The Troll Report

April 19, 2017

Last week, there was quite a response to my post on The Rise Of The Progressive Trolls.

It’s worth repeating the main point of that post because many of those responding seemed to miss it. I gave quite a few examples of the new wave of trolls targeting traditionalists on education Twitter, as I assumed some would deny that it was happening. However, my main purpose was to appeal to non-traditionalists to distance themselves from these people and obstruct rather than encourage them. This was my advice:


  • 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:


  • 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.

I’m not sure  many progressives responding to the post got that far. I got a few people who are not traditionalists reacting positively, and others who promised to consider it, but the main responses were as follows.

  1. The trolls themselves complained that their abuse was taken out of context, true and/or the fault of the victims for provoking it. This defence was, of course, why I had included plenty of examples. No adult should be excusing this stuff.
  2. Progressives (not necessarily trolls) started arguing definitions. This happened in 2 ways.
    • The definitions of progressive/traditionalist. Partly this is the usual tactic of debate denial. It was claimed that I should not have acknowledged the ideological stripe of the trolls or their victims, either because they do not acknowledge that there are sides in the debate, or because mentioning who was abusing who would implicate all progressives.
    • The definition of trolling. The definition of “trolling” has changed over the years. It used to be somebody who deliberately provoked people online with controversial comments. So for instance, a troll would be somebody who’d appear on a Babylon 5 newsgroup to declare that Star Trek: The Next Generation was much better. In recent years it has come to mean somebody who is abusive online. I think this second definition is now the more common one, but I was amazed how many progressives suddenly dug out the older definition. Even worse were those who argued that insulting people you disagree with was just normal, acceptable behaviour and not abuse or trolling.
  3. Victim-blaming and lecturing. Any number of progressives wanted to explain how traditionalists had brought this on themselves through expressing opinions that were unacceptable. Many explained how our views made us the true trolls and if we didn’t want the abuse we should moderate our views.  Others explained how traditionalists were just as bad (this was always assumed, never demonstrated). Some even explained how traditionalists react in the wrong way when abused online (apparently we should be nicer to those who call us names).

This was disappointing. Fundamentally, I wouldn’t have written the original post if I wasn’t describing something that was one-sided and unpleasant. There would have been no point ignoring ideology. Traditionalists are already blocking and condemning those was abuse them. They cannot do more to deter the abuse. I was hoping that the condemnation would be wider; that more people who were not the targets would challenge, or support blocking, the trolls. This was not the case.

Here’s how a lecturer in education at the University of Cambridge described the abuse:

A trad may put a tweet on twitter, something like “progressives ignore science and harm kids in school [link to related news article]”. To the trad this looks like a fair comment. “It’s evidenced-based, it’s true, there is no arguing with it. It’s fact.” To the prog this is first-order trolling. “Oh! Dear God! It’s more complex than that! Why would they be so reductive?” They tweet: “Trads are like fascists, they want everyone to do it their way. Idiots.” Or something of the like

Day-in-day-out, twenty-four-seven, you can find trolling and counter trolling….

…It’s generally good fun. No one really gets hurt. Each army usually consist of the same people. They all know each other. They are sworn enemies, but they are regulars. Just like the Sealed Knot. Nothing ever gets resolved. No one ever says, after one of these exchanges, “You know what, I was wrong, let me join your gang.” Well, not as a result of a twitter skirmish anyway.

So trolling is OK generally. It’s a thing that happens on Twitter. It happens on British EduTwitter.

I disagree. Criticising progressive education, saying it has failed, particularly when giving a justification for this opinion, is not trolling. Comparing people who express this opinion to fascists and calling them idiots is not “counter-trolling”, it is abuse. I don’t know how to explain to a grown adult; let alone a university lecturer, that expressing an opinion, no matter how provocative, is not the same as insults. Or that insults related to fascism can only be highly offensive, particularly to anyone who has suffered from the results of actual fascism. If we care about outcomes for our students, we should all be free to rip into any teaching method we like, say exactly what harm we think it has caused, without being called names or compared to the far right.

As for the idea that this travesty of debate isn’t harmful because nobody ever changed their mind on Twitter, I disagree. In my last blogpost I mentioned this twitter poll:

The answers below are in no way representative, but they do show many people have changed their minds because  of Twitter.

I can assure you these are just a fraction of the people I’ve met over the years who have told me how education debate on Twitter changed their views. Many more have told me that blogs and books they found through Twitter made a difference. Given that over 450 people answered the poll to say they were now traditionalist (but not always traditionalist) I doubt converts influenced by Twitter are rare. So, no, it is not the case that the trolls are just joining in with something that is futile. They know that, from their perspective, traditionalist arguments are something to be feared and hated. The point of abuse is to intimidate, silence and get revenge on traditionalists. It’s shameful that so many people on education Twitter made excuses for this.

By the way, if you are another Twitter convert, please let us know in the comments.


