I happened to run across this Tweet by Beth Still a couple of days ago and I can't help but think some of my own activity, and that of some people I have great respect for, on Twitter contributes to this perception. I may be wrong but I am going to venture to guess that some of the following tweets are examples of what she is referring to (at least as far as #edchat is concerned):
I have stated it many times and I will state it again, I think #edchat is wonderful and I fully support teachers who use it to connect with one another. I also think #rscon10 is fantastic and should be held more often. In fact,
I think so highly of #edchat that I think it is a mistake to say it only happens two hours a week on Tuesdays. I think this kind of connectedness has exponential potential for real education reform and I think we need to involve more than just educators in the discussion. The problem is, for many who are introduced to the PLN concept and get "connected" primarily through #edchat or a Ning like "The Educator's PLN" or even "Classroom 2.0" there is a danger of something that is inherently pluralistic and hard to define in nature (a PLN) will be perceived as (the PLN).
When #edchat becomes "the PLN" or when "The Educator's PLN" becomes "the PLN" or any other monolithic bohemith in this network grows too big we risk doing to our ability to affect systemic change what happened to the ability for the computer to transform learning when school made it its own subject. The strength in connected learning comes from it's independence. Each and every PLN has a leader, that person is YOU. There is no such thing as "The PLN," only individual PLNs. The PLN is a term that describes the meta-relationship between the PLN creator and those who they include or whom influence that individual's learning. It is hard to define because in any useful or categorical sense it doesn't really exist, not as a thing at least.
Its not just me, many others noting that something is wrong have been making this or similar arguments lately. @nashworld went on a tweeting rampage on the topic July 25th, @JonBecker proposed at Edubloggercon that we stop using the term PLN and instead call it PC (Professional Colleagues), @sschwister wrote about his own observations of this phenomena, and @djakes has been pretty vocal about this topic. What appears to be happening by getting more and more people "connected" to their own PLNs is it is starting to take on the trappings of systemic institutionalism complete with a schedule, an agenda, and a curriculum (of which I must admit that I have been partially to blame for).
But, this thing that does not really exist has many believers. I suspect that this has a lot to do with dualistic vs pluralistic thinking. The PLN concept embodies the epitome of pluralism. Our traditional systems of education tend to reject pluralism and find ways to assimilate or quarantine that which calls into question it's dualistic view point. We take kids who don't follow the script very well and place them in special education or in alternative programs, we jump first to blame kids for misbehavior instead of asking ourselves why they were misbehaving, we tend to view education as a linear function with nice start and stop dates, and we tend to overvalue learning experiences that can easily be measured and assessed quantitatively. It is a systemic expectation that most teachers have internalized that we do what is best to protect the system. Even in our conscious attempts to reform the system and be subversive our subconscious actions often, if not most of the time, sabotage those efforts.
So, when rhetorical dialog doesn't work to bring people to see or pay attention to something you find incredibly important, what do you do? What do our students do? Typically they act out. The other day I overheard in the hallway at school a defiant student say, "What do you mean I can't go to my locker? I just did." The teacher's response was to send the student to the office for being disruptive and defiant. But, could this student really be doing something instructive? Had this student not been able to articulate or had not been able to capture the attention of the teacher to focus on an issue the teacher was undervaluing? If so, by acting out in class they break the normal nature of student-teacher relationship and create moments of potential change. That change can be a chance to put the student "back in their place," a chance to, "make them show some respect," or it can be a chance for the teacher to reassess what is really going on here. Perhaps the teacher was viewing the situation wrong.
Disruptions in our classrooms represent a reminder that our equation is not perfect. Disruptions, or student misbehavior and defiance, is evidence of the flaws in systemic dualism. How you deal with them matters. How you interpret them matters. In any case, the disruptive or defiant student opens a relational policy window that allows for the conversation about why they were acting out to happen. If the message were heard in the first place there would never have been a need for the disruption. The same is true for snarky behavior and sarcastic remarks that are just as common in professional development sessions and staff meetings with adults as they are in the classroom with kids.
So, if anything, snarky remarks, sarcasm, and perceived "trash talk" by people on Twitter about #edchat and #rscon10 are attempts to open a discussion (or at least in response to attempts to open a discussion). How do you respond to your students when they act out? Do you dismiss them or do you question why? I very much like @budtheteacher's reply to @BethStill's tweet:
So #edchat and "the PLN," I say to you, "You ain't got no pancake mix." How do you respond?