I’m giving you positive feedback, you idiots.

When I posted my last message, I had, without realising it, posted 20 messages. WordPress gives you positive visual reinforcement when you hit certain milestones, which many of you will know. You also get little quotes along the way. Here is an example of what I would consider to be questionable positive feedback.

A quote from Truman Capote "That isn't writing at all, it's typing", accompanying the 'reward' message for reaching 20 posts.

Look at all of the positive imagery there: “Goal completed”, “Congratulations”, a big green line that is completed and a gold star!

And then look at the quote. For those who don’t know, that was Capote’s response to Kerouac’s production of “On The Road”, which was written up in a very short time on a giant roll of paper that Kerouac assembled so that he could just keep typing without having to change paper. Now, I know this quote and I’ve even embraced this quote for my personal (art/writing) blog which has the title “This Is Not Art, This Is Typing”. I’ve embraced it for projects such as NaNoWriDay – 50,000 words in 24 hours, which I did for charity. I’m (strangely) proud of my ability to write quickly.

But this response took the wind out of my sails a bit. I’d been mostly ignoring the ‘goal’ messages because I schedule my posts for publication, rather than hitting publish immediately, and this means that I haven’t seen one for a while. I happened to hit the update and got this – my initial thought of “wow, 20 posts, I’m sticking to my plan” was a nice bit of positive reinforcement.

But what is that quote doing there? The automated system has counted my posts and thinks this is the best thing that should come up? Is it a joke? Is it supposed to be a gentle ribbing or something?

I pretty much write for a living. I’m used to people criticising my work. I guarantee you that someone is going to be ruder than this to me today – and it will be personal, rather than just randomly allocated. Imagine what happened if someone had spent a year pouring their heart out into their blog and, on post 20, *ding* well, ok, 20 posts, but, just so you know, it was all just typing.

Now my point here is not that I’m under psychic assault but it is a fantastic example of how, with the best intentions, one careless piece of assembly can completely undermine everything that you’ve tried to achieve with well-designed courseware and attractive, positive messages.

I would suggest that the Capote quote should never show up on WordPress. To be frank, the quote has never really contributed anything anyway – just another Capote quote, somewhat clever, very snide, generally nasty. It’s the kind of thing people say when they want to diminish the value of what you’ve done. In the education business, we do not get paid to make people feel bad about how much smarter we are than they.

Sadly, too many educators still take that path. We’re dealing with forming minds – intellectual embryos – we have to choose our words carefully, our materials even more carefully and always be aware that accidental juxtaposition risks being seen as deliberate when people are sensitive or looking for reasons to doubt themselves.

This quote, which I know and I’ve integrated into other places, in this context, made me question the value of what I’m doing here. It’s a valuable reminder of the power of reinforcement and feedback – positive and negative.



Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s