In the spring of 2012, I was in my first practicum. I was well liked by the staff, and would mingle with the other teachers. As the veteran teachers do, one such teacher (I will refer to him as Bob) offered me some unsolicited advice. I did not mind that since I figured I had better soak up everything I could. His advice was pretty simple: “Protect your neck, son”.

Bob encouraged me to establish clear boundaries between my students, their parents, and my colleagues…Kenny Rogers’ ‘The Gambler‘ came to mind, it was a good fir for Bob and his advice.

As Bob was a grizzled-union-champion-soon-to-retire teacher, I was not very surprised to hear that sort of advice. He was loved by his students, so I did not take his tone to be bitter either. He simply wanted to share with me how he made it through his long career unscathed and fulfilled.

I bring up Bob as I was reminded of him when I read Bonnie Stewart’s post regarding Twitter titled: In Public: The Shifting Consequences of Twitter Scholarship. Stewart’s post recounts the time which she was researching the online discourse of scholars on Twitter. Stewart was exposed to a sudden breakout of animosity between different camps of scholars. As she put it, the posts/arguments these scholars engaged in were characterized by “vitriol [that] was public and sustained”, generated “by specific public statements and responses”, and “aligned a group perceived to have power and privilege against a group without”.

Personally, this is not “news” to me. While it was very interesting to read Stewart’s “report” on how this sort of discourse had only begun in the scholarly realm of Twitter, I was surprised it took that long for something like it to be documented by a researcher. Other networks have been rife with angry discussions regarding specific issues since their inception (I’m thinking of my experience with Facebook, I’ve been a user since launch). The camps of people in these discussions are usually between different perceived tiers of knowledge…for example:

  • Environmental Scientists versus Blue-collar workers
  • Doctors versus Natural Remedy Promoters
  • Boomers versus Millenials

In each dichotomy, the narrative is the same; one group will quote literature and the other will quote real life experience, soon personal practice and professionalism is called into question, then each group begins to question the other’s intelligence and bias, terminating with individuals calling out the offline (but real life) experiences they’ve had wit the other camp’s individuals. Sometimes, they devolve further into a trade of insults.

It seems that it is the nature of these things. As soon as one group sees itself inferior or superior to another, the fuse is primed and we simply await the spark.

When I consider my participation in these online arguments (it has happened, but not for a very long time) I engaged in them when I had nothing to lose. I was not working in my desired career, nothing I said could stain a resume, no relationships I cared about would be tainted. As I progressed through life, suddenly I had things I needed to protect. Specifically regarding my professional life, I am part of a culture of identity where employers are warming to quickly terminating their employees citing ‘just cause’ upon any type of controversial content the employee produces (thereby taking ‘the high ground’ or ‘getting ahead of the problem’). Why in the world would I engage in what could be controversial?

As I build my Personal/Professional Learning Network (PLN), I must be conscious of the risk. I can branch out, add, and mingle with educators which I discover to be my online colleagues. I can discuss the professional issues and paradigms of my profession. But argue? No thank you, I’m turning the machine off. I need to protect myself; it is simply a risk that is not worth taking. Twitter, especially, has generated a system where instant feedback and record can be kept. Want to take something back, perhaps delete your tweet. Go ahead….but it has been replied to, retweeted, cached, and screen-shotted; too late. Once the ball of controversy is rolling, context is often misunderstood or unimportant.

As I reflect on my own practice, I frequently connect back to the story of Bob and my cautious tendencies with my PLN when my students (or I) wrestle with whether or not to engage in online discourse. Overall, I am generally okay with being a ‘Lurker”. When one has to reflect on how their content could be understood in the present, and perhaps how it could be revisited if the pendulum swung back in the future, a lack of active participation in a PLN still allows me to grow, read, and build without risk.

I suppose I’m left with these questions: Am I over-cautious? Cowardly? Do members of my generation feel the same as I do? Is there a divide on this idea between established, tenured/senior educators and their younger counter-parts?

Link to Article: In Public: The Shifting Consequences of Twitter Scholarship