Divided, Conquered: “Everybody blogs. Nobody reads.”

In her 14 June 2015 email update about her blog, Susan Ohanian offered an opening statement:

When I started this website of resistance 13 years ago, I posted a lot of outrage, outrage I tried to buttress with research. Of late, I’ve cut way back because I feel there’s far too much jabber filling the air–too much rage and not enough explanation. Everybody blogs. Nobody reads. I figure whatever I might say just gets lost in the cacophony so I’ve turned my efforts elsewhere. Right now I’m working on a big project that I hope will startle you with originality. At the very least, it won’t be part of the chorus.  

I’m not abandoning the site–just cutting back on its size.

Well before the education reform debate blossomed on social media, Ohanian was dissecting and challenging the most recent cycle of high-stakes accountability—from the perspective of a classroom teacher.

I very much feel compassion for Ohanian’s concerns, having begun writing against accountability and specifically high-stakes testing in the 1990s, also as a classroom teacher. Once I moved to higher education in 2002, my access to public work was significantly expanded so my public commentaries reach back about as long as Ohanian’s (although my move to blogging is about half that span).

The powerful refrain—”Everybody blogs. Nobody reads”—resonates, I think, because it touches on how social media has in many ways had the opposite effect than its great promise: Instead of building solidarity, blogging, Facebook, Twitter, and all the rest have allowed factions to develop and has reduced much of the vibrant and important discourse to be subsumed by the great failure of social media—the cult of personality.

The online world of public debate about education and education reform has included the ugliest part of social media—anonymous vitriol—but it has also, for me, created a much more troubling dynamic. On more than one occasion, I have been refuted and attacked (based on false assumptions) by those with whom I share solidarity.

It is all too easy, then, for those of us who share the same mission to turn on each other while those who are running the education reform machine sit by mostly untouched.

In fact, that is what the minority in power thrive on—divide and conquer.

Part of my advocacy includes making a case for the importance of workers so I often ask people to consider if all service workers in the U.S. (mostly poorly paid and many part-time without benefits including the horribly under-paid wait staff) simply did not work tomorrow, how would that compare in impact to if all the CEOs did not go to work tomorrow?

And how does that impact expose real value to society versus how we compensate work in the U.S.?

One wait staff compared to one billionaire is a tale of supreme inequity.

Without solidarity, without a moral grounding among those who still may disagree, each of us is ripe for the sort of resignation that happens in isolation and powerlessness.

Each time I post on Common Core and the views increase and then I post on race and the views drop, I contemplate simply walking away from trying to make a difference.

The reason I have shifted from traditional scholarship and toward public work stems from the echo chamber that is scholarship where, to paraphrase Ohanian, everybody publishes, but nobody reads.

Social justice and educational equity are, simply put, the defining goals of a free people, and it seems these are the anchors for a solidarity that could bring about change.

Partisan politics, the cult of personality, building a brand, blogging and not reading/talking but not listening—these, however, are the antidotes to solidarity, and the fuel of the status quo of inequity that poisons our society and our schools.

Without solidarity, each of us is destined to resignation, failing to hold hands and realize our collective power against the few who can afford simply to wait us out.

We are a people, I fear, tragically trapped in individual ownership and competition, denying the essential communal nature of being fully human.

Dedicating the self to the public good is the ultimate act of selfishness. Solidarity is not, then, self-sacrifice, but self-preservation.

We have passion (Ohanian’s “rage”) and we have explanations, but we are doomed by a poverty of solidarity in our pursuit of social and educational equity.

20 comments

  1. gfbrandenburg

    There are indeed a lot of good blogs. I also don’t read and comment enough.
    Even more to the point I don’t get out and talk to people at all levels of understanding or agreement (or not) to take specific actions with them.

