This week, a successful headteacher took to twitter to lambast another teacher he’d never met. It went something like this - “Jonathon Porter - quite simply what a dick, an out of touch attention seeking plank. You are the 1st person ever banned from my school”.
This was a single tweet, but the lessons we can draw from it are so important for educators around the globe.
Before you jump to conclusions and think that the headteacher in question was responding to a criminal or some kind of vigilante; he most certainly wasn’t. This rather personal attack was in fact reserved for a teacher who had done something not only harmless, but also well within his rights to do; outline his reasons for voting for a mainstream political party.
Mr Porter, the teacher in question, had written an article for the TES as part of a two-part series on the upcoming election. In it, he would essentially “come out” as a Tory. Another teacher would take up the opposition and represent labour.
The headteachers first response to the article went something like this...
"*link to blog* by Jonathan Porter #dick"
That’s right, “hashtag dick”.
A little time later, he followed it up with the opening gambit of this article.
Seemingly, most of the educational community were hardly outraged. When a few twitter users did try to defend the said teacher, the Headteacher in question responded with some colourful GIFs, unashamedly mocking those who questioned the appropriateness of this attack and announced he had “won the argument and got 100% stronger” in true Trumpesque style.
Of course, many more joined with the headteacher to congratulate him on his “take down” saying things like “Well done for standing up for education. Fully support you.”
Now, there are a number of issues with this.
First of all, correct me if I’m wrong, but calling someone a **** isn’t a very nice thing to do for any reason, but certainly not for expressing a perfectly legitimate view point.
Second, if this tweet reflects on how this headteacher and others like him deal with politics in school, it is a major concern. If a pupil was labelled a “****” by his or her teacher after voicing her desire to vote for a particular mainstream political party or for expressing views supporting it, not once but twice, I would imagine this could cause a lot of upset. Not only would you be insulting the child using an abusive term but you would also be telling the child, in a roundabout way, that his or her view was unacceptable. Would a teacher say this to a child or would they would aim to poke fun? To imply that it’s not ok through some passive aggressive joviality? Would the child ever dare to express another political viewpoint again? Donald Trump frequently spoke of the “silent majority” in his successful election campaign. He connected with people who felt like they didn’t have a voice. Are we, in Britain, full steam ahead to creating our own silent majority? Children who had to repress their views and opinions for fear of being shut down publicly by the very same adults who were supposed to be there to encourage them to express themselves? Surely a teacher should be a questioner not a teller, an impartial witness not a tainted enforcer. And don’t for a second think that this twitter exchange is just an anomaly, the tone of much of the criticism aimed at one side or the other seems tainted with hate.
It wasn’t that long ago that when teachers drove out of the gates at the end of each day, that was the last a student would see or hear of them until the next. But nowadays, on whatever the social media platform, teachers are accessible to students, whether through a Facebook profile picture or through the intricacies of a personal twitter account. What a young person can draw from an exchange like the one described is that their teachers might not be as tolerant as they have shown themselves to be in their place of work. They might not be as liberal as on first inspection. Teachers are sometimes the only role models young people have, the last bastion of a person beyond the celebrity stratosphere that can be idealised. I’m sorry if that word appears too strong for some, but it is the truth of it. I know this personally. I looked up to some of my teachers so much that in one of my diary entries as a 14-year-old, I actually wrote “I wish I could be like Mr X when im older”. Not as some kind of parody, but because I believed it. Scrutiny doesn’t stop when the final bell sounds.
Third, and this really hits at the heart of this whole thing, do we live in a society of double standards? When I read the tweet by the headteacher and the reaction to it, I wondered that if Mr Porter had not been a twenty something, white, moderately successful middle-class Londoner, a “Mr ordinary” if you will, whether he would have received the same treatment as someone else?
Teachers on social media and in fact, in our society at large, are keen to impress on others the moral superiority of an “equal society” and quite rightly applaud and uphold the work of organisations that promote equal status for women and black and ethnic minorities in trying to achieve that, but in doing so, have we forgotten that everyone deserves to be treated equally, including Mr Porter, despite being a male conservative voter with no particular minority status.
Voltaire once said – “I don't agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” But are we only doing this now when it suits us; “I don’t agree with what you say, but I won’t dare say it because I don’t want to be labelled a racist, a bigot or dare I say it, a conservative”.
We live in a strange new world where attacking someone like Jonathon Porter for some pretty normal views has become much easier than attacking someone with views much more abhorrent, but whose profile protects them from any robust challenge. Through a combination of fear and good will, are we in danger of creating the unequal society that I see so many preaching against?
The victim in this is not just Jonathon Porter but more so those not as strong or brave as Jonathon Porter. Those who will have read the “reaction” to his article, who were considering airing their views, who have now cowered away from sharing.
Oh, and an afterthought, if you have a scroll through my previous articles, you will soon realise I have been an ardent critic of much conservative education policy. I’m not writing this “because im a tory”, I’m writing this because I believe that what some consider to be throw away abuse can have a lasting impact, not only on the recipient but on many, many others far beyond some social media bubble world.