Monday, April 16, 2018

Debates and Tribes

I'm not a huge fan of meta-posting on the subject of navigating the education debates, but it's unavoidable because the ed debates involve such a mish-mosh of tribes.

I agree with what X says about Y, but I'm worried he's just trying to create support for Z-- particularly because he belongs to Organization Q.

I've seen some variation on this a gazillion times-- from more than one side of the debates.

It's understandable because all sides have always consisted of alliances. It's people who can only really agree for half a sentence. For instance, common core opposition included a bunch of people who could start a sentence, "Common Core is a terrible idea, and therefor..." but then would finish the sentence with " should be abolished so that public schools can return to their proper mission" and "'s the final proof that the government can't be trusted to run schools at all."

Sometimes the alliances are barely alliances at all. Lots of folks see the Big Standardized Test as a huge blight on public education, but while some folks want to see those tests abolished, or at least reduced in importance, others see the opposition to the BS Test as a good motivation for jumping into Personalized Competency-Based Learning Education, which is just another heaping pile of corporate reform.

Many people cope with this kind of confusion and tension by simply sticking to their tribe, or focusing on which tribe they oppose. If it comes from our team, it must be good, and if it comes from that other team, it must be bad.

But there are several problems with this.

First of all, tribalism leads to focusing not on the issues or the message, but on the classification of the source. Instead of listening to what Pat says and deciding whether it's bunk or not, I spend my time trying to suss out which team Pat belongs to.

Second, and perhaps worse, it leads to people agreeing with really dumb things just to stay on the right "side." This is the current problem of many so-called conservatives-- they've defined conservatism or "the right position" as anything that makes liberals upset, which has led to sudden bizarre changes in direction like "Russia is swell" and "cheating on your third wife with a prostitute is totally okay."

Ultimately we end up with people hugely overthinking things to their own detriment. We are sitting in the living room of a house that is on fire, and we can see through the front door a swimming pool and an ambulance, and somebody is arguing, "How do we know they didn't set the fire on purpose so that we would go jump into the swimming pool which is actually filed with sharks we just can't see from here? Let's just stay here in the burning house. That will show them." Or even worse, "It was one of their people who yelled that this house is on fire, so I'm not convinced these flames are rea." This is crazy talk. If the house is on fire, get out. Once you're out, check the swimming pool out carefully and make your next choice accordingly.

Pay attention. Watch, listen, and think. Use every available piece of information to get a picture of the road ahead, but don't just make shit up, and don't just take somebody's word for it.

Most of all, keep your eyes on the big picture and the important issues. Don't put tribe ahead of that.

[Update: It seems worth adding that the impulse of many people in the comments section was to try to assign me to a particular tribe and then reject or accept what I said based on that assignment. That tribe assignment included the assumption that if I said something mean about conservatives, then I must belong to the anti-conservative tribe. None of that discussion really considers whether what I said was actually true or not, or if it could be negated by saying something similar about the other tribe.  Though, for the record, anyone who reads regularly would find plenty of criticism of the Democratic brand of misbehavior and the faux progressivism that masquerades as "liberal" school reform. I just happened to pick up the most recent phenomenon of conservatives selling their principles for a ride on the Trump train.

At the end of the day, that's another side effect of tribalism-- in addition to actual conservatives and liberals, we have a lot of people whose only real interest is self-interest, and they'll happily pretend to be a member of whatever tribe they think will further their cause.]


  1. Lord of the Flies ala public education.

  2. "This is the current problem of many so-called conservatives...."

    To be fair, it's a growing problem of so many liberals too. Liberals used to be opposed to bigotry and homophobia, but apparently not when it comes to accusing Trump and Putin of being lovers (Trump's mouth, for instance, is good for nothing other than being "Putin's cock-holster"). Liberals also supposedly believe women, unless those women happen to be accusing, say, Al Franken. There's been plenty of tribalism from establishment Democrats lately. Anything to #Resist. Except, of course, do things like actually oppose Trump's policies in, say, Syria or oppose his nominees like known torturer Gina Haspel.

    1. "Liberals" do this or that is itself an example of tribalism. Don't know whether there is any answer except the unpopular position of reminding ourselves and each other that decency matters.
      -A.Husby, Minneapolis, too ignorant to figure out how to avoid being "anonymous"

  3. I don't imagine you would find many conservatives who think it is "totally okay" to cheat on your wife. That would pretty much make them not conservatives (although they might be Republicans).

    Their position is that it is not a matter worth pursuing impeachment over. They tried with Bill Clinton and were told then that it was unimportant (and he was actually in office at the time of his peccadillos).

    That's tribalism for you -- deliberately painting people as for something they are against because you can't be bothered to put their actual position.

    I agree with your general points in this post, but I fear your passion makes you less neutral than you might wish. I don't care, because I read any well-argued education blog and don't mind the grief that comes from disagreeing. But it does make you less persuasive.

    In many blogs it takes quite a few postings to discover the owner's political leanings. But not this one.

    1. I think what Peter means is especially the hypocrisy of the conservative evangelicals who support Trump.

      And I don't think you have Peter pegged. You really do need to read more than a few of his postings.

      And I agree with Dienne that many so-called liberals are also hypocrites. Or follow party dogma too much without questioning. And I'm sure Peter would agree since the whole point of his post is tribalism (or blind partisanship). Though he doesn't pretend to be "neutral" either.