Personally, I prefer pessimism to positivity

This blog is framed by a killjoy worksheet developed by Sarah Ahmed, an independent feminist scholar and killjoy. I don’t pretend to speak through her theories. They are new to me and I am processing them. This blog is a part of that process. Here are some questions she poses about identifying as a killjoy.Capture

Do I have experiences being a killjoy?

For decades teachers and the education profession have been fighting an identity war, especially in Australia (and from what I have surmised, in the UK and the US as well). Teachers are not well represented in the mass media. Sensationalist news articles about a single individual criminal in the classroom; advertising that constructs schooling as something passive governed by the parents who buy Milo;  op-eds and sound bites from politicians; bitching in the back channels about incompetence and non-engagement of invisible but anecdotally bad teachers: the ones that still have their desks in rows; the ones not using technology; the chalk and talkies. Unfortunately, these mass and social media discussions of teaching have gone and supported a culture shift. All of a sudden we are talking to a voting public about revolutionising schooling through improving the quality of teaching rather overthrowing the system.

Education is being privatised through parent choice and the individual enterprise expectations of teachers. The system is taking its hands off, removing fingers from pies, claiming that a system that has failed children is not in anyway responsible for the fallout.  It’s all the teacher’s fault. I’m not saying that the effort a teacher puts into their job to get to know their students, hone their craft and create engaging learning experiences isn’t important.

But “quality”? Seriously? Are teachers apples on their way to Woollies?

What “quality” teacher talk does is dispossess the teacher of their humanness.  It makes judgements and assumptions about all teachers based on the practices of a few and these judgements and assumptions are two-dimensional. They don’t take into account the variety of experiences and personalities out there. If each child is different, doesn’t it stand to reason that each teacher should be? That’s life isn’t it?

Does the killjoy come up in contemporary media?

When I hear of teachers sharing resources to improve their “quality”, I get really sad. Because this practice means that the privatisers are winning. The system is not being held accountable for resources and support of their staff: the individual teacher is. I think it’s wonderful to have a culture of sharing and collegiality, but that should be supported within the system, not something a teacher should be doing in their own time without pay for 2 hours every Sunday night on Twitter. Why should a system pay for teachers to work one-on-one with a coach? There are professional learning opportunities on social media at no cost to the system – rather cost to the teacher through devices and personal home Internet services. The profession has to be really careful.


Sharing stuff with each other is wonderful, but care needs to be taken with the culture that is created through that sharing. Calling people who question this cultural phenomenon of online sharing “pessimists” or “negativity pushers” or “killjoys” is, bluntly, a pedagogy of oppression.

Recently, I have seen the ranks of the killjoys swelling. People questioning the smooth talking, slick-as-Sillicon-Valley, entrepreneurial, edu-changers. Feel-good, self-help, industries are exploiting a crushed profession with two dimensional, saccharine products.  Some are free. Some are not. All are part of a pedagogy of oppression that removes teacher agency.

How might focusing on the figure of the killjoy offer us insights into the sociality of affect/emotion?

Call me a pessimist. Call me a killjoy. I’ll take it as a compliment.

As Chloe King states:

Positive thinking is no basis for social transformation. Better to seek out the truth than live in someone else’s fairy tale.

Being a pessimist does not mean I’m a glass half empty person. It means I am consistently suspicious of things which seem too good to be true. The pessimist in me is that gut feeling that something isn’t quite right. I’ve learnt through the events that have shaped me (both good and bad) that listening to my gut is the way to go.

cogs-453036_1920Most of the time I don’t know why I’m pessimistic until I start picking apart the things which make me suspicious. I experiment with ideas. Tinker with them. Disassemble and look at the individual parts trying to figure out which is the rusty piece. What I have found is the individual components by themselves are fine. Great even. Beautiful, shiny, brass, steampunk cogs lying there on the workbench to admire and polish. The sharing of ideas in education is collegial and a great step forward. Sponsoring events that help teachers feel more empowered as a profession is a noble task. The introduction of technology to the classrooms is exciting and brims with possibility. I love my smartphone. It’s so nice to touch and play with. It keeps me entertained and connected.