  2. kathyirwin1

    ‘The cult of personality, building a brand, blogging and not reading/talking but not listening—these, however, are (The Death Throes Of) and the antidotes to solidarity, and the fuel of the status quo of inequity that poisons our society and our schools.”
    This paragraph SUMS IT Up. Susan O is right on the money. Everybody blogs but nobody reads, nobody resists, and the blogging become yet another expression of the culture of narcissism which serves the status quo just fine and dandy. Conquered is Correct!!!

  3. Danielle

    I rarely comment, but read ravenously! Education bloggers need to continue to write with calm, factual, hyper-lined, perspectives that the mainstream media doesn’t cover. Keep writing!

  4. Margaret Benson

    I agree about the solidarity issue. I can’t tell if FB groups like BATS, or United Opt-Out have increased resistance, in terms of helping figure out what to DO, or if they just give people a chance to vent, and sometimes rant. Both of those feel good, but in themselves don’t wrest control of schools out of the hands of big business. Organizing resistance to anything has always been hard — and the multiplicity of the media have made it harder. We need new ways of doing this.

    But a good Blog is useful. Yours is a good Blog; informative, with good citations. You don’t rant or vent much.

    As for what people read and don’t read — I am less likely to read a posting on race than I am one clearly on pedagogy, or the Common Core, or testing. This is because fighting racism is a life long thing in my life — my mom is famous in my southern family for being a card carrying member of the NAACP in the 1930s, and her belief in Civil Rights was the reason I became a Brooklyn Dodgers fan in 1947. My friends actually went on freedom rides, and if I had not been the mother of a newborn I might have gone to register voters in the South. I taught Head Start in the Buffalo inner city in 1965. Your postings on race may make me angry (lots to be angry about on that front these days) but you are not likely to tell me things I haven’t heard, or read before. (I’m a big fan of James Baldwin by the way.) So I often skip those — trying not to go online and be angry all day, particularly when I am not sure what to DO with rage, or frustration.

    But I do read what you have to say about pedagogy, and testing, and grading (though I have wished you would include the idea that we drop “grades” in the sense of first grade, and 2nd grade, etc. I like mixed age classes, as in Montessori, or Waldorf, where kids can move along at their own rate. When I taught Head Start I knew that my kids were smart, but they needed practice expressing themselves (love Reggio for how they do that), as well as teachers who listened/watched and valued what they had to say. Given time, one might see their strengths more clearly, and stop thinking about them as being “behind.”) OK — we are getting at things I am passionate about here, so I better stop.

    Punch line — I enjoy your blog.

    Margaret

  5. edifiedlistener

    Solidarity, yes. However, in movements in which the aim is to “speak with one voice” whose voices are most likely to be quieted or softened or pushed to the edges? I fear it is often women’s voices which are sacrificed more often than not.
    Certainly the number of voices in the ed reform push back camp is growing and we have to realize that new readers, writers, lurkers are finding their way into social media daily. The edu blogosphere is expanding as educators attempt to keep up with what appears to be a runaway train. They are told they must blog and pin and tweet in order to call themselves “connected.” And that’s when folks who were here earliest and built those initial cults of edu personalities began to talk about how shallow and repetitive twitter was becoming and asking whether they shouldn’t move on.
    If nothing else, my engagement on social media has significantly raised my awareness when it comes to understanding how the message is coming across and from whom. The big edu names on the conference keynote circuit are primarily white males. As a black woman relatively new to the online edu scene I am encouraged to find greater numbers of women educators of color using their voices to share practice and opinion and proud to count myself among them.
    As much as possible we can and do support each other and we learn to disagree gracefully. We need to keep blogging and reading and making our presence felt in this domain which has very different reception levels depending on where we choose to engage and with whom. We can add to the solidarity not by limiting our use of voice but by lending it where it may be needed: to uplift one or more of our colleagues in need, in support of the policies and movements which align with our common cause.

    • Duane Swacker

      “The big edu names on the conference keynote circuit are primarily white males.”
      When you reference “the conference keynote circuit” to what are you referring? I have no idea what that circuit is.

