Stopping Online Incivility and Erroneous Statements

I recently wrote a piece about abolishing red pens in the world of education. The piece noted the problems with both the use of red (whether by pen or even online) to correct students and the need for quality comments (also not in red) to guide students. I was referencing a student written piece that had both too much red and nasty commentary. My observations were intended for educators everywhere.

For me, and as reflected in the piece I believe as well as in my other writing, the point goes well beyond red pens. Red pen marks are symbolic and exemplars of what not to do to build student trust and a quality relationship between student and teacher. Indeed, the whole piece is about the risk-taking that quality educational progress requires and the need to create an environment in which learning can happen. (By the by, that is a repeated theme of mine over almost 30 plus years — the experience of space and place in learning.)

So, I was shocked and disappointed by this comment by one educator: “A hardy perennial in edu-commentary. Unserious stuff.” Later posts talked about how trivial my piece was. The original commentator observed that trust and relationships are what matter in education. I agree. And, when I invited an offline comment, he suggested it would be wasting his time (in essence).

There has been much ado about incivility on campuses, in politics and online. Some have suggested that platforms need to do a better job of monitoring and culling out the offensive online. Inaccuracy is an issue too. I suggested that I thought authors needed to speak up and out. (Note the forthcoming book edited by Marybeth Gasman on the value of speaking out in the face of wrongs.) So, since I made the suggestion, I need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Here the commentators literally missed the point and misconstrued the point. And, my efforts to correct the perceptions failed on all fronts. While there wasn’t incivility, there was snarkiness which I suppose is not incivility although it is hardly productive and is hyperbole. Any idea can be exaggerated or misconstrued — intentionally or not.

The comments made on my Red Pen piece miss the point and show the commentators to have not thought through what I suggested. Red pens, in short, are the example of what not to do. Thematically, the piece is all about optimizing educational experiences and for me, that is the important topic on which we need to talk and about which we need improvement.

Here’s a link to my piece. Thoughts are welcome — both as to the substance and to the commentary that I quoted and referenced above. For the record and lest it is missed, I am speaking up and out — civilly too.

Written by

Author, Educator & Commentator; Former President, Southern Vermont College; Former Senior Policy Advisor, US Dept. of Education; Former Law Professor

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