Steve & Mark – The World Cup and Teachers

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Steve and Mark begin by talking about the upcoming World Cup of Soccer and then quickly digress onto the subject of a recent announcement of a Canadian teacher’s union.

Mark: Hi everyone.

Welcome to another installment of the EnglishLingQ podcast. Mark here with Steve.

Steve: Hello. It’s a soggy, dark, afternoon here in Vancouver.

Mark: Yeah, but I think it’s not raining quite as hard as it was half an hour ago, so.

Steve: Yeah, but you can’t see the sky. Anyway…

Mark: Summer weather.

Steve: Summer weather. What, 15 degrees and wet?

Mark: Aha.

Steve: Okay. What should we talk about today?

Mark: Well, there’s a few things.

I know you have one issue in particular that you’re kind of hot to trot on, but one other thing I was thinking, of course, is the World Cup of Soccer that starts tomorrow.

Steve: Right.

Mark: And, of course, the Stanley Cup Finals which ended yesterday, which is a big deal in Canada.

Steve: It’s a big deal locally. There is not of such great interest…

Mark: However, it’s a big deal here.

Steve: Yeah.

Mark: The Chicago Blackhawks won last night, they beat the Philadelphia Flyers.

So, presumably, it’s a big deal in Chicago too and Philadelphia.

Steve: You know I saw on the boards there was an ad for Lukoil.

Isn’t that a Russian oil company?

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: So maybe the Russians were watching that game.

Mark: I’m sure there’s a lot of people that were at least aware that it was on and watching it.

It’s not like it’s a non event, but it certainly pales in comparison to the World Cup of Soccer.

Steve: Well, I think the World Cup of Soccer is a tremendous event, because it is truly international. And unlike…

Mark: I beg to differ.

Steve: Okay.

Mark: It doesn’t take into account the lack of ability of the Canadian Soccer Team to make it there.

Steve: Alright. Canada happens to be pretty inept when it comes to soccer, but the United States are there and they even consider themselves contenders.

Mark: That’s true.

Steve: So, North America, South America, Asia, Africa, Middle East, Europe, you know, it’s pretty international.

I think it’s great that they’re playing it in South Africa and it’s just very international.

I mean North Africa has, excuse me, North Korea has a team.

Mark: Yeah. No, no, I mean it is. It’s amazing.

Steve: And North Korea, they’re the only people who are properly fed, aside from the leadership there, but they devote all kinds of resources to having a strong soccer team.

Mark: Right.

Steve: So, no, I think it’s a great and I hope, as I’m sure will happen, that the whole program in South Africa will come off well and that’s great.

It would be fun to see an African team win.

Mark: Yeah. I mean I’m looking forward to it.

I must say, I don’t watch soccer, normally, but every four years the World Cup.

I think it’s a great event.

It’s just fun.

It’s fun to see all the different countries, as you say, playing.

You start out with however many there are, I don’t even know, is it 30 teams?

Steve: It’s got to be 32. It’s got to be a divisible-by-four number.

Mark: Something like that and then they gradually whittle down to the finals. It’s great.

It’s like a month’s worth of soccer, isn’t it?

Steve: It’s a month, yeah.

Mark: Yeah. I mean I always watch it and it’s too bad that, as I said, Canada can’t make it.

Steve: Canada is not very competitive, no.

Mark: Actually, they made it once.

Steve: One year.

Mark: Didn’t manage to score a goal.

Steve: No.

Mark: What’s amazing is that, you know, not that long ago, Canada and the U.S. were kind of on par; both in it.

Steve: Right, right.

Mark: And the U.S.

has somehow managed now to become a contender; whereas, Canada is still back where it was.

Steve: Struggling, yeah.

Mark: Yeah. Obviously, if the team is more successful there’s going to be more interest.

It kind of feeds on itself.

Steve: I mean there are some interesting teams that are there.

Slovenia is there on the strength of beating Russia, which is amazing.

Slovenia is like two million people.

Mark: Right.

Steve: So…

Mark: Partly, too, you know, there’s like 20 teams from Europe and three from North and Central America or two, whatever it is.

I mean it’s a little bit skewed in favor of certain continents in terms of the countries that are participating.

Steve: Yeah, but the teams from Central and North America are not very competitive, so how many are you going to put there, you know?

Mark: Yeah, that’s true too. But how good can North Korea be?

Steve: They’re good.

Mark: How do you know?

Steve: I mean I remember I was in England in 1964 and North Korea tied Italy and beat Portugal or something.

Mark: I mean 1964.

Steve: I’m just telling you.

Mark: That’s a ways away.

Steve: And I think the North Koreans recently beat some top teams.

I mean some of the teams, I think, they’re quite competitive.

Mark: Yeah, but that’s soccer.

Steve: So what is your point?

You’re saying that there’s too many teams from Europe?

Mark: I’m just finding it a little bit hard to swallow that so few teams from our zone get to go.

Steve: Well, our zone are lousy.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s Barbados or Costa Rica, they’re lousy and Canada.

So the United States is by far the strongest.

There’s probably one other team from Central America.

Mark: Mexico is pretty good too.

