Privilege, Power, and Platitudes
As an educator the dynamics and hierarchy of our country’s educational system favors white adults and students. Our educational hierarchy follows American’s societal order which is both inequitable and oppressive, having solidified white men position at the top of the pyramid.
Insert social media where social capital, followers, learning and actual connections made potentially can shift this hierarchy and level the playing field. Edutwitter is no different than other parts of Twitter where niches are found and social capital is created and harnessed. Similar to a typical high school, Edutwitter covers the full spectrum of cliques from edtech to educational policy to higher ed to hard nosed content based practitioners. However, there seems to be one special clique (lots of social capital, lots of quotes, lots of advice, dominated by white males, and often full of toxic positivity) in the Edutwitter world that has not been given much push-back nor been challenged. Oftentimes this clique is adored and revered, but void of deep critical thought and practice shifting dialogue.
About a month ago, I witnessed two brilliant educators from marginalized groups on Twitter ask hard questions and provide additional perspectives as it relates to topics only to be called a “bully” and a “troll” by white male members of this “special” clique. I watched this unfold with bewilderment and shock. More recently, I watched an Edutwitter squabble between this aforementioned clique and one other educator. The squabble began with push-back by an educator on a generalization that was problematic in nature. The individual who provided the push-back was called ‘poisonous’ by another “special” clique member. The dispute continued with other folx jumping in, creating a mini uproar in Edutwitter world. Although this incident has not been resolved, it was interesting to see this transpire and learn true intent of many individuals I interact with on Twitter.
These three relatively recent events have gutted me and my hope for critical conversations and dialogue between educators on Twitter. It astonished me the complete callous nature and disregard of these individuals’ voices, feedback, perspectives, and ultimately their humanity. Reducing anyone’s voice, especially those who are marginalized, through mocking and name calling dehumanizes. Imagine daily navigating a space (school, society, or Twitter) where you are silenced, called names, or belittled because you are too much or never enough. Many of the people in the Edutwitter “special” clique are engulfed in their privilege, often found devaluing the voices, opinions, and push-back from those dismissed, silenced, or ignored by generalizations and platitudes they preach. Sadly, I feel like many of these same Edutwitter folx who loudly profess mindfulness, kindness, and growth mindset on their timelines are the most likely to participate in marginalizing, exclusionary, and/or oppressive behavior. This behavior happens online and in person and which makes it both scary and dangerous. These individuals work in or consult schools obfuscating and glossing over the disparaging, inequitable, and sometimes harmful shortcomings in our schools. They willingly choose instead to hype catchy phrases, wear savior badges, and broadcast feel good platitudes making audience members believe our educational system is okay and actually not broken. Many of these same individuals operate like carpetbaggers, while maintaining the privilege and power of an outsider sell to teachers across the country a gilded view of an educational system desperately in need of an overhaul. Those who continue to question, critically address, and provide unique perspective to these individuals are swarmed like bees, engulfed in the flames of their “special” clique members’ burned egos, eventually shushed, and possibly shunned.
Our educational system and Edutwitter is like the old Berlin wall, but instead of splitting a country, it splits the ‘haves’ (those with skin, socioeconomic, social, or other privileges) and the ‘have-nots.’ The ‘haves’ are able to insulate and “protect” themselves by this large cement wall with other haves, infrequently engaging in tokenism and allowing a ‘have-not’ to join them every once in awhile. Almost all of the cement is covered in cliches, hashtags, and slogans that may hold some meaning or even monetary value for the ‘haves.’ Imagine the frustration, anguish, and disdain experienced by ‘have-nots’ seeing the slogans, quotes, and platitudes starring them in the face daily, because in an unjust system that has unfairly placed them on the other side of this wall, these words hold little or no genuine meaning for them. Eventually, the vexation boils over and ‘have-nots’ want to address the ‘haves’ and their exclusionary generalizations. They first try to talk, then eventually begin yelling over the wall to make sure they are heard. Not until recently with the events that transpired on Twitter did I believe the “special” clique of ‘haves’ actually listened because the cement wall seemed sound proof. Unfortunately, until that cement wall is completely broken down and folx with privilege and power listen, decenter, amplify, and cede the floor, all those constantly shared platitudes and slogans will continue to irk, exclude, and vex instead of carry value, include, and transform in the work we do in schools.