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The Rise Of The Progressive Trolls

April 7, 2017

When I started blogging, it was at the height of the control of policy and institutions in education by educational progressives, and I used to get a lot of personal attacks. It was seen as close to blasphemy to dissent, or even to express opinions like saying INSET is often a bit boring, that you can hear in almost every staffroom. There was very little professionalism or restraint from those who just wanted me to shut up.

As time went on, more classroom teachers joined Twitter, my following grew, and I saw less of that kind of intimidation aimed at myself, although I saw plenty of it aimed at newer voices, like Quirky Teacher. They’d be witch hunts every so often, when the great mass of progressives saw a target, but less in the way of actual abuse, and what there was tended to happen only when somebody lost their temper having already lost the argument. I mainly experienced a lot of tut-tutting from those convinced they had the moral high ground, and that even if they could not show my opinions were wrong, they were at least convinced my tone was not what it should be, and that their own motives, behaviour and compassion were beyond question. Every so often a troll, by which I mean somebody who hurls insults and threats on social media, would pop up and be blocked but it was the exception.

Over the last few months things have changed. Having spent years trying to claim the moral high ground in the debate, a new faction seems to have emerged. The progressive trolls. They have appeared to tell us that traditionalists are evil, selfish fascists up to no good (although they sometimes claim not to be terribly progressive themselves). They congratulate each other on being blocked, and subtweet personal attacks and conspiracy theories about those who have blocked them. They put a lot of time into telling anyone who listen that traditionalists are extremely right-wing.


Some of it involves holding grudges about previous exchanges on social media:


Some of it seems to be pure personal hatred:


And some of it, like the great angle hoax, or this attack on a blogger for having his daughter with him in his avatar picture, is just odd:

There are also blogs full of similar stuff out there. I probably wouldn’t have written this today if one of them hadn’t been picked by one of my fellow blog reviewers for Schools Week. Those following the link on the Schools Week site would have seen that the best of edu-blogging included  one of the tweeters quoted above, making comments such as:

Edu-Twitter has become quite a dark place in recent times. There are a vociferous minority of, predominantly UK, teachers who exalt a particular brand of right wing ideology that sits uncomfortably with the more enlightened majority in the profession. These neo-traditionalists, or pseudo-trads, take their inspiration from Michael Gove and have a very narrow view of the purpose of education. Their over-zealous evangelizing, tendency to “troll” those who disagree with them, and to “hunt in packs,” is akin to the methodologies adopted by Nigel Farage, and his far right UKIP, during the BREXIT referendum.

…Fortunately, the the pseudo-trad nonsense seems to the exclusive domain of the political right in the UK…

,… those who can’t teach fall back on the dictation of notes! Moreover, those who teach with methods advocated by pseudo-trads almost always have the most discipline problems in class and always blame the students. Perhaps they might be rather more reflective, and then they might realise that they bore their poor students and thus they are the cause of the subsequent misbehaviour!…

…By being more evangelical than Ben Carson, those on the educational right, are shutting down debate and stifling creativity.

Before this stuff goes any more mainstream, I’m going to make a helpful suggestion to Twitter’s progressives and non-traditionalists. This is not meant as criticism, just the advice I’d want given to me if there was similar behaviour happening on the traditionalist side of the divide. If you want to stop these trolls dragging your side into the gutter, and ensuring that newcomers to Twitter don’t encounter this shower of hatred as their first experience of online arguments against traditionalism, you may wish to consider doing the following.

Don’t…

  • Like, retweet or follow people who are repeatedly abusive, even if they are on your side.
  • Pretend that this is happening on all sides. Or, if you believe it is, don’t claim that without providing evidence. As things stand, the most “offensive” traditionalists are mainly getting told off for having the wrong tone rather than this sort of abuse.
  • Treat accusations of fascism or far right sympathies as a normal part of political debate. It isn’t.
  • Join in when schools or individuals are subject to criticism that could have been better made at the level of ideas.
  • Blame the victims. Too often, progressives see this stuff and explain that traditionalists have brought it on themselves by being too arrogant, or for promoting their ideas, or criticising other people’s ideas or behaviour.
  • Tell people that they need to debate with those abusing them online. Nobody loves a debate more than I do, but if somebody is being abusive or making crazy allegations, nobody should feel they have to answer.
  • Have a go at the victims for how they react to the provocation. If people are being abused or stalked by somebody who they think is unwell or dangerous, then, if asked, they should be able to say that without being accused of being insulting to their troll. A disturbed troll saying “this traditionalist said I was a disturbed troll” is not the victim.
  • Do not excuse trolling behaviour from people on your side, even if you think it is out of character. It really doesn’t help the victim of a personal attack to be told how the person insulting them is lovely or (and this is an odd one) “brave” and it probably doesn’t help the troll either, if it is only a lapse, to have it excused.

