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Does Education Need “The Godfather” – Social Norms And Market Norms?

Two Quotes from The Godfather:

Bonasera: Let them suffer then, as she suffers. How much shall I pay you?

Don Corleone: [shakes his head ruefully] Bonasera, Bonasera. What have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully? If you’d come to me in friendship, then that scum that ruined your daughter would be suffering this very day. And if by chance an honest man like yourself should make enemies, then they would become my enemies. And then they would fear you.

Bonasera: Be my friend. Godfather.

[The Don shrugs, Bonasera bows toward the Don and kisses the Don’s hand.]

Don Corleone: Good. Someday, and that day may never come, I’ll call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day, accept this justice as a gift on my daughter’s wedding day.

Bonasera: Grazie, Godfather.

* * *

Michael: Sonny …

Sonny: You’re taking this very personal. Tom, this is business and this man is taking it very personal.

Michael: Where does it say that you can’t kill a cop?

Tom Hagen: C’mon, Mikey!

Michael: I’m talking about a cop that’s mixed up in drugs. I’m talking about a dishonest cop…a crooked cop who got mixed up in the rackets and got what was coming to him. That’s a terrific story. And we’ve got newspaper people on the payroll, right, Tom? They might like a story like that.

Tom Hagen: They might, they just might.

Michael: It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.

* * *

Consider the following two scenarios:

Scenario 1

You’re at a party. You announce your intention to ring a taxi. You than ring. It arrives and takes you to you destination, where the driver asks you for the fare. It’s approximately $26 which is fifty cents more than the last time you took a taxi from the same house.

Scenario 2

You’re at the same party. You announce your intention to ring a taxi. One of the guests you know hears you and says that he’s going soon and he’ll be happy to drive you. You arrive at your destination and the person driving you says, “That’ll be $15”.

Which scenario makes you more annoyed?

Chances are that it’s the second scenario which you find more disturbing because while you were expecting a financial transaction in the first, the second takes you by surprise. In the first case the extra money is mildly annoying, but in the second case, because you were expecting to pay nothing, you’re likely to find it outrageous even though you’re at least ten dollars better off than if you’d taken the taxi.

In “Predictably Irrational”, Dan Ariely talks about social norms and market norms. In social situations, we’re often prepared to help our and do things for no immediate payback. If you ask someone to help you carry something to your car, you’re unlikely to offer them payment or – The Godfather, notwithstanding – expect them to tell you that you now owe them a favour which they’ll one day collect. However, when a someone who runs a removalist business asks you to help him shift boxes and furniture, you’d normally expect payment.

Now, imagine an employee – let’s call him Trevor – approaches the boss and tells them that he needs to leave early because his daughter’s school has just phoned and informed him that she’s sick. The boss tells him that’s fine but he’ll have to put it in as sick leave. Is the boss being fair?

Let’s imagine that Trevor is a teacher. Would your expectation change if Trevor tells the principal that he won’t be able to attend the staff meeting because his child has suddenly been taken ill? To take it one step further, what if he announces that he’s missing the staff meeting because his partner is unavailable and he needs to miss the last twenty minutes of his class in order to pick up his children from school at 3-15 pm? Or what if someone announced that they won’t be able to attend any after school meetings or make morning briefing due to their need to pick up their children?

While some of you may consider it reasonable to dock Trevor’s pay in each situation, I suspect that some people would have thought it wrong to penalise Trevor for missing a staff meeting when an emergency came up, but very few would consider it reasonable for him to miss all meetings in order to pick up the children or to miss his class without it being taken off his leave entitlements.

The big difference in how you perceive the situation will probably depend on whether you see the school as operating as part of a social norm or a market norm. While it’s obvious that a teacher is being paid, and is therefore expected to be present as part of the market norm, there are many occasions when social norms operate within a school. Apart from things like running classes out of scheduled times or volunteering to help out on various activities, teachers form social relationships with their colleagues and help each other out, not because of their salary, but because they see themselves as part of a group or sub-group within the school. When the chairs need to be stacked, some people will offer to help out. When going to get a coffee, some will ask if anyone else wants one. When the sets need to be painted for a school production, some will offer to help. They’ll be helpful, not because they see it something they’re paid to do, but because it’s part of the social norms of the school.

