And here we are again-- a nationally famous comedian speaks up, and suddenly all sorts of folks are paying attention, even though actual classroom teachers have been saying the same stuff for years.
Mind you, I'm not complaining that John Oliver (like Louis C. K. before him) has put some education concerns in front of the nation's flea-like attention span. And he and his crew did a really good job of putting together a wide-ranging, yet punchy and clear, explanation of the issues.
So why is the world listening to him, at least for a few moments, when they didn't listen to the rest of us? I think the answer can be understood in one word.
People get listened to because people are already listening to them.
This is partly a crowd-based hive-mind in action. Everyone else is listening to that guy? Then I will listen to him, too.
But it's also basic media motivation in action. Magazines feature well-known names not because some editor is thinking "Ten million twitter followers?! Muffy de Celebutante must be very wise," but because some editor can do the math-- if Muffy's on the cover, ten million pairs of eyeballs may follow her there.
When some newshuman calls up Diane Ravitch to represent a side of an education debate, I'd like to think that it's because she is well known as a wise and thoughtful speaker who knows what the hell she's talking about. But I'd be a fool not to think that her blog's twenty million hits doesn't have something to do with it.
When She Who Will Not Be Named was on every cover and in every article about education, it was not because she had failed as a teacher, as a superintendent, and as an advocacy group leader. It was because she could be counted on to draw a crowd.
Folks like to say that we're in the internet age, and knowledge is the new currency. Maybe, but I suspect it may also turn out that we are in the attention age, and having eyeballs aimed at you is the new currency.
I think that's worth remembering, because it's hugely empowering-- each of us has, figuratively or literally, a pair of eyeballs and the ability to aim them.
Attention is the power we get to exercise, and how we exercise it matters. I stopped mentioning She's name because it swelled her google count, made her appear to have status and importance. It added to her audience. For the same reason, I do not link to The Website To Which I Will Not Link, because every hit they receive makes them look more important, like they are commanding a larger audience. The absolute worst thing that could happen to them is not a firestorm of disagreement and controversy; the absolute worst thing that could happen would be having to report to their wealthy corporate backers that there were only seventeen hits on the site last month.
Being a mindful netizen is like being a mindful consumer. You are not going to Change Everything with your personal clicks, but every click is a push in a good direction or a bad one. If you head over to TWTWIWNL every hour just because it pisses you off, bad news-- you are helping make them look great. You are giving them the power to say, "We are an important voice in the ed debate, as witnessed by our traffic counts. People should listen to us. Regular media should amplify us."
You may think that you can have little power in this ongoing debate, but you have, at a minimum, the power of being an audience. You can read regularly the writers whose voice you value. You can amplify those voices by posting links and tweeting and emailing. If you think, "Boy, more people should be paying attention to that lady," well, then, you can be part of the solution to that problem.
Do we occasionally need to hold up egregious posts and articles for well-deserved coal-raking? Sure. But when you drive 1,000 angry readers to the Regularpressmagazine.com website, don't imagine that the publisher is crying, "Oh, so many people are yelling at us." Mostly he's saying, "Hot damn!! That got great traffic. The advertisers will love this. Write up some more just like that!" Trolling really is a thing, because clicks are clicks and audience is power.
Be an active audience. Tweet. Retweet. Link. Post. Pass along what speaks to you. Amplify the voices that are saying what you think needs to be said. Your attention raises the profile of the people you support. That's how a movement grows more voices. Maybe, even, voices as well-respected as the voices of prominent comedians.