      Also come join Network for Public Education and read Diane Ravitch’s blog if you already don’t (I figure you probably do). Quite lively discussions can take place there. The last two conferences were pleasant surprises in not only racial but age, and interest group related folks who welcomed all, at least from this white male retired ol fart Spanish teacher’s perspective.

  6. VanessaVaile

    Here in my opinion is a lovely testament to the real strength of blogging: the conversation is as good as the post. I’m definitely going to borrow “speak to a shared goal” not “speak with one voice”‘r

    As for posts tell what needs to be read being less popular than ones telling readers what they want to hear — we all have those. They remind me of one of all time favorite evaluation comments by a student: “she tell us what we need to hear whether want to or not”

    So many functions, purposes, voices, etc in all the media. I think we need the variety and then to listen and respond as best we can. I agree with Margaret about the venting — see in it adjunct groups too — and wonder how productive it really is. But maybe it too is necessary and has a place — like consciousness raising — just as long as I don’t have to join that chorus.

    Just keep on blogging. I am always glad to see your posts (now to decide which blog to share it on…a happy dilemma)

  7. Margaret Benson

    And now, after a good blog as a stimulus, we are having a good conversation. We need more of these. Thanks to everyone!

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  9. Joan Kramer

    Perhaps it’s really that we are blogging (and some of us are reading) but not really doing much about all of this. Glad when someone’s blog is noticed – such as Dr. Helig’s – but that’s because he is also testifying and attacking a shibboleth. And he is influencing younger people. But why aren’t we in the streets along with the teachers of Spain, Mexico, even Britain?

  10. Chuck Jordan

    In today’s media everyone reads what they agree with. You preach to the choir; the choir responds “Amen.” Reading is not enough. Must do something, but what?

    On another topic, any ideas on teaching The Amen Corner to mostly African American high schoolers (Upward Bound summer institute).

  11. Pingback: More on Solidarity: “Speak to Shared Goals,” Not “Speak with One Voice” | As the Adjunctiverse Turns
  12. dnikias

    A pretty good exchange here – sadly, most of us have an opinion and insist on speaking out but the art of listening is a dying one. The only remedy is engaging in action and having a conversation is the first step for our spoken words can inspire thoughtful, willful deeds more effectively than typing. It does seem to be true that most/many do not read but feel that furiously pecking away at the keyboard and hitting send amounts to “participation” (and I am guilty of that as well).
    Electronic media is a useful tool but it does not replace genuine interaction and sharing with another warm body. Our personal, human interactions and sharing are more meaningful and inspiring for technologies/blogging can never fully replace direct, personal conversation and intelligent dialogue. Technology while a powerful and useful force is not the answer (but perhaps part of a meaningful methodology). I choose to comment and share electronically rather sparingly but try to create balance by engaging in dialogue with other human beings directly. With that said, keep the electronic conversation going but I would hope that we (whoever that might be) can balance that with warm, personal exchanges to build consensus/agreement in the real world. The virtual world is but a shadow and the social, structural, and physical challenges we face are real world issues.

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  15. aureliomontemayor

    Solidarity is a serious concern because those of us who have been battling for equity and justice in public education for ALL students have some differences with some of the teacher led responses to current crises in public education. The Vergara decision in California points to the clash between families and teacher concerns. Even though those families were manipulated and used by devious & dangerous privatization forces, there are very real concerns that families have that can’t be answered by blaming poverty and the limitations of families.
    My organization and my allies have been fighting consistently against vouchers, charters and school closings. But teachers must own up to the prejudices and deficit views of our families and children that permeate the profession, even among teachers of color or who come from the working poor. Institutional prejudices are strong and many times the teachers are the transmitters of those prejudices.
    So, solidarity is not easy because of the generations of discrimination and poor treatment of our children by our schools.
    The damages of excessive and inappropriate testing does not diminish the needs of our families and their allies to know whether our children are learning, whether they are being taught well and effectively and whether our children can compete with white, middle class children in college access and college completion.
    Aurelio

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