Of course, it’s when the line gets blurry that the trouble arises. While few people would think that a principal should just ignore someone missing their classes to pick up a sick child, many teachers would see missing the staff meeting as different because it doesn’t require extra work from anyone else and they can always read the minutes later. Yes, it’s part of the working week, but did the principal really have to be such a tight-arse as to take an hour off Trevor’s sick leave. After all, wasn’t Trevor here all day Saturday helping out with the working bee? It’s just not fair. I don’t see why we should do anything that’s not in our contract, if the administration is going to be like that!

It can be argued that the sick child situation is relatively clear: Trevor is expected to attend staff meetings and unless the expectation is that anyone is allowed to simply apologise and miss them, then he’s missing part of the school day. However, there are a number of situations where the teachers are fluctuating between the two norms.

Consider the following and think about how you’d deal with each of the situations:

Jim steps over the line with his jokes during a Maths meeting, and you object. Later someone says to you “Hey, we don’t want to be all politically correct about it, do we, because, well, Jim’s a really good bloke and there’s no need to make a formal complaint, I’ll have a word to him, ok?”

Tina loses her temper in the English meeting and swears at you because you said that the work that Tina prepared on the text was too complicated and you won’t be using it in your class. Tina later tells everyone that she just can’t work with you and she won’t attend any meetings if you’re there.

You thank Sarah in the staff meeting for her help with a recent event and you present her with a bottle of wine. You’re later told that Natalie, who also helped with the project, feels unappreciated and ignored.

Danny, who’s recently had a relationship breakup, has been arriving late and looking like he’s slept in his clothes. As you have the office near his first class, some days you’ve been covering his class till he arrives.

Hayley has asked you to stay behind and supervise the deb ball practice. It’s fairly easy because a group of people come in and run the whole thing. You take the chance to do some marking. Two weeks later, she asks you to do it again. You say yes. Then somebody tells you that she gets a payment for organising the deb ball.

Think about how you responded to each case. Did you respond according to a social norm or a market norm? Did this vary depending on the situation? Consider how it would have been different if you’d used the other one.

Do you think you would have responded differently depending on whether you were a teacher on contract, a teacher with a position of responsibility, or a member of the principal team?

Of course, different members of the school community will see the circumstances in which they work differently and this has the potential to cause irresolvable conflict, because the different participants aren’t operating from the same assumptions.

For teachers and administrators who see the school as primarily something that exists through a social norm, the subtext goes something like: “We give you payment so that you have the opportunity to come here and do what you love, but we all know that the salary is just incidental”. However, for those who see it primarily through a market norm, then there’s a core set of expectations and, while it’s inevitable that they’ll occasionally be caught up by social norms, their subtext revolves around, “Hang on, I didn’t sign up for this and it’s not in my job description!”

This is not to disparage the second group. In the real world, people will often fluctuate between the two mindsets, depending on who’s asking and what’s being expected. Indeed, if teachers don’t occasionally pull back and embrace the attitude of the second group from time to time, then they run the risk of being totally exploited. The point, however, is to recognise the different mindsets and to ask if the problem isn’t really a clash of norms rather than something more complicated.

Obviously, ideas such as performance pay for teachers belongs with people who think of schools as operating under market norms, yet anyone who’s read most of the research on motivation will know that money as an incentive is only effective in a limited number of circumstances. Performance pay is like asking people to help you weed your garden for free, while the person next to them is being paid.

The best schools will be the ones where positive social expectations dictate people’s behaviour, so the difficult question is how to ensure these without making members of staff feel exploited. It’s a difficult question, but one worth asking.


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  1. Kyran

    “Predictably Irrational”. What a perfect descriptor for life, as we know it.
    The profession of teaching is quite possibly the best example of the fundamentals of neo-con thinking. Socialise the cost, privatize the profit. The perfect example of social and market ‘norms’ operating in the same space with fundamentally different objectives.
    Our expectation of teachers was broadened in the late 90’s, early 2000’s, to include in their job description surrogate health professional, social worker, parent, etc. Without any commensurate increase in wages. All responsibility, no recompense.
    In subsequent years, their wages were tied to annual contracts and KPI’s. Their security of tenure was removed, yet the expectation of their professionalism was increased.

