Friday, March 05, 2010

Evangelism and its discontents

Am I the only person who really really cannot stand evangelism? I'm not just talking about religion here, though obviously there are certain religious groups and people who are particularly guilty of being insanely evangelical, and in fact it seems that the very concept comes out of Christianity. I have no problem with people believing whatever they want to believe, but when it starts to be something they want to force it down everyone else's throat, it pisses me right off. Aside from the obvious - war criminals, rapists, paedophiles etc etc, I would say that missionaries are quite possible my least favourite group of people (they might be nice enough as people, but they have chosen a life which is all about looking down on others, criticising and then trying to turn them into carbon copies of themselves. Really arrogant and repulsive stuff).

The other evangelism I've become aware of of late is tech evangelism. There is much talk these days of "digital immigrants" and "digital natives", but I think it's time to coin the term "digital missionaries" (and as may be apparent from the above, I don't use that word in a positive way). I touched upon it recently when I wrote about mad Mac-o-philes (though I realise that post implied that all Mac users were fundamentalist evangelicals, which is not true. Just some of them, though seemingly a large proportion)

Of late I've been moving in newish circles of people (I mean this in the online sense of that phrase), many of whom are passionate about the use of technology in education (education is, in case you didn't know, my professional field). Now for the most part this is great - people who are trying to improve the learning experience for students, trying to help them learn more effectively and making use of many of the tools that exist. But there are a few who seem to make it their mission to criticise, belittle, patronise and ridicule those who are not using aforementioned tools (even if those people are in places where they really can't). It drives me mad. And, it has the effect of making me want to NOT want to use the stuff they peddle, just as i-vangelism has the effect of making me NOT ever want to own anything made by Apple. [Yes, I do recognise that this is my problem not theirs].

Now possibly someone will pipe up and suggest that as I keep a blog, I am - in a sense- evangelising too, but I really don't feel that I am. I obviously have opinions (as does everyone else), and I'm happy to share those opinions and bore everyone to tears with them, but whether anyone is swayed in any way by my opinions is entirely up to them (and in fact I actually presume that no-one ever is). To give an example, I am vegetarian. I've just done a search of the entire blog and I have mentioned this fact twice. Just mentioned it. No "why you too should be a vegetarian" or anything like that. We (vegetarians) are always being accused by meat eaters of being evangelical - I've never seen this, but I think the perception exists. As it goes I think there are pressing reasons why a greater number of vegetarians would be a good thing, but I'm still not really interested in telling or even suggesting to people that they should follow me on this path. I figure people think about it, (because I assume the vast majority of people have brains, and thoughts, and can weigh up various options) and make their own decisions. Whatever I happen to think of that decision is irrelevant.

I have pondered the possibility that I am using "evangelism" to mean "going on about things I don't like" and "just sharing my opinions" for "going on about things I do", but I'm pretty sure that's not it. After all, I am in favour of using technology in the classroom in a well thought out way (and in contexts where it's possible), I just don't like it when people try and make it seem that people who don't are somehow inferior and, worse, professionally incompetent.

I have the strong suspicion now that people are going to use the comments section to highlight places where I have been evangelical - but at least if that happens I might be able to more clearly define what constitutes evangelism and what doesn't. Since I think I probably haven't yet, even though, to coin a phrase, I know it when I see it.


Richard said...

Totally agree. I've been thinking about this recently. To me, all evangelism comes across as self-righteous, smug and annoying and there's quite a lot of that around. I love technology, but each to his own and all the technology in the world will not make a bad teacher good.


Ken Wilson said...
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Ken Wilson said...

Another well-expressed and thoughtful post, Andy.

You give 'evangelism' a negative connotation here, and I would agree with you on that. But I wonder if it is, as it were, in the ear of the beholder. I recently posted something about educational technology, and got some views of the kind you suggest -'if you're a teacher and you aren't using technology, then you're short-changing your students' etc etc.

The thing is, because I'm feeling less vulnerable to these criticisms these days, I read them as expressing enthusiasm rather than evangelism.

Do you think there's a difference? Or are all evangelists trying to stuff stuff down your throat?

Don't think I've ever written 'stuff stuff' in a sentence before!

Keep up to good musings

Andy said...

Hi Richard, Ken, thanks for your comments.

Ken: I think there is a line between enthusiasm and evangelism, though I'm not entirely sure where that line is and what constitutes crossing it (it may have been obvious that as the post wore on my initial rant gave way to a certain uncertainty about what exactly I was ranting about). There are people in our mutual network for example who are very enthusiastic about technology and very forthright in their enthusiasm, but somehow they don't cross over into what Richard rightly calls "self-righteous, smug and annoying". A certain Cornish gentleman from Barcelona springs to mind in this latter category, for example.

Andy said...

That is still not as clear as I'd like about TCCGFB (that certain Cornish gentleman from Barcelona), so to clarify - he's enthusiastic (and very knowledgeable) but not an evangelist

Bill Kennedy said...

Thanks, Andy. Interesting, although I feel a little sheepish, being a Mac person. One thing that religious and technological evangelism seem to share is faith in something that will often let you down.

It seems English teachers often wind up lumped with these types. I have seen more than a few people using ESL/EFL teaching as cover for proselytizing one faith or another.

Evangelism is about certainty, and I have long distrusted certainty. To maintain that, in a big, complicated world there is one sure-fire way to deal with everything and you just happen to know what it is, strikes me as, to say the least, arrogant and scary. As I recall, Stalin had a vision, too.

Ian James said...

Hi all! I think the key here is be deeply suspicious of any illuminated individual who seriously believes that they have a monopoly on truth. These are the type of people who at any historical - or technological - tipping moment have the annoying habit of putting other people's heads on the chopping block and lopping them off. The specific crime is immaterial (heresy, meat-eating, not breastfeeding your baby, using PowerPoint etc etc) but the problem is always the same; Those who are put up against the wall are condemnend for not seeing the light … as of course it is seen and defined by the Illuminati. Heed my words, I used to illuminate a bit too much myself! ;-)

BTW, I didn’t know Gavin was from Cornwall!

Vicki Hollett said...

Great post! I think you're right about it being hard to draw the line between envangelism and enthusiasm. I've found myself wondering about it since moving to the US from the UK, and think there maybe cultural differences going on too.

We've been raised to respect the 'scientific method' so collecting data, observation, experimentation and testing hypothesis is what we're used to. We're trained to respect facts that are qualified by specific contexts along with maybes and tendencies and we feel uncomfy when things get painted black and white.

Plus evangelists have universal priciples of politeness working against them. When you put other people down you're likely to put yourself down in the process.

Look forward to reading more.

Liesbeth en Karl said...

There's some pretty good literature about that subject by Larry Cuban, like 'Machines in the Classroom' (on school television, slideshow, school radio, language labs, 'old school technology') and 'Oversold and underused' (on classroom computers.

In both books he makes a strong point on the essence of teaching and its reesistance to technophile innovation.