Teaching is a political act… but do you have to act online?

Teaching as we know is in and of itself a political act. If you make a choice to teach or not to teach something there is power and weight in that decision. I think if anything we have seen an increase in the connection between this idea and how teachers portray themselves online. As one side of the argument points out we as teachers have a social responsibility to model the behavior we want to see in our students but the other side might argue that social media isn’t maybe the place where we need to model that behaviour.

To start this debate I think it is important to acknowledge that teaching is a political act. No matter what you believe there is no neutral in education. Many teachers who are graduates of the University of Regina Education Program in the past 10 years have spent a lot of time discussing this idea in their Education Curriculum courses. So what do we mean by political- in this case it isn’t teaching students how provincial, national or even international politics work. It is really about the fact that teaching is never a neutral act. Choices made in classrooms all around the world are based on understandings of power and privilege. What we choose to teach students in our classroom and what we do not teach is a political choice. It is about the ideas of a hidden and null curriculum. These choices made by educators, governments and other stake holders in education make it clear that we are not in a neutral space. There are outside and internal political forces that shift and shape what we teach in our classroom. The idea of a neutral teacher in Canada is no longer acceptable. It is interesting, of course, to put thought into what political choices like these might mean in a place where some of these choices could be seen as going against government or people in power who aren’t likely to take these choices lightly and could put teachers at risk. The idea of making these strong political choices in a space like that again bring us to the idea of what is the role of teachers and educations in society. Are teachers simply a civil servant who work in government-owned schools are civil servants under the public service of Canada? Are teachers simply responsible for teaching students in a classroom, preparing and disseminating notes, and organizing assessments (Indeed.ca)? Are teachers responsible for teaching the future leaders of tomorrow today? Is it about teaching students to be critical thinkers? To challenge authority? To make the world a more equitable and better place? If you think the role of the teacher is to make these sorts of choices and changes then you have to believe that teaching is a political act. So then we have worked all the way back to the hear of the debate. If teaching is about more than “teaching students in a classroom, preparing and disseminating notes, and organizing assessments” then is it critical that we model these ideas of resistance online

Online Activism/Offline Impact

There is a great debate around the idea of allyship vs performative activism. For many the idea of using your power, privilege and voice to change the world for better is not optional. You can’t argue with the fact that we live in a world that is not equal. So how do we make change to create a world that is moving closer toward an equitable space? We can take a look back at many of the major social justice movements of the past from the suffragette movement, and the civil rights movements all over the world to see what activism looks like that has impact and evokes real change. So how do we make that same sort of change today? Many people believe that the benefits of technology today is that it can be a place to unify and give voice to many people who may not have otherwise had the opportunity.

The summer of 2020 was really a space where we saw a shift to digital activism take place. The combination of many events coupled with the limitations imposed on gathering due to the spread of COVID-19 created the perfect storm for online activism. This however in many peoples view may have been the beginning of the end for on the ground activism. Sometimes called slacktivism (although this article argues against that) the argument is that it is easy to participate in virtue signaling by posting the latest injustice to be highlighted by mass media only to then fall off and not actually do anything to make actual change. This is the foundation for many who argue against the idea of wokeism, that it isn’t about real change and everything is a problem. This, one might argue is the problem with social media as it is taking away some of the credibility of actual activists doing the hard work on the ground. This is where I have an issue with the idea that teachers have a responsibility to use technology and social media to promote social justice. It is the idea of a responsibility that sticks with me. I think we are responsible for a lot of things but I think that it is ok to have a social media presence that is a space for you to be your own person. I think that we have a responsibility in our classroom to teach students what is on our curriculum, to create a space that feels safe, joyful and culture and identity are affirmed and to create lifelong learners capable of critical thinking. So in my classroom it is undeniable that my choices are political-I know that I actively work to promote social justice and equity and that I am conscious of my own bias and opinions and do hard work around decolonizing and challenging what education is or should be. That however doesn’t mean that I need to tweet every lesson I do or post pictures of the work we make. I believe that if I do my job right that the students who leave my space are going to make the changes we need to see. My activism happens in my classroom and I don’t feel like I need to put it on display for it to count. If you want to know what I’m doing ask my kids or come and check it out… My social media accounts are private where possible and I think that is just fine. Teachers might be public servants but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a private life. There are very few other careers where your personal identity is so linked to your professional identity and I think that for the sake of finding a good work/life balance you need to be able to separate some of who you are from what you do. Maybe that’s just me… so for now I’ll use my classroom as a space to change the world and my Instagram as place for pictures of avocado toast, my kids, my dog and sharing videos of a girl in a house coat yelling at the sky.

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