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Putting the ‘character’ in 140 characters: my first ScotEdChat

Last night I hosted my first #ScotEdChat on Twitter. It is the third chat so far having accidentally started the ball rolling a few weeks ago. The first chat happened on 5th November hosted by @MrsPert1, the second on 12th hosted by @athole. Next week the host will be @DrewBurrett. Having started with basically zero followers, the @ScotEdChat account has 625 followers as of this second. Not bad for three weeks worth of fun.

The theme of the chat last night was a meaty issue that I have been fascinated by for a few years now: Character, Values and Citizenship. Initially I was a bit worried about the idea of hosting a chat on a theme that I have a personal interest in – however I was reassured by various people that it would be of interest to others too and to just get on with it.

If you don’t know me, I work as a consultant for the charity Character Scotland and I recently curated a major international conference for them on the theme of ‘Character, Culture and Values’. I am now delivering a Pathway Project, which includes a call for evidence to practitioners, designed to build on the successes of this event. I have a range of other potential projects lined up in these areas for 2016 involving Character Scotland and other organisations. Hopefully you will see more developments on that front soon. Please get in touch if you want to know more: gary.walsh@character-scotland.org.uk. That’s me.

Here are the questions I proposed for last night’s ScotEdChat:

scoted_questionsScotEdChatQ1ScotEdChatQ2ScotEdChatQ3ScotEdChatQ4ScotEdChatThankYou

It was a steep learning curve. I felt like I imagine the wee dude on the skateboard must have felt seconds after the photo above was taken. I have never hosted an online chat before and participated in only a couple, all the while wondering how on earth the host is supposed to keep up. So there I was with all my tweets scheduled (I used Hootsuite for scheduling and Canva to produce the images), and Tweetdeck open so I could follow the thread as it happened in real time and prompt as necessary.

It was another successful (I think!) and interesting chat that raised lots of issues and questions. You can view the summary on Storify here.

You will notice that I have proposed that the conversation carries on using the #SlowChat format unti Wed 25th November. There are a few reasons for this. When I was lucky enough to have a loose and completely voluntary ScotEdChat ‘team’ in place, we had some conversation about the format of the chats. Concerns were raised from the off that the one hour format can be too fast and frenetic. We agreed that a week-long SlowChat could be more effective and therefore worth a shot. However, you need a following to do that. So we’ve had three fast chats partly to establish a critical mass of followers. I think we have now done that pretty effectively. So you might see more ‘slow chats’ happening as #ScotEdChat continues to evolve.

The other reason why I think #SlowChat could work better for an online conversation about character, values and citizenship (among other topics) is that there is a danger that the dialogue only reaches a superficial level. There were sparks of engagement with deep questions and critique last night that I think we could build on in a #SlowChat format, such as:

  • What is meant by character, values and citizenship, and who decides what they mean?
  • If we can agree that the purposes of education extend beyond a utilitarian and economic model of individual ‘cashable’ capacities towards something that is about character, values and citizenship – what exactly are those purposes and to what extent are we fulfilling them at the moment?
  • What is the role of character, values and citizenship in a liberal democracy and just society?
  • Are ‘character, values and citizenship’ the right words to use? Does it matter what words we use? What are the dangers here?
  • What are the key influences on character, values and citizenship and what is the role of formal schooling in this regard?
  • What is the role of parenting, early years provision, communities, informal education and collaboration with 3rd sector organisations in this regard?
  • How could teachers address these issues safely in and out of the classroom? Constructivist approach? Psychological interventions? Enquiry? Critical pedagogy? Socratic dialogue? Aristotelian virtue ethics? Indoctrination? Experiential learning? Collaborative learning? Outdoor education?
  • A great question raised last night: is it easier to address the issue of character in Catholic schools? Why? And what does that mean?
  • What type of citizenship and what type of citizen? Responsible, global, local, social, digital, active…?
  • To what extent is it possible to discuss character, values and citizenship in an online environment? Is it useful to do so or is it just pain silly?

(I am aware that several dissertations could be written on any one of these topics…)

Sue Palmer from Upstart Scotland emailed me after the chat with this wonderful quote from Neil Postman, comparing ‘Brave New World’ (Huxley) and ‘1984’ (Orwell):

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no-one who wanted to read one.

Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.

Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.

Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy-porgy and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

Neil Postman, author of The Disappearance of Childhood, in a 1995 interview on PBS

I share the fears of both Orwell and Huxley regarding an exploration of the slippery issues of character, values and citizenship. I have had the thought in mind for a while now that the way forward with regard to this exists in the ‘spaces between’ various tensions.

As a musician, Claude Debussy’s comment appeals to me:

Music is to be found in the spaces between the notes

The spaces I am referring to might fall between tensions such as knowledge and skills; knowledge and character; progressivism and traditionalism; liberalism and conservatism; evidence-based and research-informed; economic, social and human capital; freedom and conformity; rights and responsibilities; globalism and localism; all of which could be false binary distinctions by the way.

So where do we go from here? As educators we often fall into the trap of trying to find the right answer when really we should be looking for the right questions, or indeed looking for the spaces between all of these.

Nobody can really comment with authority on any issue of remote importance within 140 characters of text, particularly and ironically, when the subject itself is character without the ‘s’. Having said ALL of that – and thank you for reading to the end – the other option of doing nothing about it, to me, is no option at all.

So why not tweet or blog as part of the first #ScotEdChat #SlowChat on this wonderfully bewildering theme. If you need a reason to do so, this image shared last night by @KatyKingUK during #ScotEdChat is as good as any.

BeAboutIt


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