One of my reasons for becoming active on Social Media was to engage people of influence in the discussion of education. I soon found out that there were several circles of influence that were driving the discussion, but educators had very little influence in any of those circles and Social Media had even less influence on them. Business people, politicians, and people were driving the education discussion interested in entering the education industry for profit. Educators, whether by choice or circumstance, were not involved in the very reform discussions that were affecting their profession. Although educators are educated and experienced in the area of education, education expertise was claimed and permitted for the most part by those without either.
Many of these people used Social Media to put out a one-way information campaign to support their ideas of reform. It was not a discussion of ideas, but rather a statement of position. Teachers were praised as they were targeted. The public education system was condemned as a failure and alternatives were presented as a better, and cheaper. Standardized testing became a goal in education and an annual Billion-dollar industry in short order.
Educators were openly discussing ways to improve education and continue to do so on Social Media. Twitter is a mainstay for exchanging sources and discussing ideas of educators to improve and expand teaching and learning. Few of the non-educator reformers were actively engaged in these exchanges. The power of Social Media has yet to be discovered or used by many. Recognition of the fact that many education bloggers, authors, speakers, and thought leaders engage in thoughtful discussion and reflection on education in social media is just not a reality.
It was in the face of all of this that I happened upon The Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan tweeting on Twitter the other day. I was familiar with his tweeting pattern, since I have been following him for quite a while. I also follow his assistants and PR people. He and his team would often tweet out positive tweets about his initiatives. It was rarely an exchange with educators, but usually a one-way conversation. I was also aware that his follow list included politicians, business people and organization leaders, many referring to themselves as education reformers. He followed few, if any connected educators, which was very ironic, since we are entering the Connected Educator Month in October for the second year in a row. Here is how the exchange went:
Arne Duncan @arneduncan
As a nation we’re still spending $7-9B each year on textbooks that are obsolete the day we buy them. Why?
@tomwhitby Done. Thanks for the suggestion Tom.
The list I provided was a list of about 100+ connected educators that I exchange information with most often from among the 2,500 educators that I follow. Of course I have left off some educators who belong on that list, but that is a problem inherent with any made-up list.
The Secretary did as I had asked; He followed every educator and me on that list. He more than doubled his Follow list on Twitter. Educators immediately responded on Twitter in astonishment that The U.S. Secretary of Education was following them on Twitter. They were wondering why they were selected. Obviously, they were not following me, as closely as I was following them.
It was at this point that I began to see a problem. People were openly questioning whether or not Secretary Duncan was really going to engage educators. They were openly asking what they could DM the Secretary to affect the education discussion. They had expectations of the Secretary that they would not have of anyone else after just entering the culture of connected educators. They were already expecting too much. There is no tweet or comment that could so profoundly affect the education discussion to turn it all around making everyone hug and dance in jubilation.
To make this even more interesting some of The Secretary’s team tweeted me hoping that he hadn’t made a mistake connecting to educators who had a potential of haranguing him. I only hoped that I was right. I would hope that people would give The Secretary time to acclimate to the culture. He has not engaged with connected educators to any great extent and now he is connected to over 100 of the most active and most passionate. It could be the best effort yet to engage connected educators in the national discussion of education reform, or a disastrous conflagration. I am hopeful that the patience of these educators will allow Secretary Duncan to observe, enter and participate in the connected culture with the same respect offered to any other member of that community.