Another week and another visitor to a school in Wembley blogging about their positive experience, and of course attacked on twitter for daring to say these things. What is it about our digital identities that allow us to dismiss the experiences of others (which we wouldn’t do in person) despite never having visited the school? I think it’s about planting a flag and virtually saying, “None shall pass”. Is there another way?
What if you vehemently disagreed with the educational philosophy of a school, you regarded it as draconian, inflexible and damaging to students, and against everything you believe, or know, or the research you align to or have done yourself? Now imagine you are about to speak to a child who has moved to the school. They tell you at their previous school they were bullied and intimidated and unruly classrooms constantly disrupted their learning. They had had a miserable time there. Now they are happy and confident and excited to be in an environment where they feel they are actually learning. Do you tell them they are wrong? Do you tell them that the school is damaging them and they are being treated poorly? Do you dismiss their experience as invalid?
What if a student was coming from a very strict academic environment where they were miserable and constantly in trouble? What if they were now in an educational environment where there was lot more freedom and students drove their own curriculum? You might be inclined to think that this is a recipe for disaster, and not helpful for disadvantaged students. Would you tell the student who has now adopted a more positive self-image and is actually doing something with their learning and has improved their behaviour no end? Do you dismiss their experience as invalid?
This is a simplistic notion of imagining that before you spit venom or ridicule what a school is doing (no matter how much they promote themselves) think about a scenario where you are talking to a student who is happy and confident at this school. What might your reaction be now? How might that change where you plant your virtual flag? Indeed, how might that re-frame how you think about your digital identity?
The answers to these question are complex and varied, yet they can be made very straightforward. No school should be above criticism, but if you haven’t seen it through the eyes of those who are there, what would you say to the students who feel they belong and are valued?