I hate that phrase.
It’s insulting, condescending, dismissive, and arrogant all at the same time. Sadly, it’s also something I hear all too often these days.
Back in the WordPress 3.0 days, we introduced a function to WordPress that always forces the P to be capitalized. I felt then, as I do now, that this was an unnecessary change to core and, frankly, it became a huge distraction to many in the community.
Many who, like me, didn’t like the function opened numerous tickets on Trac pushing for its removal. They felt it didn’t belong in core. They felt its inclusion in core without discussion was curtailing established collaboration practices for a pet bug of one person. They felt they weren’t being listened to.
They were right.
At the highest point of the debate on the WP Hackers mailing list the patch’s author, Matt Mullenweg, stated unequivocally that the change was here to stay and we needed to move on:
If you don’t like the filter, vote with your feet or with a plugin. 1
This statement singlehandedly had me debating leaving the WordPress community. Not because I disagreed with Matt on the nature of the patch, but because I utterly despised his attitude towards the discussion about it. 2
I’ve been taking courses lately through Coursera, and absolutely love the platform. I can learn at my own pace, fifteen minutes at a time, and collaborate with learners the world over while I tackle new concepts. The grading scheme is fairly interactive, and I learn just as much from making mistakes while working through material as I do listening to lectures and completing course assignments.
Until a very recent change, that is.
I’ve pre-paid for a 5-course specialization track, and I’m now working on 2 separate courses concurrently, having already knocked one course out of the park. The first course allowed multiple attempts on the weekly quizzes, which helped reinforce which topics I really needed to study – get an answer wrong, go back and revisit the material.
Course #2 started out the same way … then inexplicably changed its grading policy after the first week. Now, in addition to having fewer attempts at each weekly quiz, we’re only presented with a raw score after completion. If we get an answer wrong (or partly wrong), there is no way to know which question(s) we got wrong until later in the course after that particular segment has been completed.
When the change hit, it was a bit shocking. We’re studying security, but some of the questions delve deep into variable typing in C – something most of us understand on the surface, but something that’s also very difficult when grilled on C internals. Several students complained, and the instructor finally responded.
Apparently, the sudden change was because the more lenient show-your-marks-immediately policy had been a mistake, and he’d always intended to keep individual question scores private until after the grading deadline. This doesn’t line up with other Coursera quizzes, though, nor does it match the first course in the 5-course specialization. Again, students complained. Again, the instructor responded:
If you disagree with this point of view, of course you are welcome to not take the course.
Boom. Discussion shut down. Illusion that students could actually voice concerns with the course instructor shattered. Faith in the fact that Coursera maintains any sort of consistency between course offerings destroyed.
Vote with your feet
The moment you tell someone they’re free to leave, you’re telling them you’ve mentally checked out. The fact that you feel you have a right to dismiss the conversation in the first place shows your importance in that very conversation. That you’ve kicked dissension and free discussion out the door reveals the absolute arrogance you enjoy in your position.
Project leads telling anyone who dislikes their decision to “vote with your feet” is stating your word is law and the only way to change your mind is to … go elsewhere.
Professors telling students who disagree with sudden mid-program changes to grading policies that they’re welcome to drop the class is positioning yourself above any sort of reproach or repercussion for acting out of character.
In both situations, it’s a gross abuse of power and authority.
Thus far, I’ve always found myself on the receiving end of these statements. I pray I never see myself on the other side of the non-discussion.
- Putting the P in WordPress ↩
- If you haven’t noticed, I’m still here. Matt and I don’t have to agree on everything in order to work together on an awesome project – WordPress. Sometimes he’s right where I’m wrong, other times I’m right where he’s wrong. It’s an open conversation, inclusive of hundreds of developers. We work through disagreement frequently and have long since moved past this particular argument. I bring it up here only for context. ↩