And on the positive side:

Do…

  • Challenge people on your own side when they resort to personal attacks.
  • Be careful to draw a line between disagreement/criticism and insults/threats. Too often these situations deteriorate because people imagine they have been insulted and insult back. Always check that you don’t confuse being offended by somebody’s ideas with them being offensive.
  • Tell me if you are getting this sort of trolling back from a traditionalist. I’ll do what I can to support people being abused online whatever their views.
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15 comments

  1. Good luck on trying to civilise the trolls. I fear it’s a lost cause, but you certainly deserve credit for trying to tone down the venom.

    Feeling in need of a history lesson, I just read your 2013 post arguing that the left should support Gove. I think you missed out on a vital chapter–when Ed Balls was Secretary, Gordon Brown moved Andrew Adonis to Transport (I think), and then it was pretty much service as normal. In December 2007 the Children’s Plan–ECM on steroids–was launched. The Gilbert review (Jan 2007) advocated the abolition of traditional subject boundaries and the introduction of nebulous ‘Areas of Learning’–by 2010, the QCDA had trialled this, and had Labour won the general election, it was ready to go. All this time I was receiving DCSF announcements, and under Balls synthetic phonics was never once mentioned. Au contraire–Reading Recovery received a huge boost with ECAR–Every Child a Reader, a whole-language boondoggle costing £6,000 per pupil. And then there was BSF, a massive boost for hardware and software shills (to say nothing of architects and their atriums).

    I doubt that Balls really cared all that much about education, but he was fully in sympathy with his boss’s plan to create as many cushy public services jobs as possible in order to create a perpetual Labour government on the back of a payroll vote.


  2. […] issue of trolling was highlighted in Andrew Old’s blog, together with sound advice on how to tackle the problem. I was also saddened to hear that Michael […]


  3. I’m not sure blogging and twitter are a good mix.

    Blogging is about extended argument. Twitter isn’t.


  4. Andrew, many of the people who used to egg each other on below Education articles in the Guardian, spitting venom at anyone who disagreed with the progressive line, are no longer there. I suspect they have moved on to Twitter.


  5. […] to be creative, curious and critical as a member of the far right. Remember this? Or any of these examples? Or this example platformed by Schools […]


  6. […] There’s been a few blog posts of late that attempt to align “traditionalists” in teaching with right-wing, neo-liberal political ideologies. Some of these blog posts have been written by people who appear to have some kind of vendetta, and have been found on Twitter hurling abuse at those who disagree with them, as documented by @oldandrewuk. […]


  7. […] Teaching in British schools « The Rise Of The Progressive Trolls […]


  8. Quite incredible. This blog is pure projection. Funny, but projection. It’s terribly hypocritical when a lot of the division is deliberately stirred up by the blogger himself – who will use quite malevolent tactics to attack anyone he sees as a ‘prog’ (a term that only exists in the minds of ‘trads’ like the blogger) and then block whoever doesn’t agree with him. One of the silliest blog posts I’ve seen for ages!

    PS Good luck with the bloggers’ meeting/echo chamber. Do plot on…


    • Feel free to find any tweet from me that compares with what I describe above.

      Also, I believe you accused Greg Ashman of lying recently in one of his blogs. Any chance you could let him know what claim in the post was untrue or admit that you were wrong? Thanks.


  9. […] their fellow progressives. It’s now become so common to deny the debate that even some of the progressive trolls who accuse traditionalists of being part of the political far right, will also dismiss the idea […]


  10. […] Last week, there was quote a response to my post on The Rise Of The Progressive Trolls. […]


  11. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.


  12. […] instructions, you might be enabling abuse. And at the time these posts went up some of the “Progressive Trolls” seemed okay with claiming the teachers they targeted online committed “emotional […]


  13. […] of people stepped in to attack Teaching Newbie there. I won’t repeat anything from “the Progressive Trolls“, those accounts that are largely dedicated to abusing traditionalists on twitter, but as […]


  14. […] abusive (not even simply barbed) tweets. To his credit, OA has blogged head-on about this problem recently – he is after all on the receiving end of a significant amount of it – and I do agree that it […]



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