Last night, the EdTech Posse had a wonderful conversation. One of our dirty little secrets is that we mainly get together whenever we can to talk about whatever is on our minds, and record whatever happens to share with others. It’s intentionally unstructured.
Well, the conversation last night started with Dean’s encounter with John Gormley (a local conservative talk show host) about an open letter Dean posted to his students where he commented about the absurdity of assigning a single mark to represent their learning. Then we moved onto other things, and at the end talked about the hostility of public rhetoric around the recent job actions and negotiations by Saskatchewan Teachers. Funny how these conversations spiral in on themselves—the bookends of our session both centred on the unfortunate tendency in media (broadcast media and social media alike) to polarize, attack, vilify, and even ridicule other people or their positions.
It got me thinking about Rodney King. Remember Rodney? He is the African American fellow who was pulled over by police in Los Angeles in 1991 and beaten, purportedly for resisting arrest. Somebody videotaped the incident, and it went viral, or at least as viral as it could twenty years ago. And Los Angeles went up in flames when the officers involved in the beating were acquitted in May, 1992. It really was a scary time. My kids were living in Los Angeles, and so I went to be with them. The city was under curfew, and there was a strong military presence from the National Guard. You haven’t lived until you’ve been on a walk with your kids to the video store, and passed by armoured vehicles in the parking lot, and beneath army snipers on the roof of the store. My kids thought it was cool. I didn’t.
How did things settle down? I’m not 100% sure they entirely have, but one thing helped a lot. A kind, humble, and civil Rodney King went on television and made the most remarkable statement. He haltingly and nervously said, “Can we all get along?”
What a simple and meaningful statement.
Back to Gormley and Saskatchewan teachers. During Gormley’s lead in rant, I was really steamed by the inflammatory and belittling statements he made about Dean’s ideas, and by association, Dean himself (he had no intention of actually talking to Dean–just to attack a couple of points in his blog post). Then I heard his tone change when Dean surprised him and phoned in to discuss the issue with him. I wondered about the initial lack of civility, and the subsequently civil conversation they started to have. I think the tone changed abruptly because:
1. Gormley was now confronted by the person he was trying to discredit; and,
2. Dean was civil and open, and invited a discussion of the issue, not a fight about it.
We have also seen many media attacks carried out on Saskatchewan teachers, including some attack ads that seemed ill-advised, not just inaccurate. These kinds of approaches don’t invite meaningful conversation, and they serve to polarize the public and possibly do damage to the reputation of teachers that can linger for a long time. And how does that serve the education of our children? What kind of example does it set for them?
I think all of this underscores the need for all of us who embrace social media to promote civil discourse. It starts with us.
We don’t have to agree with each other, and in fact we can all benefit from open conversations when we have vehement disagreements. But we don’t have to attack. We don’t have to simplify our discussions and reduce our points to cleverly phrased uppercuts. We don’t have to win.
We can listen. We can ask others to listen. We can walk away and refuse to engage in conversations that turn ugly. And we can say that’s why we’re doing it.
I was astonished when I first heard the courage and forgiveness spoken by Rodney King. I was proud to know somebody like Dean Shareski, who refused to be sucked into a confrontation, and instead invited open dialogue.
It was, for me, an important example that I will carry with me. I’m going to do my very best to be civil and open, to listen before I speak.
Can’t we get along?