Mention a salary increase for teachers and you’d think a bunch of greedy moneygrubbers were forcing Scrooge McDuck to open his money bin for ransacking.
The public doesn’t get angry with the BCGEU, or CUPE or nurses, at contract time or any other time, regardless of how spirited contract negotiations become.
So why do we spew anger, almost hatred, for the “B.C.T.F.” when teacher contracts come up?
Firefighters and police quietly negotiate contracts that beat the cost of living without much fanfare each year. Regardless of the size of the salary increase, we accept it without ado.
We never feel the need to tell firefighters that the public is their boss. We don’t feel the public purse threatened when nurses ask for a raise.
Why does discussion of teacher’s job and working conditions make us respond so viscerally, so angrily, as if someone had let the words “ fast ferries” slip?
Under normal circumstances, one would think teachers had a fairly good case this time.
They had taken an extra “0” compared with other public sector workers. Statistics showed a clear erosion of both teacher’s salaries and funding for education.
And they had two court rulings instructing the government to restore language and funding stripped from education in 2002 and fining them for not bargaining in good faith.
They had a strong case, one would think they would have enjoyed significant public support in their negotiations.
But the teachers case didn’t make it to the consciousness of most British Columbians.
Tired of seemingly endless squabbles between teachers and government, many chose to vilify teachers, or at least the “B.C.T.F.” which has become the whipping boy in the dispute.
It’s All About Aggregate Experience
People judge groups of people based on the aggregate of their experiences with that group
Who hates firefighters, their union, or anything about them? No one. You’d be crazy to.
We know some firefighters were accused of treating female recruits badly. Many moonlight at other jobs, and some drink too much and go to strip clubs. But this anecdotal information is water off a duck’s back to us, as it should be.
Such anecdotes don’t bother us because our aggregate experience with firefighters though limited is positive. They put out fires, wear uniforms, collect money for muscular dystrophy and attend community events being helpful and friendly or flipping pancakes at pancake breakfasts.
Our aggregate experience with firefighters outweighs any “bad” things we may hear about individual firefighters. We thus accept that they know their job and are doing it. So when Delta firefighters get an eye-opening raise, we say – OK, they deserve it.
And firefighter performance is easily measured. Building on fire, fire out; – success. Cat in tree; cat out – ah job done. Community activity; firefighters present – good.
The point is not that firefighters don’t deserve public appreciation, or salary increases, they certainly do. The point is that the occupation is impossible to criticize; not because all firefighters are wonderful but because our aggregate experience with them is unavoidably and overwhelmingly positive.
The same is true of police. Their performance is easily measurable; bad guy caught, in slammer – job done. There is occasional criticism of police being over zealous or bullying, but the aggregate of our experience with police is that they risk their lives and help keep us safe. Negative anecdotes about cops don’t outweigh our positive aggregate experiences.
Nurses nurture. My Dad had a wonderful nurse, we liked good old nurse what’s her name when my wife gave birth. Illness cured – job done, easily measured, they deserve a raise. Don’t know much about what the job entails but I give it an 8 – I like the beat.
On the other side of the coin, we don’t like lawyers because our aggregate experience with them is negative. We often don’t know what lawyers are talking about – they talk in language with which we are not quite familiar and often make us feel inadequate.
Lawyers seem to make piles of money for doing even the smallest thing, which we suspect their secretaries actually do for them in five minutes.
So any negative anecdotes we hear about lawyers aren’t overlooked but rather are accepted, intensifying our already jaded view of them.
I realize this is an extremely simple and unfair characterization of lawyers, but people’s low opinion of lawyers, right or wrong, is based on their aggregate experience with them regardless of how limited that experience is.
So what about teachers?
Those who work in schools generally have a positive aggregate of experience with schools. They have seen enough of the positive things that go on in schools. This allows them to discount anecdotal school horror stories as anomalies rather than rule.
But what is most people’s aggregate experience with teachers?
First, we all went school for 13 years so we all know all about school and teachers. We all had difficulties, and we remember the crabby teacher(s) who were bossy, or embarrassed us. Teachers corrected us, often ineffectively. We were young and our perceptions were intense, magnified by youthful insecurities.
We left school with some residual resentment, and we went about our business, got a taste of a competitive world. Our aggregate perceptions of school and teachers were those of a child transferred to our adult minds.