But once I start putting all these things together it turns into a machine that is threatening education as we know it.

Indulge my imagination for a moment.

That lovely smartphone gives the owner a dopamine boost when they get a notification, which is addictive. Twitter chats and other online sharing bonanzas provide opportunities for people to indulge their addiction, intensifying its strength. Dopamine makes us want things, seek them out and indulge continuously in a loop of gratifying those urges. 140 characters is even better because dopamine works best in short, sharp bursts. People begin to recommend and rave about the experience and bring more people in. Massive professional learning networks (PLN) are formed to continue to feed the addiction. Some are corporatised. Edu-preneurs. Companies notice that those massive groups have formed and start to sponsor and market directly to them in 140 character bursts of PLN opiates. The system notices that people are addicted to indulging their own professional learning in their own time, even recommending it to colleagues as a way to fulfill expectations in an audit culture. System removes its own responsibility for professional learning and outsources to the massive online personal learning groups. Education continues to be privatised bit by bit.

This is a narrative I imagine when I watch a back slapping, high positivity exchange online. Can’t anyone see what is happening? Why is everyone so happy about this?

Then I become a killjoy. A killjoy does not mean I want happiness to end. I want something more than personal happiness. I want to fix this. Chasing my own personal happiness will not get that job done.

How might killjoys get their work done across the family, meeting, and online PLN tables when talking about education?

So I start picking the scab and making it bleed. I find opportunities to create uncomfortable spaces that speed bump the fast road to positivity oblivion. I insist that learning doesn’t stop at graduation. I warn my family that people that talk like me don’t get hired in an industry that commodifies teaching and learning. In my writing I look for binaries and ask why they are there, stripping away symbols of education tribes and looking for the core motivations of passionate dialogues. I blog and tweet provocatively. I feel very uncomfortable with direct engagement but have tried a few times.

How do I create politics around the killjoy? What are problems with these politics?

The key point is that every time I see intense positivity in education dialogues I actively work to kill it. Not to pick on the positive person but to ask why the happiness exists and whether it is healthy and fit or doped up and dangerous. I read and I write blogs to inquire and build ideas further. Teasing out the parts of that happiness machine.Throw challenges into the void with the hope it unsettles possibly one person.

I find direct engagement uncomfortable. The positivity cult in education dialogue is, on the surface, working towards the same goal as me. To empower teachers to take back their profession. Challenging someone’s positivity can be the death knell to a person who is already suffocating in a profession already crushed. I think it’s important to question the curators of happiness more than those buying it. Reveal their flaws. Call for boycotts. Create a groundswell and work to truly revolutionising education.



3 thoughts on “Personally, I prefer pessimism to positivity

  1. I agree that teachers share most of the blame and it’s up to us to fix the problem without making excuses. I disagree with many of your other points. usually a teacher who goes on Twitter to share ideas and methods has such a love for what they do. This makes a difference both in the school they teach in and beyond. These teachers do coach and are vital to the growth of the profession.


    • Hi Michael. Thanks for responding. I agree with you. I think the teachers that share on Twitter are amazingly generous. I worry about that generosity being exploited by a system that seems intent on saving money any manipulative way they can and businesses whose motivations are profit margins not students cashing in on the generosity without due payment

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Naomi. I suspect you may be right in that the ‘system’ inevitably gains from the activity you describe. But if the individual does too, beyond their dopamine hit, through improved … (insert outcome of choice), then is that entirely a bad thing? From the individual’s perspective? If the system provided the resource to support its employees as indeed it ought, wouldn’t it still be the case that to make the most of it, teachers would still need to invest in themselves, principally through committing their (personal) time?
    I’m not so clear about businesses though; perhaps you could expand on that a little? Twitter is currently failing to turn a profit, so I’m not so clear how (other than product placement) they’re gaining an edge. I’d be interested to see their cost benefit figures.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s