A few years ago I started my teacher Twitter journey. I was almost immediately accepted by a really nice group of educators. They talked a lot about our need to be kind, how much it mattered (it matters a lot) and how if we just move about the day doing small kind acts we will change the world. Like the Butterfly effect. I totally fell into these discussions and felt great. I was a kind teacher, I was a kind person. This would be easy.
Then I started noticing how shallow these conversations were when it came to pedagogy. How very often the books that leaned towards Kindness as a central theme also leaned away from strong practices. I asked a friend at the time why it was that none of these folks talked about substantive things, "Brent not everyone is here to learn, some people just want to feel good," they said. That really was my sign that I needed to find a new PLN. So I did (not all new but a lot of great additions).
I started learning more not just about my first love, literacy, but also about equity, about a new to me term, antiracism. I also learned about practices that pushed back on white supremacy and the system we work in that is so saturated with it. I also started to question the Kindness Warriors. The folks that argued that watching Freedom Writers and Dangerous Minds with your class was important, despite BIPOC teachers saying that both films celebrate a white saviour narrative that is harmful to students of colour. I remember my friend Maire and I talking to a teacher and trying to explain why we should listen to these educators and we were both told to try being kind and to not attack teachers who are doing their best. It is interesting to note that more times than not those educators using kindness as a shield could also use the privilege their whiteness provides them.
This weaponization of Kindness as a defence for anything is a danger to not only our students but also our profession. Teachers can not even raise questions anymore around the practice of others without being accused of bullying, attacking and being unkind. I often ask questions around practices I find problematic on Twitter. People share their ideas, but more and more seem to only be sharing for the back patters and starfish throwers to tell them “great job”, even when the work is mediocre at best and oftentimes problematic.
Accusations of teacher shaming and bullying and calls to "just be kind" have replaced any discussions around our practice. Students are taught to respond to bullying, harassment, racism and even assault, with kindness. We have students being victimized and told that being kind in return will teach a lesson. But what is the lesson being learned?
If you are a Kindness Matters fan and you have made it this far without closing your computer or writing me some strongly worded condemnation or decided to unfollow me or tell me we can't be friends anymore, I appreciate your patience. I believe kindness is important. I believe using it to defend your poor practice is dangerous. I believe promoting kindness while ignoring real issues in the world harms our students. Kindness doesn't end bullying, getting to the root of why that behaviour is happening does. Kindness doesn't end racism, antiracist practices, tearing down white supremacists systems, and education does.
Those who use kindness to defend themselves from criticism are not kind, they are opportunists. Those who post pictures of their kind acts are not really kind, they are, as my sweet students call them, "clout chasers". Those who will excuse their minor acts of kindness in the face of major problems as “enough” chose warm feelings over hard work.
A while back I was blocked by a person who is a big advocate for the starfish analogy. I know a lot of folks who love that story. It is nice. A boy on a beach tossing starfish back into the sea, an old man asks why he is doing it and says, "there are so many you can't possibly make a difference and save them all" “No.” the boy replies, “but I made a difference for one". So many Kindness folks cling to this idea that they are saving one by their one little act and that is a great start. But here is the thing:
Folks that have weaponized kindness to serve themselves, to avoid tough topics, to dismiss the concerns of others are not really committed to change, they are just committed to feeling good.
This thinking is dangerous, it puts our marginalized students in harm’s way because too many people think they too can do just a little and it will magically address the inequities. It won't. That fact makes them uncomfortable and then accusations of bullying and shaming fly. I am not shaming I am sharing.
Take it however you like.
And like Ellen and Kindness Warriors say, Be Kind to one another.
Or you could be more willing to learn and grow. Accept that Kindness alone does not heal-it continues to harm with a smile. (H/T to CM for that last bit :) )