Sunday, December 22, 2013

Amplifying the Noise

Again, today, the disappointment of looking at Huff Post and finding one more bogus article by one more bogus source pretending to represent teachers. (I'm not linking to it here, and the rest of this post will make clear why). This is not a new occurrence-- from the bogus education voices of astroturf education groups to the highly-unlikely results of polls touted by the alleged leaders of what used to be a national teacher's union, teachers are finding their voices squeezed out of the way by people who pretend to speak for and about the current state of reformy stuff and education's future.

It's particularly frustrating because at this point there are many teachers with something to say who are in fact saying it, and still crowds are gathered around some snake oil salesman. How does this happen? How do we fix it?

It helps to remember some basics about how the internet and "news gathering" work today. Just remember two things:

1) Every click is a vote for whatever you just clicked on.

2) Nothing gets attention more than something that is already getting attention.

In the meat world, attention is a hard commodity quantify. The folks at Nielsen and the executives who depend their work have gone to tremendous lengths to attempt to quantify attention, and it's still an inexact science. The ad for widgets ran, but was anyone in the room? Were they paying attention to the carefully crafted depiction of the widget's many fin qualities, or were they picking corndog remnants out of their teeth?

But on the interwebs, attention is totally quantifiable. There are dozens of sites that will tell me how many people are looking at other sites. And if I'm somebody trying to find out what's hot in education, I can go to a site the Teach100 and just read today's ratings. If I'm a lazy fake journalist with a lazy aggregator, my work is already done for me-- I just have to look it up.

And that means that we all have the power to promote our favorite bloggy voices.

If I read something I like, I forward it. I put it on my facebook page. I tweet it. I link to it.

Diane Ravitch is a great example of how this works. She is extraordinarily generous in using her own clout to direct her audience to other writers. Remember-- if you like the writer that she has excerpted or quoted, follow the link to the source. It's a vote for that writer's web presence to grow. It does more than that, too-- it allows the conversation that we're all having to grow and spread.

Follow the other links you find. I'm trying to get a blogroll put together here (look over to your right and scroll) and many other bloggers are doing the same. If it hasn't happened yet, somebody is going to make a big current edublogger list. Use it and follow the links. Read what's there. If you agree with it, pass it on.

Most of us of a certain age are trained to be somewhat passive as readers. We sit silently, read, move on.  But when we simply read something and then move on, we are not making the most of the powers we have here in webland. In the world of print, you acquire a wide audience because whoever runs the operation that publishes you decides you'll have a wide audience. To be a successful print writer, you need somebody's permission. Here on the web, you just need the active support of people who think you have something important to say.

I am not a heavy hitter in this conversation. I'm just a teacher from a small town high school in a mostly-rural area with a couple hundred regular readers across the country. But hey-- I'm just a teacher from a small town high school in a mostly-rural area, and I have a couple hundred regular readers across the country. That's the kind of amazing thing that couldn't have happened even a few years ago.

You don't have to be a voice to have a voice. If we push and forward and click and link, we can reach the point where people who are thinking of important voices in education automatically think of Mercedes Schneider or Jersey Jazzman or @the chalkface or any of the dozens of strong, articulate voices that are saying things that need to be said.

Follow people on twitter. Sign on as a follower of their blog. Leave comments on pieces you like (leave comments on pieces you hate, too) to let other readers see the imp[act of the blogs you support. Boost their numbers and their profiles. There is such a broad range of voices-- you can select the ones that most reflect your own priorities and attitudes. But each time you follow or like, you show the world that those writers have your attention.

And that attention leads to more attention. HuffPost and other sites like it may have ideologies, but their main ideology will always be "We like money." If you're going to draw a crowd for them, they will call on you instead of some stupid astroturf group.

Right now there are a little over 35,000 members of BadAss Teachers Association. That's not peanuts, but in a world in which the Justin Bieber fan page has sixty million likes, it's not really earthshattering. But BATS have become a nationally recognized brand that is sometimes turned to for quotes from their side of education issues because members have relentlessly pushed and tweeted and posted and retweeted and amplified the noise. Nothing gets attention better than already getting attention. With 35,000 BAT members on facebook, there are only 6,000 followers on Twitter. As much noise as the BATS have made, they could make far more. And if we added all the non-BAT people who are passionate about the state of educational reformy stuff...?

So-- you don't have to say something profound or clever or feisty. But you can amplify the reach of your favorite purveyor of profound clever feistiness. You can make education blogs from the right side of the issues climb up the charts so that when people go looking for voices in education, they find the ones we love.

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