Sunday, July 9, 2017

Doing Better

The other day, I tweeted out a simple question:
“When’s the last time eduTwitter made you think?”

My motivation was simple: I was feeling dissatisfied by what I was seeing on my Twitter feed. Too much of the same. Not enough that challenged me and my practice. I hoped that my followers might have some thought-provoking posts to share with me.

I got a few responses: some bemoaning the “echo chamber” tendency of eduTwitter (the same ideas being amplified), some sharing posts from ISTE (many of which I had already seen), and some singing Twitter’s praises as a great way to connect with other educators (which I don’t deny is true).

When I wrote that tweet, I hadn’t quite figured out the source of my dissatisfaction. I knew that it irritated me when I saw posts that were solely motivated by gaining retweets or likes. I knew that seeing the same surface-level discussions about inclusion and relationships left me feeling disappointed. I also knew that I needed to do something about this feeling of ennui that surrounded me every time I clicked over to my Twitter feed.

But it wasn’t until Peter Anderson sent me a message recommending that I look at who I’m following on Twitter that I realized what my problem was: it was me.

I had created a Twitter feed that was woefully narrow. It was my fault. My feed was full of big names pushing books, teachers trying to build up a brand, and, frankly, it was really, really white.

It’s not hard to see how this happened. Like many teachers, when I joined Twitter, I saw those educators who had a huge following and felt compelled to add myself to their ranks. After all, lots of followers = the best ideas, right?

Wrong. eduTwitter is just another example of how privilege seeps its way into everything. Those with the biggest amount of privilege have the easiest time getting their ideas and voices amplified.  Smaller voices (often minorities) get buried, and when they do get recognition, it’s often just a carefully curated sidenote to a larger self-promoting message in order to appear “woke” or “inclusive.” It’s easy to tweet about social justice at your convenience when you’re operating under a massive amount of privilege.

Most teachers would say that they care about social justice and creating inclusive classrooms, and I’m no different. But one look at who I follow on Twitter would show you that I am guilty of the same mistake a lot of white educators (on and off Twitter) are making: surrounding myself with people just like me. How boring...and worse, how myopic and prohibitively exclusionary. In fact, this thread confirmed exactly what I was beginning to realize on my own: who I followed sent a pretty strong message about the importance I placed on diversity and social justice. Talk about a wake-up call.

I could have come to this realization, felt bad for awhile, and then carried on with my Twitter grumblings without making a change. After all, it’s easy to ignore things that deal with implicit bias when you’re privileged. I knew I had to do something. It’s one thing to complain about the state of things, but it’s another entirely to actually do something about it. Succinctly put, I needed to do the work.

Peter (God love him) helped me out by offering to make me a list of accounts that would broaden my Twitter horizons. He was kind enough to send me 30-odd names of people who challenge the status quo in education, tweet about social justice in education, and those whose worldview is different from my own.  Already, I’m reaping the benefits and am finding myself clicking the follow button on new accounts as I delve deeper into threads about privilege and the huge amount of work that needs to be done on the part of white teachers as allies for our students and our fellow colleagues of color. And far too often, white educators think we are doing enough. We aren’t.

Changing who I follow may seem like a frivolous step, but I view it as indicative of a larger shift I’m in the process of making. It’s not enough to only do this, but it’s a start. As I’ve had to remind myself over and over again, teaching is a journey that’s fraught with self reflection and having to take a hard look at yourself sometimes (and, in this case, looking closely at things as seemingly innocuous as your Twitter feed). This is one of those times. As Marian Dingle said in her recent blog post, I must do better. Here’s to doing better.