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Working In These Times

Friday, Dec 3, 2010, 8:59 am

N.J. Governor Christie Builds YouTube Stardom at Expense of Union Teachers

BY Kari Lydersen

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There are a multitude of factors degrading the quality of American public education: de facto segregation, environmentally unhealthy schools built with toxic materials beside power plants and highways, grossly overcrowded classrooms, shortages of books and other basic materials, standardized tests that suck creativity and individuality out of teaching.

But according to New Jersey Republican governor Chris Christie, the failings of public schools come down to one main issue: teachers unions, which he accuses of supposed civil rights violations for, as he insinuates, putting their own greed before the needs of students.

Christie has become a media star recently thanks to a flood of YouTube videos of what his staff calls “Christie moments.” Many of these moments involve his personal crusade against teachers unions—particularly the New Jersey Education Association union.

The videos are widely circulated and cross-posted by right-wing bloggers, fueling speculation that Christie – who’s been in office less than a year after defeating scandal-plagued Democratic former governor Jon Corzine—is a viable candidate for national office.

One of the more popular videos, of a town hall meeting in September, is billed by bloggers as Christie telling a disrespectful, unruly teacher “a thing or two about decorum,” as one described it. Another tagged it as Christie “destroy(ing) teachers union shill.” Another headlined the clip “Christie rips into whinny (sic) liberal teacher.”

But the actual video (see above) shows elementary teacher Marie Corfield, who teaches across the street from the building where the meeting was held, exhibiting nothing more than understandable frustration. Christie lashes out at her with little provocation.

Corfield asked the governor how “your reforms are going to help the middle class…when so many middle-class teachers are spending tons of money out of their pocket to supplement budgets that were cut so they can buy supplies; and so many parents are having to outlay more and more money for programs that were originally paid for by the school districts.”

Her voice cracking, she continues: “This administration has done nothing but lambast us and tell us what horrible schools we have…you have alienated so many people with your rhetoric about how we are bilking this state of all this money.”

When Christie says he is not "lambasting” teachers, Corfield shakes her head and twists slightly in obvious frustration while still facing Corzine. He immediately says: “If you want to put on a show and giggle every time I talk, then I have no interest in answering your question.”

After a few more condescending comments toward the teacher he blames the budget crisis on Corzine and federal cuts, and also mentions the head of the Bergen County teachers union allegedly praying for his death.

While that “prayer” – which was likely “in jest,” as Christie acknowledges—was not politically wise, Corfield clearly does not deserve to be blamed for it and made a laughing stock of the right-wing blogosphere for asking legitimate and obviously heartfelt questions about the struggles of middle-class teachers and parents. Especially for a figure who prides himself on his own pugnaciousness and irrascibility, Christie's anger (or theatrics) over Corfield's moderate display of emotion is ridiculous.

One blogger who posted the video describes it thus:

Watch the video...and you tell me, is this really a teacher or a 1st grade student? Perhaps she’s been around kids a little too long. ... The teacher drones on about struggling to pay bills and pay for books and what a mean man Chris Christie is.

Christie got similar right-wing accolades for the clip of a town hall meeting in Rutherford, N.J. in August, where he told a teacher concerned about salary cuts, “well, then, you don’t have to do it.”

The teacher, Rita Wilson, countered, “Teachers do it because they love it. That's the only reason."

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Kari Lydersen is a Chicago-based reporter, author and journalism instructor, leading the Social Justice & Investigative specialization in the graduate program at Northwestern University. She is the author of Mayor 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago’s 99%.

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