My friend asked me, “How can you stand him speaking about us like that?!” She was upset because she felt as if Governor Christie wasn’t just speaking to me as president of the National Education Association, but to all the teachers, and all the education support professionals, and all the principals, librarians, and counselors who are members of education unions.
Specifically, in response to a question about who on the national level deserves a “punch in the face,” the New Jersey governor who would like to be the next president of the United States said, “The national teachers’ union.”
Educators recognize the tactics of a playground bully – someone who tries to intimidate with name-calling and threats of violence in order to impress a crowd. I always told my 6th graders not to give bullies power by sinking to their level.
So when this story hit, I took a deep breath and thought long and hard about how to respond to the absurdity of his interview and of the governor’s silly—yet disturbing insults. He seems to desperately need for voters to think that educators are bad people because we tend to speak truth to power; the truth is his education policies have been disastrous. Privatize. De-professionalize. Standardize.
Ignore the fact that parents want to humanize education—not reduce it to a number on a high-stakes test. None of his policies are working, and we’ve not been shy about saying so. If the facts are on your side, you argue the facts. If common sense is on your side, you argue common sense. If nothing is on your side, you call your opponent names.
So he had to call us names.
The facts and common sense are on our side, and he needed to deflect blame for his political decisions. It is why my friend was so upset. She has worked so hard for her students. Our unions have fought for needed textbooks and teaching materials; for class sizes that allow teachers to build a personal relationship with students; for school buildings that are healthy and clean, and support professionals like tutors, librarians and school nurses so kids have all the services essential for success.
We’ve fought against the toxic testing that tells us so little about out students, and yet sucks so much learning from a day. Time that could have been spent organizing a project, or creating a work of art, or collaborating and debating and deciding in small groups the multiple solutions to some real problem—things that defy the standardized A, B, C or All of the Above insanity to which too many politicians and bureaucrats have reduced our classrooms.
The governor is not one of my 12-year-old 6th graders. He is a man. He’s a politician calling teachers—mostly women—who stand up for themselves and their students, insulting names. He doesn’t like us.
We will stand and use the collective power of our union to speak the truth to powerful people, whether they be governors or presidents—or governors who wish they were president. I believe Governor Christie when he says he wants to punch me in the face. But I know the reason is because he thinks a fat lip will silence us.
Educators know that the best way to handle a bully is to stand up to him. To speak the quiet truth. But as I taught my students, there are always three parties involved in bullying. The bully. The person being bullied. And the bystander. I taught my students that they were likely to be bystanders sometime in their lives. I taught them that bystanders had enormous power to stop bullying—if they were silent, it encouraged the bully. I taught my students to speak up and to take sides. And the right side is never the side of the bully.
Governor Christie, I suppose, will continue calling us names. We will, I assure you, continue standing up for ourselves and for our students. The question now is whether the bystanders, the public and the voters will speak up and take sides. And the right side is never the side of the bully.