Acts of conscience

This possibly isn’t the right place to post this, as it’s mainly a work blog, but then, most of my clients ask for a statement on my commitment to equality and diversity, so the general consensus is that the two are intertwined. And this seems like the best place to vent.

What has me riled is this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-28206581 the “gay cake row”. OK discrimination is bad enough, but what has tipped me over the edge is the description of the bakery’s actions as an “act of conscience” as if somehow they are being punished for holding themselves to a higher moral standard than everyone else, rather than a lower one. Besides it really quite demeans the people who do act out of genuine acts of conscience.

No. That is not what conscience is. Conscience is refusing to do something (or setting out to do something) because it has a demonstrable and provable harmful impact on someone else (or, you know, the converse). And it usually demands some sacrifice on your own part. Without that evidential base what you are doing is actually blind prejudice.

The mistake they are making (and 30 mins giving a quick read round of anything on moral philosophy would have told them) is that purely using their faith as a guideline to their interactions with others is not on. People have a right to their beliefs, even to express them, and the world is a better place with people who have a range of worldviews and opinions, but those should only influence behaviour that has an impact on yourself. When you interact with others, the basis for that behaviour has to be something credible, i.e. evidence-based. And sorry to be the one to inform you of this if you weren’t aware of it, but religion doesn’t cut it. That’s pretty much the definition of faith – it’s evidence-free. So, if you want to campaign against gay marriage, go ahead, but first you need to do the research that actually indicates it’s harmful. Without that you can despise it all you like, but as a responsible adult in a rational world, you have to learn to STFU about it.

“The law is really clear. You cannot pick and choose which sides of the law apply to you.” one commentator has said. True enough. If you think the law is unjust, prove it. Then be prepared to suffer for opposing it. Don’t expect others to suffer on your behalf. That’s what acting from conscience demands. Which is another reason to be really sure you’ve picked the right side. Morality is like maths. You have to show your workings out. Otherwise you get no marks.

Media and AMORES

Elsewhere on this site you can read more about the AMORES project – it’s an EU project about encouraging a love of literature in students through content creation. I’ve not really worked with learner-generated content before, but after putting together a literature review on the pedagogy of it, have become really excited about the potential (I know – that’s entirely nerdy of me, becoming excited because of the theory rather than by actually seeing some examples of people actually doing stuff). Creation sits at the top of Bloom’s taxonomy, the higher order learning skills it encourages build on and therefore incorporate all the others (I’m talking about the revised taxonomy now – the original one seems horribly dated to me – I like this: http://www.techlearning.com/showArticle.php?articleID=196605124) Seeing the videos the children are creating to introduce their schools is also a lot of fun. I’m feeling the urge to join in, although compared to the pool tables, gyms, saunas, concert halls etc. in their videos I’m not sure what I could show them. “This is the sofa-bed I work on – it’s in bed mode at the moment to provide enough room for me and all my notes to lie on. These are my cats. You will hear them if you ever do a phoneconference with me because they take it on themselves to purr down the receiver. Here is my coffee machine. This is the closest thing I have to a deity in my life.” Not quite so enthralling.

From a media point of view this post http://bblat.se/nyheter/koping/1.2496576-amores-ska-oka-elevers-lust-att-lasa shows how effective getting local media interested in your project can be – it’s a great photo, and also some excellent quotes from the teachers involved (thank you Chrome translate). Hopefully the other four schools involved in the project can do a similar thing and I can post those here too. I suppose I could go through Coventry Uni (my employer on the project) and do something similar, but I don’t think a photo of me on the sofa-bed would carry the same weight somehow.

First sight

This weekend’s Daily Post is called “First Sight” (Whether a person, a pet, an object, or a place, write about something or someone you connected with from the very first second) http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/first-sight/
I have two cats – one is a Russian Blue called Sina, the other an Egyptian Mau called Pasht. I’d had pets before, but not really deliberately gone out and chosen one. We had a family pet for a while when I was young, a dog when I lived in Seychelles who adopted me (she was a stray who lived around the block of flats I lived in and after I fed her she moved in, bringing her puppies with her), and a cat that I inherited when my friend emigrated to New Zealand. Meeting Sina was the first time I’d actually gone out and sought a pet. The idea of getting a cat was my ex’s. We’d split up and she’d known how much I’d loved my cat Gizmo (even though she died a few within a year of me owning her). I think she thought if I got a cat as a companion I’d be less inclined to relapse into needing her as a companion again. I went through lists of cat breeds and decided that Russian Blue was the one for me, found some breeders in the GCCF website and checked which ones near me had a litter due in the next few months.

I was the first of the people who’d booked a cat to go round there. Some people had been further up the waiting list than me, and had already said what sexes and how many they wanted, but they hadn’t chosen specific cats. I wanted to pick one out. Arriving there I thought maybe I was being overly anthropomorphosising – surely as long as it was a cat of a particular breed it wouldn’t matter.

I turned up at the house where the breeder had the cats and there they all were, six tiny little balls of grey fur, all identical, which just underlined how ridiculous I was being. I was sitting on the floor taking notes from the breeder about caring for them, registering them and so on, when one tottered over towards me and sat on my notepad. In the most annoying, awkward, imposing way possible and looked up at me. Richard, the breeder, who did seem to be able to tell them apart told me she was the one who liked to sit and watch TV. It was an instant connection. I wanted this one.

