Are Teachers Scorned? Much Less Than Reporters

“Teachers Wonder, Why the Heapings of Scorn?” is the headline of a front-page New York Times piece today (3/3/11). The article by Trip Gabriel reports, “Education experts say teachers have rarely been the targets of such scorn from politicians and voters.”

Politicians, sure, but what’s the evidence that voters–i.e., the public–have been heaping scorn on teachers? Gabriel offers nothing to substantiate this claim other than references to “online comments and placards of counterdemonstrators”–quoting blog commenters as evidence of the national mood has got to stop, guys–and the assertion that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s teacher-bashing has made him a “national star.” (I can’t find any national polling on Christie, which in itself calls into question how much of a national star he is, but his poll numbers in his own state are unremarkably average.)

Apparently it’s hard to find evidence of this anti-teacher wave because it’s already receding. In the 14th paragraph, Gabriel writes:

There are signs of a backlash in favor of teachers. A New York Times poll taken last week found that by nearly two to one–60 to 33 percent–Americans opposed restricting collective bargaining for public employees. A similar majority–including more than half of Republicans–said the salaries and benefits of most public employees were “about right” or “too low.”

Is that a “backlash in favor of teachers,” though, or is that the way people have felt about teachers all along?

And those polls probably understate the support for teachers, since they’re more popular than “public employees” in general. When CBS asked last year (1/6-10/10) about public school teachers’ salaries, fully 66 percent said they were paid “too little”–while only 4 percent said they were paid “too much.” And this is a long-held public attitude; when Gallup (8/24-26/99) asked in 1999 about public teacher salaries, 56 percent thought they were too low and 7 percent too high.

The New York Times piece is not unsympathetic to teachers, but by buying into the notion that there is a wave of anti-teacher sentiment sweeping the public, it only emboldens teacher-scapegoating politicians. The next time a journalist wants to write a piece about the scorn heaped on teachers, they might take a look at a Gallup poll (11/19-21/10) that asked how people viewed the “honesty and ethical standards” of various professions. Elementary school teachers’ ethics were rated “very high” or “high” by 67 percent; for newspaper reporters, it’s 22 percent.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.