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A Recommendation Gone Wrong

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I committed an absolute no-no. I included a book on my "must read" list to my PD attendees without first reading it. And I'm not talking maybe 10-15 people saw this list. Hundreds. Maybe a thousand. I suggested a "must read" book to hundreds of educators (teachers and administrators) that, as soon as I finally read Chapter 1, knew it could taint my reputation. If someone looks at my list and decides to read this book, they might immediately say, "Why on earth would Sandra ever recommend this book?" "If this book reflects how Sandra operates, I'm not sure we want to work with her."

So what possessed me to recommend a book I had never read? When every teacher knows NEVER to show a video in its entirety to a class without first previewing all of it (admittedly, though, we've ALL done it at least once), why oh why on earth would I dare recommend a book in its entirety without reading it?

Well, I was reading Jennifer Casa-Todd's Social LEADia: Moving Digital Citizenship to Digital Leadership (I cannot recommend this book highly enough - and yes, I've read EVERY page), and one sentence she wrote took me down the rabbit hole of exploring the culture of Book Tubers (see previous blog post) and I came across Ariel Bisset's channel. She has 154K followers and creates almost weekly videos reviewing books she has read. I was stuck on her channel for hours listening to her discuss books I taught in senior English classes, outline Magic Realism better than I ever did, and was captivated by her delivery and intimate knowledge of literature.

I then watched her review of a book titled, So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson which struck a sense of familiarity with me as I had experienced my own public shaming when I lived in Saudi Arabia (see previous blog post). I put it on my private list of Must Read books.

Some months later, after I had still not read the book, I stumbled upon a fabulous TEDTalk by Jon Ronson titled When Shaming Goes too Far (I highly recommend - and yes, I've watched every minute) where he explores the Justine Sacco fiasco when she tweeted out, just as she boarded a plane to South Africa, a racially charged statement about her not getting AIDS because she's white, and then turned off her phone. She arrived in South Africa to find out she was trending world wide, people were spewing all manner of heinous accusations and desired consequences, and she had been fired from her job mid-flight.

That was it. The book went on my public Must Read list.

Where could I go wrong recommending a book with such a glowing review from a woman who reads hundreds of books a year? Where could I go wrong with recommending a book when the author presents a most intriguing and thought provoking TEDTalk?

The subject matter is just too important to not discuss. In our society when people hide behind anonymity and pass judgement on anyone willing to put themselves on display, how can we not talk about online behaviour, human decency, compassion, and constructive discourse? How can we not talk about consequences of our online remarks? How can we not talk about how social media is shaping a new sense of conformity everyone must adhere to or else be shamed? Ronson's book must be awesome the whole way through...

I then read the book.

I was on a plane bound for Atlanta to present at the Association of Christian Schools International PD forum, and seeing as my presentations were well organized, my PhD work was complete for the week, I figured I could finally crack open the book and read what I had recommended to the participants I had worked with over the previous 6 months and the ones I was about to meet. I barely got past the second page before thinking, Oh no, what have I done? I kept reading and the more I read the more my face fell.

Ronson is thorough in his research and has gone great lengths to interview people who have been publicly shamed, including Justine Sacco, on social media or those who went the lengths to expose people to be digitally pilloried by their virtual peers. I was impressed.

However, what I was not prepared for was his inclusion of the raw language interviewees used. Yes, I understand people swear a lot and can be graphic, I just wasn't prepared for Ronson's inclusion of every word mentioned. I was also not prepared for his seemingly over-fascination with the porn industry and explaining details perhaps not necessary for the context of his work. And I certainly wasn't prepared to be taken into these worlds I had not considered. Perhaps, though, that's part of the point of his book. To force people to consider worlds and perspectives outside of personal comfort.

Regardless, I still maintain Ronson's ideas and exploration of public shaming is valuable and I am glad to have come across his work. He presents concepts and ideas pertinent to education. I just wish I would have read his book first before recommending it to educators.

What I would like to see, however, is a book written about public shaming in education. Yes, there have been multiple books written about students experiencing cyber-bullying and how educators might respond. But what about teachers who are publicly shamed by other teachers or students? Administrators who are publicly shamed. What are their stories? What can we learn from their experiences? How do we support and encourage our teachers and school leaders to put themselves out there to share their knowledge and experiences? What can teachers and leaders learn from students in building resilience to online shaming?

What are your thoughts? What lessons can we learn from students in this arena?

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