The breeder said that only two of the three females had gone, and so I could have this one. He put a small white collar on her so he could make sure she was the one I got when they were old enough to be weaned about 6 weeks later.

That was eight years ago. Two years later I got the second cat but the bond between the two of us has always been stronger. If I go away for a while my parents look after my cats. When I come back she runs to me and stays within a few feet of me for the next few days. She falls asleep on me. If I’m not in the room when she wakes up she starts crying and if I yell her name she runs up to me. When I’m away for the weekend after about a day I miss them both, but – like now – I’m looking forward to her curling up next to me while I read a book, or watch a DVD. And she’s there, watching it too, or getting in the way by sitting on the book.sina 060222

The Only Way is Ethics Ep 2

The second issue brought up was that of online harassment and the balance that needs to be struck between censorship and freedom of speech. The causes of cyberbullying were seen as the cyberdisinhibition that comes with being online, particularly when people are anonymous. However, there is still some bewilderment at the mentality of people who do harass others online, and there was seen to be a need to understand more the reasons why people do it. Steve raised the phenomena of harshtagging and tweckling, that there is a kind of feeding frenzy that occurs when people begin to criticise others and we recounted occasions where we had seen this take place in conferences, where because everyone sees a criticism, there are sufficient numbers in the room who agree that join in and others outside the room also then become involved. Previous experiences of cyberbullying are another reason why some students may be reticent to participate, and this can expose them to renewed harassment or cyberstalking. Confronting the behaviour can be counterproductive – feeding the trolls – but sometimes there can be a desire to address it. There are pros and cons to both. The problem of harassment can be constrained by removing anonymity, but then this runs counter to the needs of pseudonymity stated in the previous post. These two conflicting needs driving the nymwars we’ve seen in many social media.

3. Intellectual Property. The third ethical issue discussed was that of IP of content in social media. Who owns anything placed in social media and how do we protect the intellectual property of students who use it? There is the precedence of shareware within online interactions, and creative commons, and perhaps IP is not as big a deal as it used to be, because we are more accepting of the concept that ideas are free. We all noted that it’s the colleagues who are more reticent to share that are the weaker ones, the fewer ideas you have, the more jealously you guard them. Accrediting ideas in social media is also more difficult, and it’s more likely to fail, but it was noted that people are more forgiving of accidental misuse and inadvertent plagiarism in social media.

4. Authenticity of voice. There were also issues about knowing who is whom online. There is spoofing of identities, sometimes inadvertent, and false claims of experience, sometimes for fraudulent reasons, sometimes to be part of a group, sometimes because of a syndrome known as Munchausen’s by Internet (a version of Münchausen‘s by proxy) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%BCnchausen_by_Internet,  nearly named after the fictional character Baron Münchhausen who was prone to lying, but for some reason people have dropped one of the aitches (although kept the umlaut). I noted however that actually for many people having an online identity that is different than their offline one can mean it’s more authentic, not less. Many people only feel they can be themselves when online because their sense of self is at odds with their physical form, or because their immediate peer group cannot accept their true nature. Again another reason for protecting pseudonymity. In the discussion later, it came up that there are a range of cultural reasons why people may need to perform in a particular way online (not using their real names, not using their image) and we should not enforce particular behaviours, since it’s impossible to anticipate what all of these issues may be.

The Only Way is Ethics Ep. 1

A year or so ago I was involved in the Ethics of Web 2.0 roadshow, led by John Traxler, which we took to ALT-C, Educa and one or two other places. Steve Wheeler attended those too, and today we got to revisit some of those issues in the final session at the seminar. The plan was that the people who attended the session get into groups of three, identify the top three ethical issue of using social media, then report back to the group. We went round the table and each group came up with their top one that hadn’t already been taken. This is what we got:

1. Code of conduct or legislation – People felt exposed as educators without guidelines for how to use social media. With a code of conduct then, even if problems occurred then they would have the safety net of a code of conduct to point to and say, well we abided by that, so it’s not really our fault. Steve brought up the idea of a digital tattoo, rather than a digital footprint, since our digital trail is something we’re stuck with and are inscribed with, it’s not something that just washes away next time there’s a high tide. I suppose we could have digital laser treatment to remove it, or is that over-extending the metaphor? The potential of being permanently tagged with our digital trace is the reason why some people resist the use of social media, and therefore is it fair to impose interaction with social media on our students, as there is the risk of them being exposed. I raised the possibility that society will respond to repeated exposure by social media, and that we will be more accepting of behaviour that we all commit, but prefer to pretend that society doesn’t. The teaching profession is particularly bad at this, primary school teachers are supposedly not allowed to fall down drunk on a Saturday night, as if this out of school behaviour reflects badly on their ability to do their job. My suggestion that we may see a reduction in hypocrisy was deemed to be optimistic (although everyone was kind enough not to point out my inability to spell it). The other suggestion was that actually if we become more accepting of outlier behaviour, then people may respond by becoming more extreme, and so perpetuate the issue, a sort of conservation of deviancy. Alternatively, as technology becomes better at tailoring our social networks and our internet searches to the types of things it’s already identified us as being interested in, we become more and more subject to a filter bubble, and anything that doesn’t adhere to our very select peer group as far as behaviour goes, is considered to be inappropriate. These issues therefore raise the importance of pseudonymity in online interactions and presents the importance of balancing our representations of professional identities versus authentic identities.