Once Upon an Internet Troll

Sep 2, 2015 at 2:30 pm
Once Upon an Internet Troll

The Internet is an ocean of fear and desktop critics. Being informed is optional. The only weapons needed are anger, a computer and an issue at which fire can be spit. I’m not uninitiated when it comes to being trolled by folks who tend to view life very differently from myself. Sometimes my reaction is to joke with them. Sometimes, I simply ask them questions until they reveal their purpose and devolve into a “CAPS-CAPS-CAPS”-screaming lunatic. Occasionally, I get a mixture of jokes and lunacy. I try keeping it light realizing that while responding to trolls is at times both necessary and frightening, I understand that folks don’t always come to the keyboard in the best of mental health and I do not wish to encourage unusual behavior.

As I was on Twitter lamenting the loss of time that I had to spend reading comics due to the start of the fall semester, the parent of one of my students (who remains unknown to me) decided to find me and let me have it about my liberal indoctrination of his child. Dude, I just wanted to talk about comics.

“Precious” (as I will refer to said student) apparently let his father know that his “libtard” instructor was going to be talking about white privilege and cultural diversity during the semester. He is absolutely correct.

As a writing instructor, I keep my students grounded with current sociopolitical events in order to give them rich material with which to work. It gives them the opportunity to see problems happening, research them, form conclusions about them and, most of all, it gives them something accessible to write about.

The short of it is that the parent found me on Twitter — not a hard thing to do — then immediately went full throttle into the indoctrination spiel. My initial reaction was confusion. Huh? I was talking about reading comics, damn it!

Nevertheless, the attack was in motion and immediately the parent felt the need to subtweet (what happens when someone talks about you but doesn’t tag you in the tweet) me to Drudge and Breitbart. Ugh, I think a liberal college professor isn’t that interesting. I’m not a unicorn.

I addressed his concerns as politely as I could and as straight forward as necessary. Protocol is that we don’t address parents about a student because of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Thankfully, he never revealed Precious’ name. So Precious remains a mystery.

As the conversation droned on, the parent revealed that his anger was not so much that I was indoctrinating his child but that his own personal school experiences had left him with a negative view of how a student is allowed to respond in a “liberal” classroom.

I’m seriously not concerned if a student adopts my ideology. I’m just trying to make sure that whatever ideas they form, students are fully equipped to argue and defend them in clear, logical and persuasive ways. My goals are rhetorical, not diabolical. Not really. Sure, if I see the spark of interest in a student when I present the class with material, I’m more than happy to foster that with enthusiasm.

The reality is that I teach at a Southern Indiana school and often my students are not “like” me. I’m fine with that. We’re human, we live in America and show up in the same space two days a week. There is common ground to be found. I use that common ground to form working relationships with students and, regardless of political proclivities, it is a formula that seems to work repeatedly. 

My takeaway from this encounter is that, despite the iffy beginning and troll-like behavior, I think I found that same common ground with this parent. He has his beliefs. I certainly have mine and will conduct my classroom as I see fit. The thing we share is that at the root of his concern is fairness. Fairness keeps me coming back to the classroom. Not every kid is a writer but all of us have ideas about how we want to live. Learning to express those in writing is an incredible gift. How privileged students are and how much fairer life is when we have a voice.

We sit on opposite sides of a political spectrum and often in American that means that we’ll never hear what the other person needs. This dad needs his kid to have a voice. Even in my liberal classroom. I wholeheartedly agree with him.