Monthly Archives: December 2021

The Virtue Signal

I can’t quite believe that it was so long ago that I started this blog. In 2013, S was still a little boy, with little boy legs and a little boy voice. Now, he is a man grown, if a somewhat short one. In a rush of enthusiasm, and finally getting things off my chest that had long sat there, suffocating me, I wrote post after post, two, three times a week. It was cathartic and freeing. Finally I was managing to DO something – even if it was only tapping on a keyboard that ended up broken. Looking back from tonight, tired after nearly two years in school in the middle of a pandemic (I have gone home at night, honest), I can’t quite believe I had the energy (or that level of irritation). Today, tonight, I am all but all washed up, guarding my energy carefully so that I can make it to the end of term.

And I’ve writing enjoyed it – largely. I’ve enjoyed telling my – our – story, hoping to enlighten, to change a few minds, to make a point. To give myself an outlet for a creative energy that had nowhere to go. I’ve not written much lately because that energy, the stuff I am guarding so carefully now, is, if not all used up, in need of a bit of rationing. If you’re a teacher, you’ll know. You’ll know if you, or your family members need to look after themselves in the winter. Sometimes I think about it and I feel a bit sad – because finding my tribe, readers who engaged with me, who agreed and often disagreed with me, was a joy. I even won an award for it and that was lovely – especially for someone more used to being told she was wrong than right. I wrote a book.

Not that I particularly mind criticism about this blog though. I mean, I can take it or leave it – it’s mine after all – and often it makes me think, think deeply and be better (or that’s what I hope, anyway), especially if I’ve written something in a rush. The time it got my goat though, (not the time someone told me to get in the sea – although I didn’t particularly enjoy that experience!) was when someone accused me of virtue signalling. I got cross about that.

The thing about the virtue signal, you see, is that there’s an awful lot of it about. I’ve been seeing it lately particularly in response to this Down’s Syndrome Bill (you can read the draft here) , a private members bill sponsored by Liam Fox MP. All sorts of people, including those who voted for austerity, for cuts to services to disabled people and their families and whose policies starve local authorities of the cash they need to meet their obligations properly (I could go on, but I’m going to stop because I can feel my temper rising) have posed for photos, tweeted their support, declared what good people they are because they support people with Down’s syndrome (in general, presumably, because the Bill doesn’t say much – yet).  I saw that signal the day I was shouted at in a public place for asking a few questions and having expectations of inclusion (only one person helped me and it wasn’t the ‘friend’ from church). I see it every time a connection with disability is trumpeted in order to make the trumpeter look better – and it annoyed me and it hurt me that someone was accusing me of the very same thing.

I guess it’s an understandable assumption. Many people do it. They make out they are marvellous people because look at all the charity work they do or the selfless giving (Children in Need can just get in the bin with that one) when they are anything but. It can even be a cover, because who could ever think that a person who supports people with Down’s syndrome would ever do something not nice. It’s not a new thing and I got annoyed because I don’t write this blog because I want to look good – I want my SON to look good. I love him and I put that love on show because I want people to understand something about love – not about me.

I do worry though. I do worry that my words, my thoughts, my digital footprint could be used in a way that I didn’t intend; that someone could, because THEY want to look good, hijack what I was trying to do, and twist it, turn it into something it was never intended to be. My Battle Weary post – my most read for some time – did that contribute to the bias away from inclusion that we see today? Did I contribute somehow into making out that Down’s syndrome was a special case because reasons and other people can bother about Them Others, because that’s what I write about? Will the words I wrote about the children I taught and how much they matter, will they be lost in the push for a single issue issue?

A wise man once told me that you need to be careful about how your words (in his case educational research) are taken because there are unintended consequences. You have to be very careful, he said, how you frame things, because people take it the wrong way and use what you said to justify a policy decision that is almost exactly the opposite of what you intended. Nancy, he said (well, he didn’t say Nancy, he was speaking to a room full, but you know what I mean), do your homework, don’t rush and get your communication thought through carefully before you start. 

Otherwise, YOU’LL be the virtue signal.