Yesterday I walked out in the middle of someone’s conference session. In the scale of events that is hardly significant in any way, so don’t hold the front page (!) but as a serial conference goer and presenter it has been worrying me for the last 24 hours – and since I tweeted the anger that caused me to do this it seems only right to muse on why it happened.
This was the situation: Marc Prensky (who describes himself in his bio data as ‘an internationally acclaimed speaker, writer,, futurist, visionary and inventor in the critical areas of education and learning’) was on stage sitting there with four students (aged 15-16) and their teacher. The conference was the 2010 ABCI conference. ABCI is the Brazilian association of Cultura Institutes of which there are many all over this wonderful country (there are Cultura institutes all over Latin America). Marc Prensky (he’s the guy who invented the digital native/immigrant duality), the teacher and the students, were in front of 700 teachers, all of whom work at one of the Culturas in Brazil.
Prensky questioned the students hoping they would prove his point that all teenagers are wired into a new kind of digital world. It was nice to hear these children (all of whom study at a Cultura here) talk in their excellent English, though it was difficult to see who or what they were representative of. They were , after all, just four teenagers. They didn’t give him much of what he wanted, I suspect, though they were obviously IT literate, but that’s another matter. The whole thing made me feel mildly uneasy. But they seemed like nice kids.
At one point he asked the students what they liked best about being Cultura students and one of them said it was the e-board (he was probably very pleased about that). And then he said ‘so what are the things you don’t like so much about the Culturas? What would you like to do differently? What are the negative things? Come on! This is your chance to give good feedback to all these people’. Four teenagers asked, encouraged, in public, to criticise the 700 adults sitting in front of them. I was not sure I had heard it correctly. But I had.
My response? No one who has any dealings with teenagers in an educational field should or could ask such a question in such a forum. It was, it seems to me, grotesque in what he was asking the kids to do. It made me mad. I was about to voice my protest. Stand up and heckle. Luckily, however, wisdom suggested otherwise. I walked out and tweeted furiously instead. It’s only the second time I’ve done that in quite a long time. Walk out I mean (and I do try, normally, not be a negative tweeter). The last time was when a very famous plenarist spoke with such a lack of engagement and with such an obvious disdain for the act of presenting and his audience that I slipped out of the door I was next to rather than let my anger show.
Why is it worth talking about this? Apart from my angry tweet nobody (least of all Marc Prensky), noticed.
Or did he? I did a plenary here this morning. The same 700 teachers were there. One guy walked out half way through (was he angry with me?) and I noticed. Wim Wenders once made a film called ‘The goalkeeper’s fear of the penalty’. Perhaps there should be a movie called ‘The presenter’s fear of people walking out’.
It’s because (as a speaker) you ALWAYS notice when people walk out in your talks that I try never to do it myself when I am in an audience. I am not (I tell myself sanctimoniously) like one ELT author at this conference who often just gets up and leaves when he finds the speaker boring. At least I don’t think I am. I can’t be 100% certain.
But what about you? Do you think I was right to walk out? Do you walk out of talks? If so how does it feel, and what is the kind of thing that makes you vote with your feet? I’d love to know.