With the news coverage of Gaza education bashing has – temporarily- taken a back seat. Now people who have never shown an interest in mid east politics are spewing editorialized “facts” about what side is in the right- 95% of these people have no affiliation or knowledge of the area, issues, and or history. Two of my close friends- ironically Israeli and Palestinian- stated it perfectly ” It is the flavor of the day for people too attached to social media”. This led into a very candid and entertaining conversation about “armchair activists”- and yes these two people are friends and harbor no ill will towards one another. With today’s immediate access to the internet anyone with a WiFi connection and a half way decent computer can claim to be a writer, D.J., advocate, etc. The list is endless and colorful. Social Media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are clogged with politics and everyone has become an “expert”. Interesting and disturbing at the same time.
As an educator in the inner city I have often been at the losing end of these “armchair experts”. People who have never set foot in a classroom, much less my area of the city, are telling me what being a teacher is like! How my job is “easy” and how “plenty of people can do my job”. I especially love when these “experts” are childless as well. I listen and often ignore, I am the one present everyday in my classroom I know what “my life is like”. I also find it pointless to argue with people who are obviously misinformed and seeking attention. Being in the behavior and mental health side of education I often see issues in these people that eerily mirror my most challenged kids. I also am of the school of “spend my hits on real issues worth fighting.” The events of the last two years has me changing my opinion on my once ” ignore and conquer what matters” stance. This “Armchair Educator” movement has reached epidemic proportions and is seeping into classrooms.
In Chicago we are also having an issue with politicians that run the city on a “lie with authority” mentality. People feel that if something is said enough times, with enough conviction, it becomes fact. Sadly it sometimes works on people who are too used to being fed information in dubious formats. This is true with education. There are people who are stating numbers, claiming “proof”, and naming names. Very little of which is correct. I am not discounting that there are a plethora of people in education not suited for it, but that holds true for every position- in every career. I am disputing these “facts”. The beauty of me being an educator in the third largest district in the U.S. is that I am very familiar with “the state of my career”. With a little bit of fact comes a vast wasteland of fiction. This only creates additional- and needless- hurdles in education. We have enough real and legitimate challenges that face our children daily, we do not need to defend ourselves to these “experts”. This takes time from what matters most, our kids.
This brings me to the photo above. When I saw this it struck a chord. This is the “gist of the issue” so to say. These armchair educators spend countless hours on social media slamming a career and people they have no knowledge of, this time would better be spent working. Working on improvement within themselves. Obviously something is lacking if your main drive in life is to post 23 times a day on Facebook how easy teachers have it when you have not held a job in ten years, and or depend on your spouse for support. If people worked to improve themselves -general overall improvement would be a by-product of living a more authentic life. This especially holds true for education. Sitting on your sofa waxing poetic about the “ease of teaching” changes no one. Have a four year degree? Sign up to substitute teach! Don’t have time during the school day? Volunteer at a youth center. There are literally limitless ways someone can help change education, and in turn change themselves. Becoming an “true” activist costs nothing, is free, and the work you do to help a child is priceless. I can speak for the need for true heroes in Chicago. We can not find enough substitute teachers, people willing to read to a child, sponsor an activity, help parents register, etc. Most of the things we need help with take little to no time and require no commitment. This is how you become a true “expert”. Until you sit with a child and hear their story and see their process you can not make assumptions ,and or dictate, “what is wrong”. Nor can you suggest a “fix” when you can’t fully grasp what it is that is broken.
Social media has been a blessing, it has connected people once disconnected and is a place to share photos and moments, but it is also a breeding ground for dissonance. Facebook is not an educational journal, it is not a school district, it is not a child. Sitting on a smartphone with a little bit of time does not make one “an activist/educator.” Only work, getting in the mix of what ails you, and growing oneself through service does this.