the outset. It was fascinating to hear the views – they were not what i had expected. It was so, so helpful. The consultation raised issues we had not even imagined. For example, while many parents loved computer based activities, others told us how difficult it was to manage with 4 kids all needing to use the 1 family computer for their homework. These sort of insights were essential and sharing them helped the whole community to soften their polarised positions, developing empathy with those who held different views. It allowed us to develop a policy that addressed all the key concerns and that the whole community could embrace. We wouldn’t have had that success if we’d not started listening from the outset.

  8. georgecouros says:

    Just for fun…I am going to push back 🙂

    What do we do about the echo chamber in our own schools that sometimes promote the opposite of what many say on Twitter? I think a lot of educators go on to Twitter to share their views because they might actually be in the minority of the echo chamber in their schools. Personally, that echo chamber helped me a great deal in my work. Sometimes I would share an idea to my staff and they would think it was not a great direction, yet someone in my network would share the same idea with a different spin or context, and then I would share it with my staff and they would think it was genius. Yet it was basically the same thing that I had said several times. Many suffer from the fear of expertise in their own midst (personally I hate that and try to promote as many people that I work with as experts), and sometimes that echo chamber a differing voice with the same opinion. What I believe is that even though the ideas might be the same, the delivery is often different. That is needed for different people.

    That being said, if we are truly going to be innovative, we need to push back on each other’s ideas. We would be annoyed if our students posted on each other’s blogs and all that they said was “great job!” because they are not pushing conversations or learning for one another. The key, again, is delivery. There are many educators on Twitter that push back and that is good, but if we don’t listen to each other and just keep yelling our beliefs and seeing who can be the loudest, that is not respectful of learning or each other. Your model of asking questions (seek first to understand) of one another is so crucial. We need to understand viewpoints and context of differing situations. What is brilliant and works for your school, and more importantly, your students, might not be useful to mine, or vice-versa. If anything, we should know now more than ever that there is no standard solution to education; it is more about personalization than standardization. But in every conversation, we need to be open to learning from each other, whether we agree or disagree.

    Great post!

    • Hi George,
      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on this post. I’ve taken my time to respond as you’ve given me much to ponder here.

      Since writing the post, I’ve had a few people make similar comments – that finding like minded people on Twitter has helped them to feel that they are not alone, when sometimes they can feel that way in their schools. They’ve told me that its strengthened their resolve to persevere with bringing positive change into their teaching practice, and into their school communities. I can see through these sorts of comments, how valuable that echo chamber can be for people.

      I really like what you have to say about the way people push back: “if we don’t listen to each other and just keep yelling our beliefs and seeing who can be the loudest, that is not respectful of learning or each other.”

      I think that’s so important. Just as I don’t want to spend my time in an echo chamber, I also don’t want to be engaged in unproductive shouting matches.

      Thank you so much for pushing back here and inspiring me to ponder and rethink my position yet again.

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