    “The AEU’s State of Our Schools survey for 2017 found that that 95% of teachers spent their own money on school supplies, with more than half spending $500 of their own money each year on classroom basics, and 10% spending over $2000.
    Teachers were most likely to spend their own money on stationery (78%), classroom supplies (75%) and library resources (43%).”

    From the same report.

    “Key findings of the survey, which was completed by 1428 principals and 7513 teachers, include:
    • 83% of schools engage in fundraising, and 90% of those say it is ‘important’ or ‘very important’ for their annual budgets.
    • 65% of teachers said their school was under-resourced, while only 5% said it was well-resourced.
    • 95% of teachers spend their own money on school supplies, with 50% spending more than $500 each year and 10% spending over $2000.
    • More than half of full-time teachers work over 50 hours per week on school-related activities, while 29% work over 55 hours per week.
    • 75 per cent of teachers believe their workload is increasing.”

    Teachers remain over represented in any survey relating to unpaid overtime.

    “The big difference in how you perceive the situation will probably depend on whether you see the school as operating as part of a social norm or a market norm. While it’s obvious that a teacher is being paid, and is therefore expected to be present as part of the market norm, there are many occasions when social norms operate within a school.”
    As per the examples posted in your article, the expectation of largesse is framed from the perspective of the ‘benevolent’ employer, whilst there seems to be no reciprocal expectation when the employer requires the indulgence of the employee.
    On every level, we require the teachers operate according to social norms and become indignant when they require market consideration.
    Predictably irrational.
    Thank you Mr Brisbane. Take care

  2. Matters Not

    Teachers ‘do it’ because of their professional socialisation. Interesting to look at the ‘ideological’ foundations of teachers ‘of the masses’ in mid 19th century Britain. Many were needed but from what (sociological) class would they be drawn? It was unthinkable that the upper class would allow their offspring to become teachers in institutions that catered for the poor. Teaching was not a ‘profession’. Indeed it was many decades before professional aspirations appeared on their horizon. So they had to be recruited from the ‘better’ elements of the working class. No other choice really.

    Remember, the ruling class of the day were shit scared that the masses would rise up and take over. Remember also in 1848 Marx wrote The Communist Manifesto . Revolution was in the air. It was also a time that religion was seen as the antidote to all things ‘evil’. (Still is, in significant sections of the population today.) So almost by default, the ‘ideology’ in which teachers of the time became immersed was ‘religious’.

    Teachers ‘of the masses’ were seen, in those times by people in power as ‘missionaries’ who would go forth and rescue the poor from hell and damnation. That ‘missionary ideology’ served a number of purposes. Teachers’ motivations became ‘missionary’ and therefore remuneration was of secondary importance. Their rewards were ‘intrinsic’. They went forth and taught with missionary zeal – not concerned with ‘extrinsic’ distractions like wages and conditions. With the Bible as their guiding light they, themselves, would resist any tendency to be militant and, more importantly, they would have a rationale for quelling any revolutionary sentiments among their charges.

    It was only in later times that the ‘missionary ideology’ became entangled with the ‘professional ideology’. And that tension still exists today. Nevertheless teachers, in times of crisis can easily be placated by appealing to this ‘higher’ calling. Don’t go on strike – think of the children. It’s this weakness that sees them trailing in the economic stakes.

  3. Kaye Lee


    Many of us would “go on strike” foregoing our pay, but still turn up to school to look after any kids that arrived. We were officially on strike, showing solidarity, but unofficially working for no pay because the kids’ welfare always comes first. I know teachers who would invite their senior classes to their homes for tutorials just so they wouldn’t miss out.

  4. Matters Not

    We were officially on strike, showing solidarity, but unofficially working for no pay because the kids’ welfare always comes first

    Re: because the kids’ welfare always comes first . Yep but that’s the historical point KL. Because of the lingering ‘missionary ideology’, teacher strikes tend to be symbolic rather than causing any real distress.

    How could teachers cause ‘real distress’, I hear the cynics ask? Well it’s not by teaching that 2 plus 2 equals 5 but apart from those types of ‘truths’ the possibilities abound.