Steve: Yeah, Mexico, they’re probably in there and then you’ve got South America: Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Columbia.

There’s lots of them there.

I don’t know who’s there this year, but there seems to be a good number.

Anyway, I don’t worry about it.

We don’t follow soccer.

We don’t know who should be there and who shouldn’t.

Mark: Anyway, I’m looking forward.

Steve: Right.

Mark: It should be lots of fun.

Steve: No, I wanted to talk about something.

You have some other things you wanted to talk about before I launch into my tirade here?

Mark: No, not in particular.

Steve: Alright.

Mark: So, off you go.

Steve: Well, I was reading the newspaper two days ago and there is a university in Ontario.

Ontario is the largest province in Canada, over 10 million people, and there’s a university there that decided to award an honorary degree to the former Premier (Prime Minister or Premier) of Ontario whose name is Mike Harris, because Mike Harris is from that area.

Mike Harris, in fact, himself is a former teacher and so the education faculty at this university – Nipissing University – decided to award an honorary degree to Mike Harris.

The Teachers’ Federation and a number of other teachers’ associations in Ontario publically announced — they sent a public letter — saying that if the university gives an honorary degree to Mike Harris, former Premier of Ontario, they will take retaliatory measures against the university.

And they specifically said something to the effect of “I can’t account for what our members will do, but that, probably, we will not accept student teachers from that university.”

Mark: Keeping in mind that Teachers’ Federation is just another fancy word for a union, which is what they are. It’s a union.

Steve: Well, it’s a combination of…it’s like a guild in the middle ages.

It’s an association that exists to protect the position of the members.

That’s what it is, it’s a trade union.

But the problem with the Teachers’ Federation is that they have this sense that theirs is some noble calling for the public good and every time they speak on education everyone else should listen and follow what they say.

But there is a contradiction there because they are, in fact, more motivated by their own self-interest as teachers and, even more so, their self-interest as the union representing the teachers.

They’re more interested in that than they are in the interest of the students.

The fact that the government and in the case of Mike Harris what he did was he brought in testing for teachers, which of course is a no-no for the teachers, the no-no.

The Teachers’ Association says all teachers are the same.

Mark: Right.

Steve: The good teacher, the bad teacher, there’s no difference.

All teachers are the same.

Since teachers do influence the outcome, we hope, otherwise, why have them, a good teacher has a big influence on the success of a learner and a bad teacher has a negative influence.

And so Mike Harris brought in testing of teachers and he also reduced the power of school boards and did a bunch of other stuff.

Perhaps he reduced the education budget, but whatever, that was his policy.

And for them now, 15 years after the fact, to say that if this university gives an honorary degree to Mike Harris that they will boycott student teachers from that university is absolutely extraordinary.

Mark: I mean it’s just blackmail, but not surprising.

That’s par for the course.

I mean the teachers’ unions are among the most militant.

I mean any public sector union, for that matter.

Steve: And the thing is that when I follow this, I read a book on education in the United States and it said that since 1960 some odd, there has been a 300% increase after inflation in spending on education.

So that as a society, the United States spends three times as much after inflation on education; three times as much as they did before — 40 years ago – and, yet, education standards are not going up.

And, in fact, it also pointed out in the book or maybe I saw it somewhere else, the incarceration rate in the United States since 1970 has gone up 700%.

But one of the arguments in favor of public education is that it brings about sort of a greater equality in the society and gives everyone a chance to get educated and fulfill their potential and so forth and so on.

We have tripled the amount of money on public education and we’ve got seven times more people in jail in the United States.

Mark: I mean there’s no correlation there, but I guess you’re just pointing that out.

Steve: No, but there should be. There should be.

If you’re spending three times more on education there should be some results.

Mark: Well, yeah, but I don’t think your results should be judged by the number of people that are in correctional institutions.

Steve: I’ll tell you exactly why there’s a correlation.

Because a high percentage of people who are in correctional institutions in the United States and I assume elsewhere — in Canada — are people who have trouble reading.

Mark: Right.

Steve: In other words, there’s a direct relationship between effective literacy…

Mark: Right, but there could be other causes for that.

I mean, yeah, it’s possible.

It sounds like a good hypothesis, but there could be other causes.

Steve: Let’s put it this way, it has no impact.

Mark: Right.

Steve: Like one of the things that teachers always say is spend more money on education, it’s a good investment; otherwise, you’ll be spending it on prisons. No. We spend three times as much on education and we’re spending seven times as much on prisons.

Mark: Well, it certainly hasn’t reduced the cost of prisons.

Steve: It hasn’t reduced and the number of kids graduating from schools in the United States, again on these statistics, who have trouble reading has not changed and the number of kids who have practically no knowledge of history and geography on all these tests has not changed.

Mark: I mean, I must say, it doesn’t surprise me to hear that.

Yeah, I mean you hear the teachers’ unions, their big thrust all the time is smaller class sizes, which just means more teachers, of course; more union members, more jobs for their members.

You know, I know we’ve obviously had the experience whenever we approach anybody in the teaching establishment to look at what we’re doing that the top most in their minds is not necessarily what’s good for the learner.

