The Boys on the Bus was Timothy Crouse’s exposé of the pervasive pack mentality among journalists covering the 1972 presidential election, chronicling how the top political reporters of the time rode across the country by charter bus following Nixon and McGovern, living out of suitcases and reporting on the same events, day after day. These reporters knew each other, befriended each other, and respected one another, and the stories they posted to their news agencies reflected how like-minded they were in their craft. Rare was it that anyone scooped their buddies, as much as they all aspired to do so. There was little original thinking or original reporting as they crisscrossed the highways of the nation that summer of 72.
It was seminal moment in political journalism, because against this backdrop, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post began investigating a seemingly third-rate burglary at the Watergate Hotel which eventually broke open that pack mentality with a new way of thinking about and doing news reporting: investigative journalism. Their tenacity and focus eventually brought down the president two years into his second term, as checks and balances played themselves out across the three branches of the federal government and a constitutional crisis was ultimately averted. Political journalism would never be the same. Arguably, political reporting today is the legacy of Woodward and Bernstein’s innovative thinking and revolutionary work.
History lesson? Nope. Nostalgic flashback? Uh-uh. Well then, Walter, what’s the point?
The longer I’ve been around social media, the more I feel like one of the boys on the bus. The technology that is supposed to provide differentiation and personalization in an age of information abundance is demonstrating just the opposite: people are using social media to reinforce their biases, confirm their comfort zone and opt for intellectual laziness. It’s not about diversity of thought and expanding understanding. It’s about feeling good…liking our own voices and looking for others who sound the same. Add to that all the political pontificating and professional pandering going on, and an original idea or an engaging inquiry on here is a rare find indeed.
So I’m wondering out loud this morning, how long will it be til we have that defining moment, when social media stops serving as an echo chamber for our egos…when we rise above self-serving pats on the back and safety-in-numbers educational correctness (you know…political correctness among educators)? When do the cliques and commercially-anointed cohorts play out to their logical conclusion, and people realize they’re getting about as far as they would leaving a business card in the fishbowl of a favorite local lunch stop?
There’s a lot of frenetic energy and frantic bandwagoning going on, but there’s not a lot to show for it. Why aren’t more educators jumping into social media and joining us early adopters? Probably because when they peek in and see what’s going on, they make the assessment that there are better uses of their time than spinning their wheels as just another one of the boys (or girls) on the bus. And who can blame them? Sure we all can have a soapbox online. But at the end of the day, how much does time chatting on social media have any major, lasting impact at our day jobs?
If you can earnestly say that your social media time has revolutionized your work in education…not your personal status among birds of a feather educators…not your celebrity manufactured by quid pro quo commercial interests…but real, genuine work being done in the best interests of children…then I salute you. In fact, I know some of you…I hear your unique voice online and I see the tangible connections you are making with students. You stand out, pushing the envelope and asking the questions for which we need answers. Like Woodward and Bernstein, you’re not worried about what anyone else is saying or doing. You’re trailblazing where education needs to go…off the beaten path…where your important work is most needed. It is my sincere hope that your maverick spirit will eventually become a contagion, and this feel-good era of social media will be behind us.
After all, our students get off the bus to get schooled every day. Why shouldn’t we?