The unanswerable question – what IS ‘educational’?

by Sayraphim on February 4, 2020

So this one is a big ‘un. What actually is ‘educational’? I’ve been talking about this phd for about a year now, and before that I’ve been talking about educational content on youtube for years. And I’ve been thinking about it in curriculum terms – science, english, maths, humanities etc – and I’ve been thinking about it in terms of learning skills – knitting, fixing your car or your plumbing etc – and I’ve been happy with that. But talking to Zoe Glatt @zoeglatt a while ago, she challenged me on my preconceived idea. Why was I thinking about ‘educational’ just as curriculum?

Zoe mentioned channels like Contrapoints ([Contrapoints] channel is seen to counter right-wing political argumentation and has been considered influential in the left-wing YouTube video essay sub-genre. Her videos are noted for their use of intricately designed sets and costumes and for her ironic humor who teaches about feminism, gender and political issues.

I find Contrapoints problematic in her regular referencing of Anita Sarkeesian as some kind of devil. Although on the fandom it is rationalised as:

The Dark Mother is used to parody biological essentialism, being a mysterious, all-powerful feminine force that TERFs worship.
The Dark Mother is portrayed by a photo of Anita Sarkeesian. This satirises the obsessive hatred towards Sarkeesian in right-wing circles.

to me it’s still just bullying, and of someone who has already copped more than her fair share through Gamergate.

However, I digress.

What is Educational?

So I keep coming back to this. What exactly counts as educational? Even if I’m just going by curriculum, there’s more to curriculum than just science and arts. Even in prep here in Victoria (aka Kindergarten in other states) there is:

  • Critical and Creative Thinking
  • Design and Technologies 
  • Digital Technologies 
  • Ethical Capability 
  • Intercultural Capability 
  • Personal and Social Capability

alongside maths, english, dance and arts.

Journalist Chris Stokel-Walker writes about technology and social media with a special focus on youtube. In a recent article in the Guardian, he talks about educational youtube specifically. It’s a great article and I’ll look at it in more detail at a later date, but there’s one bit that specifically caught my attention the other day in regards to this topic…

A challenge for viewers can be figuring out which videos are genuinely educational and which are hate speech or conspiracy packaged up as respectable content. Clark’s videos about the climate emergency (the subject of his PhD in theoretical atmospheric physics at Exeter) compete for views against those of climate change deniers who profess to be fellow EduTubers.

YouTube has heavily promoted its educational content, and last year announced £15m worth of investment in grants for creators providing high-quality output. But social media – YouTube included – often fails to identify problematic content. Stefan Molyneux, for instance, is a far-right nationalist YouTuber with nearly a million subscribers who claims that black people are genetically inferior. While PayPal has suspended his account, through which he received donations for his videos and podcast, YouTube is yet to do the same.

Likewise, a raft of purportedly educational documentaries peddle conspiracy theories about crucial historical events on YouTube, such as PragerU, which promotes highly conservative educational videos around race and gender under the guise of being educational.

So at first this made  me think about right-wing educational tools. The right wing put out a bunch of pamphlets, press releases, interviews, videos focused on their way of thinking. Like Chris says, you only have to search ‘climate change’ on youtube to find some pretty extraordinary views. But thinking about that last paragraph, he’s also talking about resources that purport to be unbiased while having a subtle or distinct lean to the right. Those sneaky resources aside, right wing and/or conservative and/or religious resources are also attempting to educate people on their point of view. While I am absolutely a leftie, I cannot deny that those resources also fall under the ‘educational’ banner. 

So is ‘educational’ anything that teaches? But then if as a kid I played with a knife, cut myself and thus never played with knives again, can knives be considered educational? Or was it just that moment was educational? 

A few years ago I had a discussion on the topic of ‘what is an educational youtube video’ with Kelli my supervisor and awesome edutuber Jade from Miss KokoLib. Luckily, we filmed it:

There’s a really interesting discussion in the comments of that video that develops the topic further if you’re interested! 

So, the question comes down to – where am *I* going to draw the line at what is and isn’t educational for this phd? 

and the answer to that is… 


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