Steve: No.

Mark: That’s down the list.

Steve: Well, you mentioned class size.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: There is no research to show that whether you have 22 kids in a class or 28 kids in a class or 32 kids in class that there’s much difference in outcomes, but there is research to show that good teachers, that’s the most important influence.

But every effort to improve the quality of teachers by weeding out the poor teachers is resisted and what the teachers like to say is no, we need more credentialing, tougher credentials, more training.

If the person is a poor teacher, you can give them all the training you want, give them three more levels of credentials, he remains, or she, a poor teacher.

And apparently there’s research to show that the most effective teachers are the ones who have good verbal skills.

That’s what you need to measure.

People who can talk with enthusiasm, who can create enthusiasm, who have good communication, verbal skills, that’s seems to be the most significant factor.

Mark: Well, I mean, I think that sounds like it would be a significant factor. We don’t know, necessarily.

Steve: I have to tell you, there’s research that says that.

Mark: Right.

But one thing that’s for sure is that in most other fields those people that are good at what they’re doing are promoted, are hired, are paid more and those who are not good at what they’re doing move on to do other things and maybe there are other things they are better at doing, so why should teaching be any different.

I mean the benefit of having a system like that is that you get better results.

So if the teaching system was more like that and the better teachers were rewarded and sought after and identified then the results would be better.

I mean I have no doubt that’s true but, unfortunately, at least in Canada and it sounds like the U.S.

is the same and I would imagine in most countries it’s probably fairly similar, the people that run education are not focused, actually, on doing what’s best for their customers.

They’re focused on protecting their patch.

Steve: Well, to be fair, there are undoubtedly teachers who don’t like the way the teachers’ union operates and I’m sure there’s lots of teachers in Ontario who are appalled that the teachers’ union would try to blackmail and boycott, you know, two generations after the fact, student teachers.

Mark: Right.

Steve: I mean it’s just absolutely extraordinary that they would have the gall to say that.

Mark: Right.

Steve: But the fact remains that public sector unions have too much power.

We know that in Canada for the same job, electrician, plumber, clerk, you name it, a public sector employee earns 40% more.

Once we factor in the pension and benefits, 40% more than a private sector employee for the same job and that is part of why we have such a huge problem with public debt in countries where they have allowed the public sector…this is like the Court of Louis IVX in Versailles.

I mean this is the burden that modern societies, the monsters that they have created.

I really believe this.

Mark: And, what’s more, the public sector employees, quite often, don’t work as hard as the private sector employees in terms of hours or benefits or whatever the case may be.

Steve: Yeah.

Mark: Leaving that aside, I don’t blame those employees.

I mean that’s natural, human.

That’s how people react when you’re in a situation like that.

I mean you’re in that union environment, it’s all about getting the most for us and once you’ve got something you’re not about to give it back and you feel entitled.

I mean that’s just normal, human behavior and, somehow, it’s kind of spiraling out of control in a lot of countries.

Steve: Absolutely.

Mark: I mean we see it in spades, obviously in Greece and Spain, I guess, to a lesser extent.

I mean Greece, their country is practically bankrupt and they’re out there protesting a pay cut.

Steve: And that’s not to say the public sector workers work less.

I’m sure there’s lot of lazy people in the private sector.

But there was a program on television where they interviewed some private sector nurses in Greece and they compared their situation with the public sector nurses.

And the private sector nurses worked three times as hard for half the money and retired at, whatever, 65 and the public sector nurses were so heavily overstaffed they were sitting around wondering what to do and they got paid more.

But one thing I wanted to mention and that is you said something about, you know, the…what was it?

I can’t remember.

Because I was listening again to my favorite Russian radio station and they were talking about the need for industry in Russia to basically meet the needs of their consumers and to stop worrying so much about catering to the needs or trying to curry favor with the bureaucrats.

Because there the government has such a dominant position in business that business is more motivated to try and get a special tariff or a special subsidy or a special break or a special, you know, law or whatever.

They spend most of their time trying to curry favor with the bureaucrats rather than producing better products to satisfy the consumer and I think the education system is a bit like that here.

Rather than, you know, coming up with better ways of educating children, they’re looking at ways of how they can secure a stranglehold on public money.

Anyway, I think I’ve kind of beaten the subject to death.

Mark: I think we probably have.

Steve: We’ll probably have some public sector employees that are going to come and criticize us but, hey, we want to have a divergence of views.

And I think the fundamental problem with the Ontario Teachers’ Federation…the issue is not that they disagree with Mike Harris.

They’re entitled to disagree with Mike Harris and every one of them is entitled to disagree with me.

We don’t have to agree, but they have a right to their opinion and I cannot penalize their children because of their parents’ opinion.

That’s the thing that most of all bothers me in the position that they took.

Mark: Right. Well, you heard it here.

Steve: I feel very strongly on the subject.

Mark: Alright.

Steve: Alright.

Mark: If you have anything to add to this discussion, please let us know; otherwise, we’ll catch up with you again next time.

Steve: Alright, bye for now.

Mark: Bye-bye.

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