What’s the point of #edchat?

The evening of Tuesday, January 17th, 2017 was an interesting one for American public education, and education more broadly. Betsy DeVos, the presumptive next-American Secretary of Education appeared before the Senate Education Committee in their hearing on her nomination as such. I’m not going to recap any of it here (mostly because I’m trying to use fewer expletives in my own writing), but I think we can safely say that it was an astonishing event, and perhaps the most salient hours of the year in terms of considering the effects that the incoming administration will have on the educational system of America. I caught it in parts, and spent a good part of my evening on Twitter, discussing it with the educators that I’m connected to. And while I was having that conversation, I noticed that #edchat was also happening. But I didn’t talk about it on #edchat, because #edchat wasn’t about the #DeVosHearings.

Something about that seems wrong to me. Profoundly wrong. To the point that I find myself asking what the point of #edchat is anymore?

I hope that I can write the above without tarring any of the hard work that has gone in to building the #edchat community. I’ve interacted with much of the #edchatting component of eduTwitter, and I have no doubts about their passion or their good works as far as education is concerned. I also don’t mean to besmirch the maker movement (last night’s #edchat topic), something I approve of without reservation. But all of that noted, it’s genuinely weird that what is probably the biggest confluence of educators on twitter was having a conversation that seemed to be completely unrelated to the biggest education news story of the year that was happening at the exact same moment. The maker movement is going to be around for a very long time. DeVos had exactly one hearing, and it’s over now.

I don’t mean to suggest anything sinister here. I didn’t see anyone involved in moderating or otherwise organizing last night’s #edchat was deliberately stifling conversations that were not related to the topic. Certainly no one took issue with my own, passing note on the theme of this piece. And I totally understand that the structure of topic determination for #edchat is definitely not one that lends itself to being able to handle the vagaries of congressional hearing schedules. But maybe, as it became clear during the days leading up to both #edchat and the DeVos hearing that they would coincide, the moderators might have considered calling an audible, just this once, so that the conversation could have been about the most important thing happening in education.

Lest it be suggested that I’m picking at a particular straw here, I’ll point out that #edchat has had a pretty clear record of not talking directly about political matters since the election. It’s my understanding from talking to one of the moderators that this is very much a conscious choice. I totally understand that there are structural constraints built in to the whole #edchat process that prevent political topics from ever being the most popular. The popularity-determines-topic model is probably going to never bring a political discussion to Tuesday night. But I think there’s some more overt bias at work in avoiding the political as well. Earlier inquiries about the lack of political topics for #edchat in the immediate aftermath of the election resulted in this note, so there does seem to be some conscious moderator bias to avoiding difficult conversations. And to be clear, a political conversation in the style of commentary on the election, or the DeVos hearings would be inarguably difficult. Feelings would get hurt. People would be insulted. But just because a topic isn’t the most popular doesn’t mean it’s not the most important. And just because a conversation is difficult, doesn’t mean it’s not worth having.

If #edchat is for connected educators, maybe it should be connected, too.