Attacking and blaming teachers, unions, and the state of schools is a popular tactic by many “school reformers” (see Did You Know That THE Key To Saving American Education Is Firing Bad Teachers? and The Media’s War On Teachers).
It’s also been a very effective tactic.
Obviously, many of our schools are facing real challenges, but, if you consider all the schools in the United States, a relatively small percentage are the basket cases that reformers make a large number of them out to be. And research tends to back-up much more positive approaches to improving schools.
So why are they so effective?
This study might have a partial answer to that question. Researchers found “that negative instances tend to be more influential than comparably positive ones.” In other words, we all tend to have a bias towards believing negative things as opposed to positive news.
In addition to being aware of this in the political arena, this bias is probably important for us teachers to remember in the classroom, too. It wouldn’t surprise me if this bias holds true for our students when they hear us talk about them and to them, and to parents when we talk about their kids. It’s a reminder to try to always outweigh our negative messages with positive ones.
I think this makes a great point about students and young people. But it glosses over the distinction many of us make between poor leadership in teacher’s unions and teachers. Sadly, CTA and other ‘leadershp” has drawn a big target on teacher’s backs by putting losing issues in the center of its agenda (2 year to tenure, last hired first hired, pay raises over class size, etc.). This has made it easy for sloppy “reformers” to take the bulk of the debate away from sincere reformers. Those of us who want to reform and RENEW public education throught the lens of what is best for students and their parents/families have been squeezed out by CTA on one side and “Waiting for Superman” ideologues on the other.
I don’t think there’s any question that, over the years, teachers unions have made some strategic errors. However, in a fight where many on one side are clearly moving to privatize one of the key institutions in our democracy, and using attacks on teachers as a tactic to further a much broader political agenda unhelpful to children, I’m not convinced of the wisdom of being in the “middle.” Being a critical ally of teachers unions would make much more sense to me.
I love your blog and agree with most of what you say, but consider those who try to help move schools forward and provide progressive teachers with the tools they need to be successful and are being thwarted at every turn due to every new introduction being called a “change in working conditions.” Even in an effort to get folks involved, this adversarial relationship is difficult. If everyone feels like they are the expert on what’s best for kids, this makes a mission difficult, don’t you think?
I’m in agreement with you, Patrick. It ain’t easy…