An interesting bit of framing occured with Dr Michael Jensen’s article about religious freedom. According to Dr Jensen, the rector at St Mark’s Anglican Church in Darling Point, religious freedom is under attack. He begins:
“Freedom of religion? It has to be written with a question mark these days, because there is no guarantee that in a Western democracy in the 21st century you will be able to exercise it.”
And what’s his reason for deciding this? Well, the “sneering derision” when people express unpopular views. You see, some people made negative comments about Tony Abbott’s decision to speak to the Alliance Defending Freedom in the USA.
In Dr Jensen’s world, one is restricting Mr Abbott’s freedom by being critical of his association with a group that are working towards preventing other people from doing anything that doesn’t fit with their religious values. See part of religious freedom is an ability to impose your religious beliefs on everyone. Unless you’re the Taliban. Then it’s just wrong.
Of course, I find it strange that Jensen asks us to accept that we should refrain from saying anything while the ADF and Mr Abbott should be free to say whatever they like. But then I would say that. It’s just that I have this strange idea that when a person does something and people disapprove, the fact that they say so, doesn’t actually restrict their “freedom”. After all, Abbott was allowed to address the group. He wasn’t jailed. He wasn’t physically assaulted. He didn’t lose his job. Turnbull even defended his right to go the USA and speak. Exactly how was his or the group’s freedom being threatened?
The irony, of course, that this is a group who want to stop same sex marriage. Yet the way Dr Jensen wrote about things, you’d think that it was the ADF that was being persecuted. Many gay people simply want to marry their partners; they’re not trying to make same sex marriage compulsory for everyone.
To sum it all up, Jensen is asserting that telling religious groups that you disapprove interferes with their right to disapprove and to tell others what to do.
You see, it’s all in the framing. Framing is when your reaction to something is affected by the way it’s “framed”. For example, a poll on a current affairs show will be greatly influenced by the story before it. Similarly, our reaction to a tax hike will differ depending on how it’s presented to us. “$4 a week, that’s barely the cost of a cup of coffee!” is much more likely than “$200 a year, you couldn’t even get an iPad for that!”
And, of course, the classic framing example of the past few years: While the carbon tax was a “great big tax on everything”, an increase in the GST is part of tax reform and we’ll all benefit!
Recently, Labor has announced their commitment to the Gonski education reforms. And while we’re spending considerably more on submarines, the Liberals are expressing concern that money spent on education is just wasted.
While I was pleased with the Labor Party’s Gonski announcement, I was also impressed with the way they were framing it. Bill Shorten’s tweet goes some way towards encouraging people to see the spending positively: “The Liberals see the education of Australia’s children as a cost. Labor sees it as an investment.”
Of course, Simon Birmingham, the Liberal Education Minister predictably told us, “Unlike the Labor Party, we won’t be tricked into thinking that just spending more money automatically improves results.”
No, of course not. The money has to be well targeted. But equally not spending money doesn’t automatically give you better value. (And strangely, private schools rarely knock back government funding on the grounds that it won’t help them improve results.)
The whole point is that well-targeted spending on education is actually a profitable investment. We all know that the countries with most basic education requrements are the poorest, yet when it comes to educating our future workers we seem to think that if we scrimp and save, that somehow that’ll be ok. From a government point of view, surely they must realise that producing more engineers, doctors, electricians and plumbers is better for future tax revenue than producing people without the education to do more than the most unqualified work.
Oh that’s right! We have a spending problem, not a revenue problem.
As Richard E. Nisbett writes in Mindware: Tools for Smart Thinking:
“For example, a few decades ago, Ireland made a concerted and highly successful effort to improve its educational system, especially at the high school, vocational school, and college levels. 1 College attendance actually increased by 50 percent over a brief period of time. 2 Within about thirty years, the per capita GDP of Ireland, which previously had IQ scores far lower than that of England (for genetic reasons, according to some English psychologists!), had exceeded the per capita GDP of England. Finland also made significant educational improvements beginning several decades ago, focusing especially on making sure the poorest students got an education as equal as possible to that of the richest students. By 2010, Finland was ahead of every country on international tests of academic achievement, and its per capita income had risen to be greater than that of Japan and Britain and only slightly less than that of the United States. Nations that have not made heroic efforts to improve education in recent decades, such as the United States, have declined in per capita income relative to other advanced countries. Such data are still correlational, but they indicate that as a nation begins to break out of the pack educationally, it begins to get richer. As it stagnates educationally, it begins to lose wealth relative to other nations. Pretty persuasive.”
So, we’ll have the Liberal Party trying to frame the money spent as being wasted, because Labor do that sort of thing. Why remember how big the deficit was when they were last in government? No, it’s not really bigger under us, because we’re taking steps to get it under control and we stopped the boats, and anyway Malcolm Turnbull’s the PM now so anything that happened in the past two years was all just a dream, look into my eyes, you feel sleepy and…
Labor, on the other hand, have the chance to frame it as an investment and as something worse doing.
I wonder which way the Murdoch minions will frame it!