  1. Twitter convert. Reading and conversing with you and DD in particular, not to mention others who were on the same journey as me, made me realise that what I wanted could not be achieved by taking the progressive route I was following.

  2. ‘…there was quite a response to my post…’ = 11 comments and 12 likes out of 24000 schools. That’s about 1:1043
    Shall we try to keep a modicum of perspective, please?

    • I meant on Twitter.

      • I wouldn’t know that – you blocked me ages ago.

  3. Hi – An Australian here. I’m not a teacher but a parent who has been converted. I went to a very progressive school in the 1970’s. When my children went to school I believed much of the progressive ideology, I suppose because it is so seductive. What parent doesn’t want their child to be happy.
    However, as my perfectly capable children began to go down hill academically I realised that although I’d had lots of fun at school academic content was very light and I wasn’t well educated, except by my parents. This questioning (such as why my kids weren’t learning arithmetic and times tables and why assessment items consisted of painting a shoe box) led me to find bloggers such as Greg Ashman (I was so happy I wasn’t alone in my ideas) and then I came across Daisy C (read her book and thought it was terrific) and ED Hirsch, Willingham, David Didua, Michaela, Barry Garelick and yourself and others. What an awakening!
    I started home schooling one of my daughter’s using Hirsch’s Core Knowledge curriculum that is so superior to the Aust. curriculum. I only wish there were more Australian bloggers. It seems to me that England and Canada are leading the charge and I’m amazed that so many English teachers, unlike Aust. teachers, are joining this debate in a productive way. Why are Aust. teachers so silent, I wonder?.

    • Hi Tempe. I’m an Australian teacher. I think there is less awareness here that there *is* a debate, perhaps due to fewer teachers on Twitter? Maybe due to different political situation? I don’t know. Are you on Twitter? I’ve enjoyed reading your comments on blogs and articles.

      • Hi Felicity. No I’m not on Twitter. I’m glad to know that there are “some” Aust. teachers who are aware of the debate. Have you thought about starting your own blog?

        • Hi Tempe. I have a blog here: https://learningbyheartsite.wordpress.com/ but it’s embryonic. Have you considered starting your own blog? I’d be very interested to read it.

          • That’s great, Felicity. I’ll be eagerly reading your blog. If you know of/can suggest any other Aust. teachers that blog too I’d love to hear about them.
            I’ve thought about a blog from a parent’s perspective but I fear I’d be tied to the computer even more than I already am. Not sure that I can express myself as well as all these teachers and not being in a class room means I’m not able to comment on some crucial stuff but thanks for the vote of confidence.

  4. My view changed (or perhaps confirmed) as a result of reading OA’s Twitter and blogs (other edu-bloggers and tweeters also influenced). I fully agree with Toby French’s comment “made me realise that what I wanted could not be achieved by taking the progressive route I was following”. Since then pupils have learnt more and I’ve been happier.

  5. My views on education have changed substantially thanks to blogs, which led me to Twitter, which led me to more blogs, discussion and new ideas. Before I stumbled on the Twitter education debate, I had no idea it existed. I’m much better informed now than I’ve been at any point in my career. Long live the debate!

  6. I remember reading your early blogs and clearing my internet history just in case someone found out I was reading them. In those days traditionalism was considered something close to child abuse. The other thing was reading Daisy’s book. I guess I was converted but only because in teacher training we were only given a progressive perspective on education.

  7. I have found Andrew’s blogs have totally changed my understanding of education and twitter has made that understanding mushroom. It’s given me a peer group of teachers I can learn from. Without being able to read Joe Kirby, David Didau, Tom Bennett and others I’d be much less effective in helping children achieve.

  8. When I first began tweeting and blogging I had extensive arguments with Andrew about pedagogy and practice. It was through these interactions that I realised much of my thinking about education was contradictory. What I knew to be effective was traditional in approach, and yet I was unconsciously harbouring progressive dogmas and prejudices that were pervasive in the system. I felt personally affronted and insulted by many of the new voices I encountered who, it seemed, were supporting Gove. It was of course obligatory to hate our controversial education secretary at that time (still is mostly). It was only after years of reading and writing my own ideas that I came to any sort of understanding about my own position in the debate. Rather than trying to squash the traditional voices, teachers should be thanking them. Much of what they are saying is liberating. It makes sense. I am also very happy to have met, spoken to, and read the thoughts of the staff of Michaela as they forge a new type of education. There are many on Twitter like me, who have made this shift and I am sure all are as grateful as I am for the richness of debate and how it has helped them move on in their thinking.

    • Come on Andrew no trekky would go on a Babylon 5 website and compare it to the next generation. They would clearly use DS9.

  9. […] The troll report, by Andrew […]

  10. […] the mind of anyone who’s involved through reasoning (though according to the comments section of this blog some casual observers do get converted); they are normally the cover-fire for the proper battle, or […]

  11. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  12. […] bullies, became the dominant progressive narrative of the year. Initially, I documented this (also here) calling on the “mainstream” progressives to disown the trolls. By the end of the year […]

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