Moral High Ground and Blowhard Bloggers

Sometimes I think of blogging as just this strange and acceptable way for some of us to stand on some real or imagined moral high ground. I get to open a blank page every once in a while, and throw bunch of random thoughts at an invisible audience with a certain amount of confidence. By design, I don’t have to deal with looking you, the reader, in the eye to see how you’re reacting. Sure, there is always the comments. You could tell me that I’m a blowhard, a fraud, or a pretentious ass and all of those would sort of be true. It’s the thing about a world of internet journalism where everyone becomes a columnist, and opinions are currency. It's probably true that everybody has opinions, but not everyone tries to jam their opinions out every week on a website.

But as annoying as the moral high ground is, I have to believe that there is one. For example, loving your wife and family seems like a morally safe mountain. Paying somebody $130,000 so that they don't talk about the awkward sex you once had seems more like a valley, or a canyon, in the universe of morality. 

 It's hard to discern who has the right to that claim on right and wrong, unless you just kind of decide that everyone does. Or, as most of us do, you build some undefined rubric in your head to evaluate what has worth in the abyss of the interwebs. He misspelled a word, therefore, he is shit. That picture they used is too low resolution so they must be idiots. Adam and I do both of those things on this blog, so you should probably stop reading and post angrily in the comments. That seems like a hill of morality where you should fall on your sword in some heroic end-of-the-movie scene.

I make a living  as a teacher telling young people that they have the right to have an opinion. I tell students every day that we as adults have to do a much better job at listening to their thoughts and opinions, their perceptions of right and wrong. But secretly, as a blogger and a teacher, I think most adult opinions are a pain in the ass. Including my own. I find a lot of grace for students and their evolving worldview, but the second any of us grown-ups open our mouths I start to roll my eyes and pull out my iPhone in boredom. 

Most weeks I write something on this blog, try to haphazardly edit it, and then read it again later in the weekend. Inevitably, what felt like absolute truth 24 hours ago just feels annoying later. It's kind of vulnerable to keep writing with the awareness that I might not like it in a week or a month, or that my opinion will evolve, but to keep etching these words in the digital stone that is the internet. It's part of my own little privileged search for some kind of meaning. However, if I put myself in the shoes of someone who happened to click on one of my own blog entries, probably because there was a really funny picture or something, I find myself getting annoyed at my own words. I sound like the people that I often hate. I'm simultaneously screaming my opinions and rolling my eyes. 

A blog is really just a place for people like me to rant, or articulate, some of our evolving truths and half-truths. It's an all-opinions-are-valid world and anyone with a smartphone, or a seat at the corner bar, can jump in the fun.  

But sometimes I forget where I am.

I blogged a little bit in the staff meeting the other week. I didn’t actually pull out my computer, open the Google doc, and start throwing a bunch of words on the screen. That would have been kind of rude. Instead, and probably more annoyingly, I started talking. I rambled on with some moral high ground shit. Talking about how some of us stay up at night worrying about our neighborhood and the way we are educating, or not educating, our young people. And then I talked about how we as a school aren’t doing a great job at educating our students, especially the ones that are hardest to educate. People responded the way they should’ve responded: half of the room applauded me for bravery, and half of the room thought I was a huge idiot. 

Looking back at that moment leads me to see both the rambling idiot in myself and the person who said what needed to be said. I think about the people who say things in staff meetings as if they are issuing some Jerry McGuire manifesto moment. People, like myself, who tend toward the emotion of the now which adds hyperbole to every moment like it is some scene out of a movie. I worry because, for people like me, being misunderstood is horrifying.  

It's not because I think I was wrong. In fact, the nature of having a strong enough opinion to open your mouth on a blog or in a staff meeting means that you think you are right. And at that moment I was talking about what I am kind of always talking about when I talk about education, which is how we ensure that we aren't making this about us but about the students in front of us. Then, that we are focusing a little more intently on the people that public education has failed for as long as public education has existed. Frankly, and this is an example of me and my annoying opinions, I think all the other conversations are secondary until we fix the unjust system that pays many of us. Or just blow it up and build a new one. 

The reason I sort of can't stand me and my opinions is because I am keenly aware that blowhards like us don't really change anyone who disagrees with us. At that staff meeting, there was half of the room who supported a change in our practice, and half of the room who opposed it. Me climbing onto a desk to preach the gospel of equity isn't going to change anyone's mind on the other half of the room. 

It just sounds pretentious and annoying. After the meeting, I got text after text from people who agreed with me who said they really liked what I had to say. Then, I talked to someone who disagreed the next day and he told me that I kind of sounded like I was playing a bit of a "moral high ground" card. I can't stand annoying people, so I proceeded to talk to everyone I could think of who may have been on the other side and tell them that I'm sorry for being an ass. They were nice about it. We are all asses sometimes I guess. Especially those of us who like to talk.

But my wife told me that if this blog stops here it is pointless. She said that to make this little Sunday morning ramble about apologizing for having a "moral high ground" opinion is to sell short the kind of injustice that probably makes me work too hard, drink too much wine, and lose too much sleep. She told me that there is actually a moral high ground. There is a 'gospel,' or good news in education, but that right now only certain people have access to it. Education is sort of like a pay-to-play religion like Scientology or something, and we have to keep screaming about that injustice even if it steps on some toes and annoys some people (I actually know little about Scientology, I just think Tom Cruise is a jerkface). 

My wife told me to stop apologizing and keep screaming. And in context, she is a person who usually rolls her eyes and tells me to shut up. 

When people tell you to come down from your moral high ground, it makes people like me feel bad and try to apologize. Instead, my wife challenged me to respond differently. I'm happy to debate methodology and practice, and to talk about classroom practice and valuable strategies for learning, but I'm not debating that we have to do better. That is the moral equivalent to paying people to be quiet about infidelity. The schools that many of us live and work in are fostering this inequity, and that has to change. 

It will take work, but we have to live on that high ground. You are right to ignore blowhard bloggers like us, but don't ignore that reality.