That uncomfortable place

I’ve just wrapped up a class in which I was required to participate in online threaded discussions. I was hoping for some good discourse on curriculum theory and development. Instead it turned into a lot of, “Why, yes, I agree with you completely,” and “I couldn’t have said it better myself.” I found myself becoming purposely oppositional in my responses. How can any really good thinking and learning happen if there isn’t a healthy dose of differing viewpoints? And, pray tell, was the  response to my opposing viewpoints? Silence. Last time I recall so many people with similar thoughts was 1984¹.

My classmates were just trying to be nice, which is understandable. It can be awkward and uncomfortable to deal with conflict. However, it’s that dissonance in opinion where real meaning is made; that hacking it out between differing opinions, that purposeful attempt to sway people with differing views while they try to sway you.

Recently, in response to a new “top edublogs” list posted on a well-read blog, Dan Meyer and Darren Draper have expressed differing opinions on (perceived) motivations for blogging, what constitutes quality in a blog, and even “proper” Twitter use. I’ve found this disagreement extremely interesting to follow. I subscribe to both their blogs and find them both to be excellent at starting good conversations through their posts. They both create dissonance and then ask for their audience to weigh in with their opinions. While Dan tends to stir the pot² and Darren tends to ask quite nicely, they’re both doing essentially the same thing.

It’s been enjoyable to see these two heavyweights (they’re 23 & 35 on the best edublogs list of all time, after all) discuss whose method is superior. While I don’t think they’re going to change each other’s mind, they’re laying some excellent framework for the edubloggers of the future. These types of public disagreements are important- perhaps necessary³- for hashing out what exactly it is to blog about educational matters. Think of it as a modern, blogging version of the Continental Congress.

Anyone care to disagree?

¹ “Why, yes, Big Brother certainly is a great leader!”
² or “[Dan’s] just shaking the bee’s nest while covered in powdered sugar, a big ol’ grin on [his] face and [a] buddy taping the whole thing for some sort of amateur Jackass production.
³ As long as you jerkfaces don’t turn it into nastiness and namecalling.

5 thoughts on “That uncomfortable place

  1. Perhaps I should really be touting Scott McCloud and his list. While I don’t wholeheartedly agree with the methodology in the list’s creation, he’s generated more conversation as a result of it than I’ve seen since Diigo became cool.

  2. I have to admit that I have had very similar experiences relating to online postings: everyone in agreement, say “Ay.”

    I usually end-up resorting to the same things that you have: disagreeing just to disagree and bring some contrasting opinions to the table.

    At times, I sit in silence wondering if anybody cares. However, in lieu of silence, the other option seems to be riddled with personal attacks and general defensiveness.

    Honestly, I think we need to learn to have differing opinions without taking it personally. I would guess, those type of negative experiences are why some people tend to agree with one another whole-heartedly (whether or not they actually do).

  3. @mindilei: It definitely is a skill to be able to disagree and be disagreed with and not take it personally. Many bloggers are in this because they’re passionate about whatever it is their blog is about, which may up to chances of disagreements being taken personally.

    Let’s just remember that we’re all in this to improve the educational system. Obviously there are nearly an infinite number of possibilities for how that might be done, which then leads to disagreements.

  4. You’re good, Ben.

    I very much appreciate your post here and have concluded that you’ve done your homework well! (How did you know about the Twitter comments – they were on a different post?)

    This idea of agreeing to disagree is one that will take time for members of the blogosphere to fully grasp. As bloggers mature, they learn that it’s ok to attack an idea, and still be friends with those whose ideas you’ve attacked.

    I certainly hope Dan understands that I still appreciate his work very much. I think his humor is much needed in our circle and his ideas about connecting with students are priceless.

    Long live rock and roll, even if we are perceived as old.


  5. As a pretty conflict-avoidant kind of person, it’s taken me some time to get to the point where I’m comfortable speaking up to disagree with others. However, I think to truly be an active participant in any community (online or off), being able to disagree is a vital skill.

    As I’ve learned living 750 miles away from my wife for the last 6 months: it’s easy to misinterpret the tone of written text, especially when it’s a contrasting opinion.

    I then propose a new blogging etiquette rule: Before responding to a post, tweet, or comment that conflicts with your position, you must read it aloud in a happy-go-lucky sing-songy tone before responding. Done.

    P.S. It was more luck than me doing my homework. I just happened to post a comment on Dan’s Edu-Monk post earlier. Generally I subscribe to the comments of a post if I comment on it, so I kept receiving updates as the discussion continued.