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Fall 2011 / Vol. 11, No. 4
Once upon a time, the education “war of ideas” was fought on the battleground of the nation’s op-ed pages. Then came blogs. But that was so two years ago (see “Linky Love, Snark Attacks, and Fierce Debates about Teacher Quality?” what next, Winter 2009.) Who has time for 400-word missives anymore? If you’ve got a point to make, tweet it!
If this sounds alien to you, clearly you haven’t signed up for Twitter. This five-year-old phenomenon allows individuals to dash off short comments to their friends, families, professional colleagues, and whoever else might be interested in their stream of consciousness. The technology has already been credited with bringing down oppressive regimes and creating whole new ways of reporting breaking news. It’s a truly open marketplace of ideas, with no editors, gatekeepers, or quality control. So what does it mean for the education debate?
The first thing to understand about Twitter is that most of its messages amount to, “Hey, check this out,” followed by a link to a newspaper article or blog post. It’s a handy device for telling the world (or at least the people in your own world) about news or columns that you find compelling. It’s also a form of self-promotion; quite a few tweets announce posts the tweeter herself has written.
But in the hands of a gifted provocateur, Twitter can be so much more. Take scholar-turned-reform-apostate Diave Ravitch, who according to Klout.com is the most influential tweeter in the education policy space (see sidebar). As Alexander Russo, a freelance writer and blogger, remarked sardonically, “a 72-year-old grandmother has won the Internet.” She’s done it not only by linking to columns and articles she agrees with, but by offering bumper sticker–style statements that tend to set the web aflame. For instance, “Accountability is only for teachers and principals, not for students, families, elected officials, district leadership.” Or: “Last places to go to find out how to ‘reform’ schools: Congress/State Legislature/US Dept of Education.”
Want to follow the top tweeters in education?
Twitter lists made up of the Top 25 Education Policy/Media Tweeters and the
Top 25 Education Tweeters may be found at the Education Next Twitter page.
This might not exactly be H. L. Mencken, but it surely provides raw emotional relief for educators and others who feel besieged by the modern-day reform movement. They “retweet” Ravitch’s rants and, thanks to the multiplication effects of networks, soon tens of thousands of people receive them. In fact, Ravitch’s tweets are so influential that an anonymous someone has created the Twitter handle “@NOTDianeRavitch” to argue the positions held by the education historian before she changed her mind on most education policy issues.
Not that reformers don’t have their own Twitter heroes. Former District of Columbia schools chancellor Michelle Rhee is within striking distance of Ravitch’s influence and serves up a steady diet of can-do reform truisms. Tom Vander Ark, an entrepreneur formerly of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, offers an optimistic take on the burgeoning field of online learning. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan promotes his administration’s policies via @arneduncan. And @EdTrust offers its patented progressive take on education and social justice.
It’s hard to know whether all this tweeting adds up to anything significant. Of course, much the same was once said of blogs; now it’s well-accepted that a well-written blog post can be just as influential as a newspaper op-ed. Twitter offers a nonstop stream of views, ideas, opinions, and emotions; get yourself in the flow or be left behind.