It’s been an interesting few days, to say the least. And I hope that by writing this, I can clarify some of thoughts, share some of my own learnings, and share with you how I’m going to change my social media presence moving forward.
If there’s one thing that’s clear, it’s that I’ve veered a bit off course with my original intentions for joining teaching conversations on social media. I wanted to find like-minded folx with whom I could discuss important matters related to teaching and learning; I wanted my thinking to be shaped and molded by new ideas from people outside of my immediate circles; I wanted to share ideas I have–ideas about personalized learning, equity, and inclusive pedagogy.
As I spent more time on social media, Instagram specifically, I began to feel disheartened and disappointed by some of the conversations that seemed to be occurring. I began to see that Teacher Instagram was more of a marketplace for products than it was a place for interesting discussions about teaching. That’s not to say, of course, that these conversations were not happening. There are some great conversations happening in various corners of Instagram; there are great teachers having brave conversations about social justice and its implications for the classroom. But by and large, teachers were using the platform as a place to promote Teachers-Pay-Teachers stores and sell resources.
I began to see, too, that there seemed to be a hierarchy on the platform–that people with larger followings were able to control the narrative and shift thinking in various directions, some of which were productive and truly in the name of inclusive teaching, others that were in less productive directions, using the privilege they’ve amassed only to continue selling products that counteract inclusive, sustainable pedagogy or that promulgate a capitalist society’s tight hold on the education system.
I still believe that capitalism has a tight hold on the education system, and this is ubiquitous within the system. Much like on Instagram, education companies with high name recognition and large amounts of capital are able to control the narrative and change the way teachers think about teaching–and not necessarily in favor of quality pedagogy that promotes inclusivity or with the intention of dismantling oppressive systems that make it hard for all to access an equitable education–but instead to create reliable revenue streams for their businesses. Using schools in this way is brilliant from a business perspective: by creating reliable and renewable revenue streams, companies can ensure they’ll be able to sustain themselves.
I saw this first-hand while working for a prominent education company in Silicon Valley. I saw that the desire for profits and scalability overrode concern for quality pedagogy, equity, or the potential impacts of capitalist ventures on the education system. I saw what working for the company did to manipulate my own thinking. I had convinced myself for a short period of time that privatization was a good thing, and that infusing business into education would free it from the bureaucracies of a centralized government. I was wrong, though. It simply changed the success metrics, and made us beholden to a different sort of centralized governing power: investors and technocrats. To see this playing out on such a broad scale online, this time with teachers at the helm, made me upset. And to realize that our system had become so distorted by the quest for wealth made me equally as upset.
And so I decided to start working against it. I decided to start talking about ways to disrupt the Teachergram ecosystem, to talk less about products and more about pedagogy, and question the intentions of an online marketplace that seemed more about ensuring the consumption of resources than changing the education system.
It all came to a head this past week with a post I’m sure many of you know about if you’re reading this. I likened influencer culture to a billboard, implying that it was more about pushing products than it was about molding perspective and shaping conversations. In hindsight, the post was crass and unnecessary–working against the very platform I’ve tried to build over the past year or so, one of nuanced conversations and embracing cognitive dissonance. It was right for people to call that out, and I’m glad they did, because it has helped me see that I’ve wandered astray.
What I should have done was acknowledge that so many teachers are leveraging social media out of a genuine need to supplement their incomes. And I should have acknowledged that before critiquing the injustice of social media, in the sense that these opportunities for supplemental income are not available to all. The truth of the matter is that privilege is infused into Teachergram ecosystem, favoring some over others and giving certain folx a head start. This ultimately makes it so that many are not able to participate in it and actually reap the benefits of the supplemental income.
My post, instead, communicated a few things, the first of which was that my flippancy had gotten the best of me. I tried to communicate a big idea through a reductive analogy, not only turning me into an embodiment of some of the things I cannot stand about social media, but also revealing the extent to which I was out of touch with my own privilege. The fact of the matter is that I am not in a place where I absolutely must use social media endorsements to supplement my income. I am in a place where I supplement my income in other ways. That is not the case for everyone.
I want to clarify: that’s not to say I am living in wealth, because I’m most certainly not. My husband and I, too, struggle with enormous amounts of student debt. We are currently trying to figure out how to manage that and the burden of being gay men who are trying to start our family, weighing various options like fostering and adoption, neither of which seem perfectly fit for us. Both have pros and cons, both ethically and financially.
It was somewhere around that point where my adoption fund was brought into the conversation that I started deleting comments and after that, I had a hard time stopping due to the hurt I was feeling (even if it didn’t relate to adoption). I thought the willingness to bring that into the conversation was cruel and insensitive. I still think it was, given the undue burdens placed on prospective LGBTQ parents and the current threats to our ability to become parents. But now I see that my broad characterization of influencers was insensitive, first and foremost, given the way my post reduced the idea down into something reminiscent of clickbait and given the undue burdens placed on so many teachers around the country to make ends meet.
For these things, I am truly sorry. I see now that by using such a reductive analogy, I started an unproductive conversation. Having started the conversation in that way, I see that I’m responsible for the turn the conversation took, and moving forward, I’m going to use the platform to communicate nuances–and not one-liners that drag us all down into the depths of the worst parts of social media.
Seeing the Human Side
All of this makes it abundantly clear that I’ve lost my way here on social media, and I want everyone to know I’ve found some clarity there and what seems like a path back in the right direction. As previously mentioned, my communication has been at its most reductive (and its worst) over the past few weeks, trying to compose tweets and posts that will communicate a lot in a few words, when we all know that it’s not possible to unpack these nuanced ideas in 140 characters or in the body of an Instagram post.
In my quest to communicate my disappointment about the state of the education system and capitalism’s hold on it, I inadvertently and subconsciously created two sides in my mind (and on Instagram). On one side were the people who supported this system and benefited from it; on the other side were the people who were willing to work against it.
But I now see those two sides are just ideological in nature, representative of a black-and-white way of thinking that is all too present in our current day and age. What I neglected to see was the human side in all of this.
The fact of the matter is that we all have to live and work within the current system. We have no choice in that matter. And as a result, we all must make hard decisions in order to survive. For some, this means endorsing products from companies on Instagram; for others, this means staying at a school that won’t let them come out as gay; and for infinite numbers of others, this can mean an infinite number of other things. This is the human side of any nuanced argument or topic: that the choices we make and the things we need to do are intersectional and dependent on each of our situations. And if I could go back and change the past few weeks, I would remind myself of that before posting. I will do that moving forward.
I plan on moving forward with a more focused effort on inclusive pedagogy. This doesn’t mean that I won’t be talking about social justice. I absolutely will. To be inclusive in our classrooms, we must examine the socio-economic and political contexts within which our schools exist. And so, I will continue to examine those contexts–and without making broad generalizations about certain groups of people like I did the other day. I will cease using statements that feel as though they are blanketing topics without unpacking the nuance.
This also means that I’m going to be going through my feeds and clearing out some things that I feel are no longer representative of my way of thinking and my path forward. My goal, first and foremost, will be to be more intentional with my words so that I don’t have to go back and delete posts later.
Thanks to all of you who’ve been patient with me, who’ve reached out to mirror some hard truths back to me, and to those of you who are willing to let me rebuild trust! I’m grateful!