We Kept Talking

Like many, the news of Joe Bower’s passing stopped me short. On one level, it was the dead-center heart hit and reminder of how short life can be, even for those who are seemingly young and healthy.

On the other, it was of loss for a type of discourse that used to happen in the edu-blog-o-sphere. When Grant Wiggins passed, I found myself wondering whose voice would act as the calming balm of reason in a discussion about teaching and learning. With Joe’s, it was a more visceral feeling about the old days of Twitter.

There are threads going back to 2011 in which, Joe, Diane Ravitch, Grant Wiggins, Michelle Rhee and myself talked through what teachers can control. For real. That happened. It was before Ravitch blocked me and when Rhee stayed with threads as personal insults thrown her way weren’t really yet a thing. Yet.  We kept talking.

Joe and I went around regarding multiple choice tests. He wanted them all gone. Now. I agreed but didn’t think it was reasonable to ask teachers with 120 students and a mandated grading system to walk away from a tool in their assessment toolbox because he said so. I felt we could leverage the tool to support students and teachers. He didn’t. We kept talking.

We went back and forth around rubrics like it was a cage match. He was the reason I created my rubric wiki; his questions got me to see that I couldn’t anoint myself as THE expert and expect my word on rubrics to be accepted. We kept talking.


We kept talking. We exchanged emails, boosted each others’ writing, and then our words faded away until we waved at each other and occasionally passed each other in comments sections.

I wasn’t able to find a single instance where either of us started a tweet with “No.” or “You’re wrong.” There were questions and wonderings. No insults beyond the occasional friendly jab in a thread that had been going on for days. We kept talking.

It seems odd to be nostalgic for five years ago but there you go. It seemed that during those exchanges way back when, it really was about seeking to understand. The mindset of “teach me” trumped “let me learn you.” Reflection is casting my memories of those chats in a favorable light: there was give and take. No shouting down. Plenty of peaceful prodding. We didn’t exchange talking points. We talked. Educator to educator. Human being to human being. Not avatar to avatar.

Will we get that back? Should we? What did we lose or gain when the shift to “sides”, “pro”, “anti” became so explicit? When words like “reformers” are thrown like insults and Twitter users tag each other to get RTs, rather than engage in discourse? Meanwhile, in so many cases, the differences between the so-called sides is equal parts gaping maw and pencil-thin sliver.

I don’t know. But I do know I’m gonna miss the hell out of Joe’s voice.

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