To Tweet Or Not To Tweet? Too Late! by Jackie Teale

Having given up Facebook just before Christmas, I’ve found myself scrolling through Twitter more than usual lately. Yesterday evening was no exception. As I scanned through my newsfeed, a story by Katie Hopkins from the Mail Online caught my eye. The headline read: “‘No Trump, no KKK, no Fascist USA’. I’d Wager all 3 Unlikely to Listen to People in Need of a Job, a Shower or Both.” I could see that it related to the protests organised by Owen Jones on Monday evening, and, having attended the protest in Westminster myself, I was almost ready to use my 140 characters immediately. However, recognising this as an emotional rather than a rational response, I convinced myself that it would be better to read the full article first. I didn’t want to write anything that might later prove false. The opening sentences of the story dragged me straight down into the depths of “Katie’s world”; a world where post-truth is the real truth and her followers neither know, nor care, if she knew the real truth in the first place.

After having read the entire story I still felt angry. Without giving it too much thought, I sent the following tweet: j-teale-tweet

My error wasn’t to have tweeted abuse at Katie Hopkins – lots of people do that. My mistake was to be a teacher who had been to a protest with a banner that was made by some students. Was my tweet unprofessional? Possibly. Is it offensive? Only directly to Katie, a woman who herself never hesitates to cause offence. Does it suggest that I was brainwashing children and forcing them to manufacture propaganda to impose my views upon other people? Absolutely not in the real world. But then I wasn’t in the real world. As soon as Katie reposted my tweet, claiming that ‘[she feared] for young minds, brainwashed by liberals pushing their agenda [aged] 8?’ my Twitter account went crazy. The notifications poured in. 50 notifications. 112 notifications. The number of notifications was increasing by the minute, and all of the posts appeared to be filled with hate. I was “Jackie the brainwasher Nazi” and accused of grooming my own “Hitler Youth”. Apparently I had never been “out of an educational institution & [I was] unable to see a distinction between teacher/student”.

k-hopkins-tweetIt was really quite overwhelming and I genuinely started to panic. But, I reasoned, the worst case scenario would see me unemployed by Monday – something that the people tweeting at or about me were not only calling for, but also providing useful links, to direct people to where exactly they should report me: the Department for Education; OfSted; and to Justine Greening on Twitter. The abuse continued to escalate. I was informed that I was in “breach of Section 407 of the Education Act”. I had “broken the law.” It also turned nastier and more threatening. I was “another idiot teacher polluting the minds of the young”. This, I was told in the same tweet, “[was] abuse as serious as sexual or physical abuse.” One man posted that he would “come and kick [me] out the classroom if [I] taught his kids” and another agreed with him. A former teacher, who identifies herself in her Twitter biography as an “Islamophobe” who believes “Islam is evil” told me that teachers like me were the reason the real teachers – like her – had retired. I was also surprised to learn that I am the reason a lady called Ana whom I’ve never met home-schools her child.

In addition to the abuse flung my way, the Twitter community began to flesh out the details of my indoctrination programme. It transpired that there was a lot more to the sentence I had tweeted than met the eye. A young lady stated that I had “abandoned the curriculum” and “brought in my own materials”. I had then used these materials to get the children to make protest banners for me. Yes, they were “Anti-Trump” posters another tweet confirmed. That was instantly retweeted. In Katie’s world it became a “fact”. Katie’s followers kept retweeting these “facts”. Before long, UKIP Party Members started to retweet the material, Suzanne Evans among them. It was a textual version of Chinese whispers, in which the “facts” now circulating about my Year 8 class and I have no basis in reality.

Twitter is not a suitable platform to engage in a meaningful debate, so I’d like to take this opportunity to reflect on the best way to respond to some of the charges levelled at me. Not the personal attacks, which don’t warrant a response, but, rather, the ones in which non-teachers thought that they had the right to tell a teacher what – and how – it was acceptable to teach. Every one of the tweets that suggested that children should not be discussing President Trump’s actions could be discounted by referring to the Department for Education guidance booklet Promoting Fundamental British Values as part of SMSC in Schools. Schools, we are told should develop in students “an acceptance that other people having different faiths or beliefs to oneself (or having none) should be accepted and tolerated, and should not be the cause of prejudicial or discriminatory behaviour.” Banning people because of their nationality or religion runs completely counter to this. Should a parent ever question why their child is learning about a particular topic, then a teacher can accurately state that this is what the government prescribes.

Other tweets seemed to suggest that it was beyond the remit of a teacher to teach about topics that were either deemed to be political in nature, or might be considered as current affairs. To put it bluntly, if we were to remove topics that were political in nature, then not much of the National Curriculum for History would remain. The introduction of the National Curriculum in 1991 marked a defining moment in education across England and Wales. Each revision to the history curriculum reduced the amount of prescribed content – the ‘what to teach’ element. In its current iteration, the only mandatory topic for study in the key stage three history curriculum is the Holocaust. This means that teachers have a greater level of autonomy in selecting what content to teach their classes across the rest of the key stage. Teachers will make decisions concerning what to teach based on a variety of factors, including, but not limited to, the resources they have available, the strength of their subject knowledge and passion for individual topics, what they have taught previously and the ability of their classes.

