This week began with a fast and furious introduction to the blogosphere.
It has been quite surreal really, relaxing as I was in the quiet wholesome surrounds of Mullumbimby (a little “hippie” country town 20 mins inland from the famous Byron Bay) on holiday with my family, whilst my Twitter feed heaved and twisted like a snake that had just swallowed a Tasmanian Devil… live!
(Interested international readers can learn about Tassie Devils here).
I’ve enjoyed the ride and, whilst I have appreciated the thoughtful comments and feedback I have received, I have to say I’m fascinated by the tactics and behaviour of my antagonists; all of which have been men.
Pejorative terms like “snowflake” (to depict academics as weak whingers who wouldn’t know a hard day’s work if it bit them on the proverbial) have been directed my way, as well as swearwords like “bullshit”. This same person referred to research in education (specifically which research, I’m not sure but I suspect anything using poststructural theory) as “lies”.
The wildest pot-shot was made by some guy in Canada who appeared to be linking the University of Wollongong’s controversial recent passing of a PhD thesis containing anti-vaccination views to the points I was making on my first blog about education research and criticisms of poststructural theory. I’m still mystified by that one…
Each of these men – who remind me of a serial pest called Alan W. Shorter who was eventually blocked from The Conversation for constantly harassing authors – came to my blog via another blogger who, by his own admission, is one of a number of bloggers whom I shall call “the aggrieved”.
From what I can gather, their shared complaint relates to their experiences of initial teacher education in “the UK, US, Canada and now even in Australia“.
I am assured that the aggrieved are NOT all white men, and I’m sure that is true, but the ones making inappropriate comments on Twitter and my blog certainly are.
It has made me think of a number of dinner table conversations about gender relations that have taken place in our house this past year, usually prompted by something like #countingdeadwomen or the latest thing Tony Abbott/Cory Bernardi/Eric Abetz (take your pick) has said.
These conversations have also been prompted by worrying stories about the expectations teenage boys have about sex and the revealing photos that girls in my daughter’s year are posting of themselves on Instagram.
We have these conversations because I realise that our family lives in a bit of a bubble. I am married to an intelligent, well educated, secure and kind man who isn’t the boss and doesn’t feel the need to be. I work with similar men; men who are respectful of women, who value their ideas, who would never call them a “snowflake” or refute what others say by calling it “bullshit” or “lies”.
I’m not saying that I’m being “targeted” because I’m a woman or that women don’t also do this (not sure why I’m bothering to make this disclaimer, mind you, because all of my previous disclaimers have been ignored). I’m just interested in the particularly hard and inflexible position of the aggrieved, as well as the intensity of their aggrievedness.
What I don’t understand is how one’s personal, singular experience of teacher education can be (a) so psychologically damaging as to require an international support group, and/or (b) something that can be generalised beyond the program/institution/country or time in which it was taken?
Perhaps I’m too tolerant but I’d never rubbish the teaching of English literature, Modern History or Education on the basis of what I was or was not taught in Australia in the mid 90s.
I was also sanguine enough – even then and that’s saying something – not to diss my former University or the entire Arts/Humanities field because I wasn’t able to study my preferred units, such as 3rd year Russian history and twentieth century wars. Nope. I was stuck with Early East Asian History, Women’s Studies (which I almost failed save for a brilliant poster on the objectification of women in hard-core pornography), and a bunch of other stuff I can’t even remember it was that good!
My husband and I have quite spirited debates about this because he hated university. He studied journalism/communications and has always been of the view that much of what he learnt at uni was irrelevant, boring and crap.* He just wanted to know how to write for the papers, so he could get a job writing for the papers. I’m kind of glad he didn’t now, given that such journalists are a dying breed.
Meanwhile, I saw university as a gift. We were both first-in-family to attend but as someone who’d been kicked out of school before the end of year 10 and who’d been living out of home not long thereafter, going to university was a luxury about which I wasn’t going to complain.
Yes, it was annoying when our tutors didn’t turn up or when my Australian history lecturer was continually drunk, but I thought that’s just how it was. You got on and did the work, even though HECS fees were being raised and I was a little nervous about how I’d ever pay off the debt, given that Arts students are, you know, “jack of all trades but master of none”?
Those years were a defining period in my life. Whilst there are some people who believe critical thinking can’t be taught, I’m not sure how else I learnt how to do it. It certainly didn’t come from watching Big Brother…
I thought the best thing about university was the time it gave me to work out who I wanted to be and the ideas to which I was exposed whilst there. I didn’t experience these as dictum; indeed, I was encouraged to critique those ideas and (unlike school) to challenge and debate my teachers. This was particularly the case in my education studies classes, except the ed psych unit which was very rigid and exam-based.
So, when I read these highly negative comments about teacher education it strikes me that perhaps some of us were looking for different things from our university education? Or that poor experiences are not universal and that university teacher education isn’t quite the esoteric equivalent to anti-vax quackery that some make it out to be?
*Incidentally, he’s now doing an MBA and thinks more than half of that is crap too.