    Not that I want people to entertain ‘revolutionary’ thoughts.

  5. Matters Not

    Further, re teachers and the decision to strike or not. At the time, I would always argue at the outset that any teacher who wanted to exercise the (moral) right to vote on the motion of whether to strike or not should only participate in that ballot if they were prepared to abide by the outcome. Fact is, that many teachers wanted both options. First the right to vote. And second the right to disregard the democratic decision.

    You would be surprised the number who wanted it both ways. But I wasn’t.

  6. Kaye Lee

    If we don’t work, then parents don’t work, or kids are left unsupervised all day. Nurses, police, firemen etc…all in same boat as far as taking their responsibilities seriously. Our strikes were often not about money but about class sizes or being forced to teach outside our subject area etc

    It often caused tension – some teachers would refuse to strike, turn up to a closed school and collect their pay for nothing, and then also accept whatever improvements in conditions were won by those who did strike.

  7. Matters Not

    Yes KL, there will always be ‘bludgers’. (Or scabs, if you want to use overt pejorative terminology). And those who can’t rise above the prevailing (short term) ‘common sense’. To see a future beyond their own immediate circumstance.

    Such is life.

    But a better world only comes from those who persist. Or at least I hope so.

  8. Maeve Carney

    There are a lot of spelling errors, which is pretty sad since the article is talking about teachers.

  9. helvityni

    …and I agree with Ruth Wajnryb ( an applied linguist, researcher and writer ) when she says : Oz is different –we do pedantry better here…

  10. Rossleigh

    I’m still trying to find the spelling errors. Spell check could only find one where two words didn’t have a space between them!

  11. stephengb2014

    The Hawke government cirtailed by law the right to strike except in specific circumstances, this had the effect of providing more power to the employer. The workers, and some proffessionals, have gone down hill since.

    Sally McManus sees this and has called for changes to laws that are manifestly unfair, of course the employers see this as treason and called Sally all the names under the sun.

    The call for solidarity has gone out, the fight has not begin but the mobilisation of the workers has started.

    Go Sally McManus

  12. Mark Needham

    Good old Spell Check, American Spell Check.
    Gotten to go,
    Mark Needham

  13. Mark Needham

    “Graduates can earn $65,608 plus superannuation in their first year of teaching and may see themselves reaching a higher salary band as a classroom teacher of up to $104,154 in a shorter period of time.”
    Taken from:-

    At the above top level, I would hate to be docked a days pay, @~ $2000.00 per day., even prorata.
    Mark Needham

  14. Kaye Lee

    You may want to check your maths there Mark.

    Money isn’t everything. Sometimes you just have to stand up even if it costs you.

  15. Rossleigh

    Not to mention the missing apostrophe from “day’s”. It seems Mark must think that teachers only work one day a week as he’s divided the $104,154 by 52.

  16. Mark Needham

    Bugger me, only $400.00 per day. How can they live on that pittance.
    Bastards need a pay rise, hey!
    Working for no pay. I hope you aren’t doing someone out of a job, by Volunteering.

    Spill chuck, didn’t prompt me on that nasty apostrophe. Consider a fatal Beating given.

    Mark Needham

  17. helvityni

    One of the best bloggers (the most creative) on the Unleashed (ABC) was chastised for forgetting apostrophes in one of his most brilliant posts. His reply was: no worries, they are just like confetti you sprinkle on afterwards… 🙂

    One pedantic Londoner goes out at night and paints over the wrongly placed apostrohes or adds them where needed on local shop-signs.

  18. burniebobthe_b

    “We were officially on strike, showing solidarity, but unofficially working for no pay because the kids’ welfare always comes first”

    That seems to meen that they don’t mind doing a bit of strike breaking

    “If we don’t work, then parents don’t work, or kids are left unsupervised all day. Nurses, police, firemen etc”

    You are childcare workers or babysitters so why carry on with the do gooder myth as sometumes short term pain interprits to long term gain.
    If the situation got crazy and parent had to find baby sitters and teachers disrupted the day to day life style of all they might get somewhere.

    All the government have to do is wait teachers out as they know enough will “care about the children} or scab+you chose the term and its all over red rover a lot of teachers lost pay some feel gooders ratted and then life goes on not much different than before

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