Students typically begin their study of history at secondary school, learning about the Middle Ages. The first time that they will really encounter political ideas is when they learn about the barons confrontation with King John at Runnymede in 1215. They’ll start to develop their substantive knowledge so that when they later learn about other examples of protest they will have some knowledge to ‘think with’, which they can then transfer and apply to different contexts. Students – with guidance from their teacher – are thus equipped to draw out the similarities and differences between political struggles in different eras. For example, one of my Year 8 classes has recently looked at the question of when Britain became a democracy, and while the enquiry is mainly based on events in the nineteenth-century, they were also encouraged, and most were able, to make comparisons with the sixteenth-century. While students are able to recognise the similarities across periods and to understand political problems in different eras, I would suggest that those who posted tweets to say that politics should not be taught in the classroom shows a comprehensive failure in this respect. Is there, for example, a qualitative difference in the nature of the learning taking place when students design campaign propaganda for the contender to the throne of England after the passing of Edward the Confessor, to those completing the same activity to suggest who would make the best leader of the Conservative Party in 1979? I would suggest not, but then I doubt that anyone has ever accused a teacher of trying to brainwash a class into electing Harald Hardrada instead of William of Normandy.

We would also do well to remember that school students are perfectly capable of forming and expressing their own political viewpoints, and indeed protesting government policy. The 1985 School Student Strike, which saw students take to the streets to voice their opposition to the Conservative government’s threat to make the exploitative Youth Training Scheme compulsory, is just one historical example of valid and effective student protest.

1985-school-kids-strike
The National School Student Strike, April 1985

Finally, the question of making use of current news stories in the classroom can also be justified on the following grounds: one of the most effective ways to get students engaged in a historical topic is to make the contemporary relevance of it explicit to them. Sometimes the best place to start a history lesson is in the present – with a current news story – and then ask how we got here. A few of my Year 8 students went on the women’s march on 21st January. When they came into class the next week and we were learning about the Suffragettes, it all made far more sense to them. I will make no apologies for adopting exactly the same approach over the coming weeks as I teach about the Civil Rights Movement and we ask why there are still protests demanding that we Stop Racism and confirming that Black Lives do Matter going on at the moment. Is this brainwashing or political indoctrination? No, it’s just one way of introducing a topic to students.

Jackie Teale is a secondary level history teacher and doctoral student at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her thesis is supervised by Professor Dan Stone and focuses on the ways in which press photography has shaped public responses to genocide.

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2 thoughts on “To Tweet Or Not To Tweet? Too Late! by Jackie Teale

  1. Reading Katie Hopkins’ article reveals just what dangerous times we live in and how the European Referendum has empowered those with an unsavoury ultra-right wing agenda. Given that far-right parties have never achieved anywhere near 50% in a British election we can safely assume that many of the 52% who backed Brexit were ordinary decent people who for one reason or another want out of the European Union. However Hopkins, Farage et al are now intent on co-opting the whole 17 million of them as being 100% behind whatever odious piece of bigotry they care to cook up. In fact, they’ve gone further. As we have seen with the tabloid coverage of the Article 50 court case and subsequent vote in Parliament anyone not a 100% behind their agenda is thwarting the “Will of the People” and by implication an enemy of the state. The accusation is of course ludicrous, the very phrase “Will of the People” implies a degree of unanimity far in excess of a 52-48 split, quite apart from the additional complication that that 52% was split between many different visions of what leaving the EU means, not all of them mean-spirited and nationalistic. Nevertheless, we’re told over and over again that their mandate is overwhelming (another word which given the numbers doesn’t entirely seem to be being used here in the proper dictionary sense) and that pointing out that even larger numbers of affected citizens either didn’t vote or were disenfranchised is the behaviour of cry-babies and sore losers. Hopkins makes this leap in her article. According to her, it’s not just the 52% that were outraged by the anti-Trump protests, but the entire 62 million population of the UK. It’s rubbish of course, but it empowers the sort of people who are now trolling your Twitter account (it’s weird that Hopkins characterizes people who sign on-line petitions or Tweet for liberal causes as being layabouts with too much time on their hands while not being able to see that the description must also apply to her own army of supporters). Most of these people are angered by their own powerlessness, but there is always a small minority prepared to act out their threats against those that Hopkins and her ilk have persuaded are their enemies. We saw this with the murder of Jo Cox last summer and again with events in Quebec this week. When Hopkins, Farage and co are called out for this they respond with faux outrage, accusing their detractors of being like Nazis (apparently without a trace of irony) but it doesn’t ever make them think about moderating their tone in future because they are fully committed to their hateful and divisive agenda. in this environment it becomes an act of moral and physical courage to stand up to them and call them out. They hope to wear us down with their bully boy tactics, as long as there are people like Jackie this won’t happen.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Katie Hopkins is right, you are entitled to your political opinions but teachers are there to develop children not indoctrinate them. Trump may be remembered in history as an odious man but that is for the future to judge, liberals should be liberal not left wing fascists

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