Friday, June 25, 2010

Don't Tread on My Backchannel

Interesting discussion brewing over ISTE's call for those participating in the backchannel at this year's conference to "be nice".

Personally, I'll take "be civil and critical" over something as squishy as "be nice" anyday. Backchannels are not just places to give kudos and shoutouts; and while I certainly like "nice" people, the concept of "nice" as a self-regulating filter through which to engage the backchannel can just as well turn that backchannel into something "pandering" -- and even worse -- "uncritical".

Backchannels are a place to share; they are also a place for discussion and debate to develop, and -- particularly in the enormous keynote sessions -- the backchannel is a democratic forum for keeping speakers honest. The backchannel is the place where you can go during a speech to hear the voices and reactions of the people; and we should celebrate that even when the voices get heated or snarky.

Looking forward to the ISTE backchannel myself; and I hope to learn from and to engage with as many voices as there are filling those channels with real human opinions of all stripes.


  1. You don't like the idea of being nice?

    Nice just means that you consider other people's feelings when choosing how to act or how to speak. Unfortunately, many social networking tools allow those of us who may be nice in person (or who may just be jerks anyway), to hide behind a screen name or avatar. After all, we don't actually have to take responsibility for how our actions affect the person we are in conflict with when we are nowhere near them. Often what might have been the start to a good discussion or a valid piece of criticism is lost because someone decided to go for the jugular rather than trying to phrase what they had to say in a way that might be more readily heard. They wanted shock value over real value.

    One of the first things I teach my students (and an ongoing item I teach my own children) is how to disagree with someone respectfully and how to correct someone appropriately. This is being nice.

  2. @Heather

    Thanks for the comment.

    You are using the word "nice" for what I call "civil". I'm all about civility. What I don't want, however, is people to hide their true and legitimate feelings and observations during a big conference backchannel because they are told to "be nice".

    I am not calling for rudeness; but I am hoping that the backchannel is as lively and vibrant as it was last year and not toned down on account of concerns about what's "nice" and what's "not nice".

    Specifically, I'm not talking about flame-wars, ad hominem attacks, and the like -- they have no place in any civil discourse. But there are many people who have a great deal to offer to the discourse who may be less than couth in their approach -- and personally, I welcome this.

    So long as the point is in being honest, critical, and for the intent of furthering the discussion, I don't think "nice" is a necessary qualification.


  3. "If you can't say something nice, say nothing" is not really a mantra for change. Nice is not the opposite of nasty. It is helping old ladies crossing the streets, and giving dandilions to your Mom. This is wonderful in the right context, but terrible in others.

    There are certain topics that don't inspire niceness, and that are difficult to be nice about.

    Jon Becker can't be "nice" about Marzano's IWB research, (funded by prometheum) because bad use of data is less than useless.

    Alfie Kohn can't be "nice" about testing leading to privatization.

    Both are civil in their tweets and writings, and we should all aspire to as much, but sometimes 140 chars doesn't give a lot of space to be extra polite.

    Speaking your mind also gives a chance to be corrected if you are in error. I have changed opinion on things because I took the opportunity to disagree, and I have changed others opinions as well by standing up and disagreeing. If you take a risk and speak on what you believe in, you always win.

    But when somebody seems to have an agenda that is incongruent with the interests of students, and yet congruent with other interests, I think we should remember that "nice" is a four letter word.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.