Teachers Should Welcome Open Debate: Part 1November 8, 2015
You may be aware that I am involved with a number of blogs other than this one. The Echo Chamber family of blogs shares links to other people’s posts, either on the basis of my preferences, or in ways that might be useful for particular audiences. I also edit/co-edit two blogs that take regular submissions from other people:
- Labour Teachers. A blog for teachers who support the Labour Party.
- Starter For Five. A blog for giving advice to new teachers.
Both of these blogs take an inclusive approach, not requiring adherence to any editorial line, only to the guiding principles of the blog. Labour Teachers is open to teachers on any wing of the Labour Party, and so might contain differing views on any number of issues that Labour supporting teachers might reasonably disagree on. I have never rejected a post for Labour Teachers on the grounds of it being something I disagreed with. If it comes from a Labour supporting teacher, is a reasonable length, and hasn’t been published before, it goes on the site. This caused all sorts of accusations to begin with. People would wait for a post they disagreed with (usually something traditionalist on education or centrist on party politics) and denounce, not only the author, but Labour Teachers for being a right-wing conspiracy. My favourite accusation was the claim that the blog was a “false flag” operation, just pretending to be Labour. Much of the vitriol came from people who weren’t even in the Labour Party at the time, but considered themselves authorities on what principles the Labour Party should have. Curiously, nobody seemed too concerned about any posts that were left-wing or educationally progressive. The mere fact that certain views were not censored was enough to taint the whole enterprise. When this blogpost sharing a mix of reactions to Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in the Labour leadership contest was published, one tweeter took a screenshot of the most anti-Corbyn comment and shared it as the views of Labour Teachers, despite the same post also including very positive reactions to Corbyn’s victory. The idea that one might tolerate a range of opinions within the same blog was simply not considered.
At the time I put it down to the peculiar prejudices and paranoia often found in left-wing politics which seems to attract people unable to grasp the idea that somebody could disagree with them without being either evil, right-wing or engaged in a plot to subvert the Labour Party. But now I have the curious case of Starter For Five. As I explained when it began, the original idea was that if new teachers or trainees wanted advice on a teaching topic they’d be able to find it “from several experienced teachers”. This was never meant to be one person’s opinion on what trainees should think. You could read somebody’s advice and reject it, offer your own advice on the same topic or add a comment beneath it. It was crowd sourced advice that was to reflect the diversity of the crowd. Again, I have never censored a post simply because I disagreed with the content. And again, people have failed to get this idea.
A huge Twitter row has erupted since a post advising teachers not to believe KS2 results are accurate or useful. The fifth point is phrased in a way that’s rather blunt, but the post contained nothing that hasn’t been said by many secondary teachers, and most of it by a fair few primary teachers too. It was not an attack on anybody. It was advice. Whether it is good or bad advice is up to those reading it to decide, but it fitted the criteria for the site exactly.
Some primary teachers decided to take personal offence. I don’t particularly understand this. When the shameful inaccuracy of GCSE coursework and controlled assessments came to light in the last few years, I not only didn’t take offence, but I helped publicise it. The truth was more important to me than shielding teachers in my own sector from blame and responsibility. The truth was more important than arse-covering. And there were very few arguments claiming that the post was not true (and there were good reasons to believe it) only arguments that it was offensive, and showed a hidden agenda on the part of those of us behind the website. Basically the same complaint as with Labour Teachers:
- You published it;
- we didn’t like it;
- therefore we don’t like your site.
So that’s the background. That’s why I feel the need to defend the value of open debate in education and my efforts to make that debate open. I will attempt to make this defence in Part 2.