Then we had our own children and they went to school, and don’t you know, they had similar difficulties in school, sometimes coming home in tears, experiencing an intransigent teacher who seemed to make little attempt to appreciate that special thing about our child. Our hearts bled for our child and our almost forgotten frustrations bubble up.
As parents, when we did go to our child’s school, we saw some teachers yell at kids. We saw rules and subjugation, just like we experienced.
And we saw other children behaving badly and seemingly not being disciplined.
We saw meaningless reams of homework, we saw our child excluded from a group or activity and felt our expressed concerns glossed over.
The only time we heard from the school was when our child was in trouble. We often felt our parenting was being questioned and that we were supposed to fix a problem that it seemed to us wasn’t our child’s fault.
As parents. we saw needy children that couldn’t read or write, even by high school, and we couldn’t help feeling that school is less rigorous that it was when we were in school, not realizing that when we were in school there were likely just as many non readers as there are now, we were just too young and self consumed to notice.
We bore these frustrations, hoping that our child would benefit from the overall experience of school.
So when contractual bickering continued year after year, our aggregate experience with teachers left many of us predisposed to reject teacher’s demands.
And with all that, apparently success in teaching and learning can’t be accurately measured. We saw teachers continually resist standardized accountability measures. This was frustrating, especially when we remembered some of our teachers who we thought sub standard and yet seem to enjoy invulnerable tenure.
We saw teachers go on strike no matter who the government was.
There seemed no way of getting rid of ineffective teachers and we blamed the union for protecting them and insisting they get a raise.
In short, most of us haven’t had enough positive experiences with schools and teachers to overwhelm our personal experiences and anecdotal stories about them.
Once our negative experiences with a group outweigh our positive experiences, we add each negative remark to the quiver of arrows we shoot at them; in line at the supermarket or online on Twitter.
If our aggregate experience with teachers is negative, why is it that the “B.C.T.F.” get almost all the criticism and anger rather than “teachers”? After all they represent teachers don’t they? Why do we hurl invectives at the “B.C.T.F.” rather than at “teachers”?
Again, it’s aggregate experience. Although our aggregate experience with teachers may be negative, our perceptions have all been somewhat inoculated. We all know hard working and caring teachers who are difficult to criticize.
But our aggregate experience with the B.C.T.F. the negotiating arm of the teachers,is and can be totally negative. So we vilify the scapegoat B.C.T.F. without having to criticize individual teachers.
We get angry that the “B.C.T.F.” perennially disagrees with almost everything their employer offers and their negotiations with government always end in back to work legislation or job action. We hate that they always seem to complain about underfunding and working conditions, year after year.
We hear from the media about how “militant” the B.C.T.F. is, how they can’t negotiate with any government and how they don’t like resource development or BC Liberals, and how they use children as pawns for their own greedy purposes.
We absorb each negative slight heaped on the “B.C.T.F.” because our aggregate experience with schools is not positive enough to allow us to analyze criticisms through a prism of respect as we might for a firefighter, nurse, or cop.
And we can focus our anger on the B.C.T.F. without having to hate good old Mrs. Switz at the local school, who we know to be kind, caring and hard working.
Government representatives speak rhapsodically about teachers and harshly about the unreasonable B.C.T.F., simultaneously providing a scapegoat for B.C.’s education woes and deflecting attention from demonstrable education underfunding and Supreme Court censure.
The media, who have long ago forgotten about bargaining issues, find it easier and more sexy to pile on the B.C.T.F., the lightning rod for our frustration with the discord in our education system.
And so now the vilification of the B.C.T.F is a universal sport. Educational issues are forgotten and instead, we spend our time discussing the shortcomings of the B.C.T.F., it’s leaders and its strategies.
Even some teachers, all of whom know the system has been serially and dangerously underfunded, have been unable to stay off the B.C.T.F, bashing bandwagon in a futile attempt to stem the tide of public anger towards teachers.
Why are we so angry with the B.C.T.F.?
We are slaves to our aggregate experience.
And we mistakenly think our aggregate experience with schools, born of personal youthful memories and snippets of stressful times in our child’s development, are sufficient data for us to effectively judge the efficacy of teachers and schools.