Some principles for debating on edTwitter

One of the main reasons I enjoy being on Twitter is the chance to discuss education with teachers all over the world. It is a great forum for bringing people together. However, occasionally things go wrong and people fall out.

You may have noticed a large schism has opened up in the last few months on edTwitter as more and more people have got sick of the bickering and have started blocking and muting opposition voices.

There is, as we all know, a wide spectrum of thought in education and much disagreement over pedagogy and curriculum. This has created a thriving and lively community and much interesting and, on the whole, productive debate. However, on occasions, this liveliness gets too heated and boils over into anger, animosity, and, all too quickly, a break down in communication.

This can’t be healthy. Dialogue is good, we learn by being introduced to new ideas and having our own ideas tested. We can’t have those conversations if we block or mute any views that don’t agree with our own. At its best edTwitter is a crucible for new thinking and challenging old assumptions (take a look at the great debate happening over Growth Mindset). At its worst, it’s a kind of Deadwood – lawless and chaotic. A place where people close their shutters and stay away from trouble.

I’ve come to the conclusion we need to grow up as a community and start agreeing on some principles. I see this happening all the time, in a kind of ad-hoc way, between individuals who agree to disagree. They argue passionately, fail to find a common ground, but agree to respect each other’s point of view. It’s not easy and it takes a large amount of good will, but it is possible.

The following list are some suggestions, they are far from a complete list and require some refining, sixteen is not a memorable number. Please offer your suggestions. They represent only a starting point. And they are principles, not laws. We don’t need a sherif.

Some principles for debating on edTwitter…

1. Strive first to understand and then to be understood.

2. Tone is important. Make an effort not to offend, politeness is a sign of culture.

3. Admit when you’re wrong or have made a mistake. Nothing weakens your credibility more than arguing a lost cause.

4. Be honest with yourself about the faults in your own argument. Changing your mind is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of learning.

5. Avoid sophistry.

6. Making wide generalisations and grand theories is a sign of lazy thinking. Reality is complex.

7. Don’t evade or try to change the subject of the debate. If you do it is a sign your argument is weak.

8. Don’t interpret your interlocutor’s feelings or motivations, they are not for you to interpret.

9. Don’t tell your interlocutor their faults. Nothing is more likely to offend and has nothing to do with the argument.

10. Avoid labelling and categorising other people, it’s lazy thinking and likely to be considered rude.

11. Avoid bad arguments, here is a list… Bad Arguments

12. Avoid calling your interlocutor’s argument a Bad Argument. This is not a substitute for reason and is likely to be considered rude.

13. Winning is not everything. The purpose of debate is to promote thinking, not to impose your point of view.

14. Try to be aware of your own faults. We all have them.

15. If you make a mistake, delete it. That’s what it’s for.

16. Know when to stop.

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