Last fall, my son, a sophomore, took a course entitled “Lost Literature”. The curriculum dealt with banned books and started with Dr. Seuss. One of the books the students examined was The Butter Battle Book. In this book, Dr. Seuss explores the Cold War, the arms race, and “mutually assured destruction” through the fictional and satirical tale of the Yooks and the Zooks. These two communities exist on opposite sides of a wall and engage in an escalating disagreement about how to butter their toast.
This past weekend, I felt like I was living my own version of this book entitled The Bitter Twitter Battle.
Early Saturday afternoon, I noticed a few teachers I follow on Twitter engaging with the Twitter account of @GovChristie. Like everyone in NJ, I knew our governor created a social media position filled by Patrick Jones at approximately $60,000 per year, close to the average New Jersey teacher salary of $56,000. Mr. Jones is reported to be 25 years old; I doubt any teacher making the average wage is that young, and most teachers at that pay level have more than a Bachelors Degree and certainly more experience than Mr. Jones.
But I digress.
Allyson Pryor (@locallylove) started tweeting with @GovChristie in the morning. She wondered if she was actually conversing with the Governor; in a tweet at 9:11 a.m. he responded, “This is Chris Christie who replied to you”. He confirmed later that afternoon to @kjarrett that “it’s me”. Putting aside the question why Mr. Jones isn’t doing his job and tweeting for the Governor, and come to think of it, why the Governor had time on his hands to bully us via social media, what was truly shocking was the tone of his tweets:
@locallylove not my agenda-put down the NJEA talking pts & pick up the budget. 1/3 of state spend to K-12 ed-some gutting! Get real w/facts
@lgesin R u waiving raise & paying towards health ins or is your local forcing teacher layoffs & program cuts? Is it really for the kids?
@lgesin u read from the NJEA talking pts while your union’s greed bankrupts NJ-but you’ll have your raise&free health INS for life
@lgesin wrong again-but nothing new
and my personal favorite
Really? I had no idea a union was running the state government. I thought elected officials like Governor Christie did that job. My mistake.
When I left the private sector almost 8 years ago, many of my friends wondered why I would take such a significant pay cut. I always responded that (1) I like teaching but when I got my certification, there were no jobs, (2) 100% paid healthcare for me and my children brought my salary up to about 2/3 of my prior salary, and (3) as a single parent, I want to be available to my children after school. Those are honest answers, but when the economy was booming, everyone told me I was crazy to be a teacher!
Now the economy is bust and all of a sudden my desire to be in the classroom is the cause of all NJ’s woes. Sorry, don’t buy it.
- Christie Whitman (a Republican) was the first to stop funding our pension. NJEA didn’t make that decision, the legislators did. NJEA didn’t jeopardize the pension system, the State government did. Retirement funds are essential in this day and age, and the State chose a pension system to provide that benefit.
- During my tenure at my current position, curriculum revisions have been mandated by the state three times. This costs money! Yes, Christie proposes cutting 8% of the Department of Education’s budget, but do we really need over 100 workshops that cost the taxpayers money to do what was done two years ago and four years prior to that all at their expense?
- I’m also the chair of our School Professional Development Committee (unpaid), another initiative mandated by the State. While I wholeheartedly agree in theory with this initiative, did it really require a 600+ page “toolkit” that the State paid a consultant to write? Interesting note, one of our math teachers found the same documentation about team building in a 1993 text that was rolled out in this Toolkit. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss, Department of Ed fooled us again!
- Tenure. It’s always tenure.
- Yes I can lose my job if I do something wrong and administration believes it’s actionable. It’s just as difficult to fire someone in industry as it is to fire a teacher. I know, I’ve created many a paper trail to protect prior employers against unlawful termination lawsuits.
- Yes I can say “no” to that parent that wants me to “give” little Johnny an “A” when he really earned a “C” because do I really want to hurt his chances of getting into the college of his parents’ choice?
- Yes, there are bad teachers with tenure just like there are bad police officers, bad firefighters, bad middle managers, bad wall street brokers, and bad politicians, but they are always outnumbered by the people in those professions who do their job well. If you’ve held any job for any length of time, you know this.
Once again, I digress.
The truly unfortunate outcome of the Bitter Twitter Battle is this: I was on the fence regarding Christie’s request to the union before engaging with @GovChristie. Now, I’m holding the line. I’m tired of the Governor making teachers the scapegoats for our state’s woes. I’m also a homeowner, a taxpayer and the parent of a high school senior going to college next year and, no, she won’t be going instate now due to Christie’s cuts to NJ colleges and universities. Don’t get me started on taking the axe to NJSTARS; my daughter qualified for that program and may or may not have gone that route, but there are students who had no other option but NJSTARS. I recognize that the state budget needs an overhaul, but going after public education is not the answer. Because yes, Mr. Governor, it does hurt the kids.
However, if the Governor engaged in a respectful dialogue with me via Twitter I may very well have been open to his proposal. If he asked about my concerns and provided calm, considered answers, I think all of us who participated in what escalated to the Bitter Twitter Battle would at least acknowledge his position and the need to deal with this huge deficit. Many of my followers suggested that @govChristie attend the conference entitled “Social Media for Public Officials” that @corybooker promoted at about the same time this Battle took place. @corybooker gets that Twitter is a conversation not a platform used to bully other twitterers. @GovChristie could learn a lot by studying Mr. Booker’s approach to social media.
Remember that “Lost Literature” course I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post? My son is a smart kid but would much rather take 6 hours of drum lessons than endure math and Spanish classes. The “Lost Literature” class got him thinking about his rights as a U.S. citizen including the right to dissent, a right citizens on the other side of the Wall during the Cold War did not possess. That course got him to read, analyze, and form his own opinions using subject matter familiar to him including Dr. Seuss. He learned more about the Cold War from The Butter Battle Book than he ever did in U.S. History!
Yet this class will be stricken from the budget next year if staff cuts are made at his high school. @GovChristie, it is about the students because politicians come and go but education lasts a lifetime.