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Behaving badly in public: Where do we draw the line?

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There’s never any shortage of stupid on social media. Barely an hour goes by without someone saying something breathtakingly foolish, and this feverish tendency has only been intensified since we’ve all been confined to barracks for the duration. The last week has seen two senior figures from the old guard of education handed a pile of old rope and rush to bodge together their own  homespun nooses.

First up, we had Sir Michael Wilshaw (who, bless him, hasn’t had an opportunity to say something breathtakingly foolish for quite a while) suggest that teachers ought to work through their summer holidays.

This was to be immediately challenged by Lord Adonis for the most witless thing to say about education in the time of Corona:

The fact that Wilshaw no longer has the power to make teachers lives miserable and that Amanda Spielman will politely ignore Adonis is some small measure of comfort.

Next to these Titans of Idiocy, this tweet by an ITV News correspondent, Rupert Evelyn is very small beer:

This was crass and insensitive, but hardly in the same league as Adonis or Wilshaw. Evelyn may be a pillock, but he’s a bantam weight with microscopic influence. Sadly, people still care what Wilshaw and Adonis think, but no one’s even heard of poor old Rupert.

Now of course, if you tweet something crass and insensitive people will get upset. When people get upset they sometimes behave badly. In this case, one Twitter warrior took it upon herself to complain to ITV about about Rupert’s “abhorrent” misuse of his public position and demand a public apology otherwise, she vowed, “I will be taking this further.”

This is regrettable. If you want to bring the teaching profession into disrepute this is the way to do it. Running to Rupert’s employers with this kind of tittle-tattle is petty and childish. The urge to get someone in trouble with their employers is an ugly impulse, but understandable one. People do foolish things when they’re upset. (I’ve been as guilty of poor behaviour brought on by righteous indignation as anyone.) Here’s where it should have ended.

But it didn’t. I was aghast to see, ITV’s Head of Newsgathering, Andrew Dagnell’s response to this petty complaint:

This is a terrible precedent. By giving credence to this sort of petty tale-telling, Dagnell has given small-minded, authoritarian offence-mongers all the encouragement they need to jeopardise the employment of anyone they happen to disagree with whenever they feel suitably stung. To give into to these sorts of demands is the worst form of moral cowardice.

All this is unedifying enough, but what makes it much much worse is the malicious glee prompted by Evelyn’s slapdown from his employers.

 

The Orwellian undertones are hard to miss. I fervently hope that journalists have not been ‘taught a lesson’. Indescribably daft as I think they are, Evelyn, Wilshaw and Adonis have the right to make whatever silly comments they like, just as we have the right to point out the error of their ways. The fact that Evelyn, by far the most junior of this triumvirate, is also one only one vulnerable to these tactics should give us pause before we give into to our baser, self-righteous urge for justice.

If we can’t tolerate the profession being ‘undermined’ by someone asking a silly question then we really are in a parlous state. Pulling on our jackboots and kicking out at anyone who wounds our pride is surely beneath us.

Wherever we draw the line, let’s try to rise above it.

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