On Saturday, at a campaign event in Somers Point, N.J., teacher Melissa Tomlinson approached New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and asked why he’d called his state’s schools “failure factories.” Christie, who has been in protracted battles with the teachers’ unions, responded with a finger wag and characteristic brashness—and Slate reporter David Weigel caught the moment on camera. Weigel’s twitpic quickly made the rounds:
And the rally ends, inevitably, with Christie arguing with a teacher pic.twitter.com/YyLsoJVTWQ
— daveweigel (@daveweigel) November 2, 2013
Here’s Weigel’s account of how the back-and-forth went down after Tomlinson’s question, as posted on Slate:
[Christie]: “This story—oh really? They have more money now than they’ve ever had before. This is an old story from you folks, and they fail because you guys are failing in those schools. Have you ever sent your child to one of those schools?”
“You portray us as the bad guys,” said Tomlinson.
“Guess what, this is the most money the school has ever spent on education in the history of this state,” said Christie.
“It is not,” said Tomlinson.
"$9 billion in education!” yelled an onlooker.
“Yeah, and it’s down 0.1 percent,” said Tomlinson.
“And it’s never enough for you,” said Christie.
“All I want is money for my students and my school,” said Tomlinson.
“Do your job,” said Christie, turning away and heading into the bus.
Tomlinson, it turns out, was at the campaign event in advance of Tuesday’s election as a bit of an agitator. She was holding a sign and handing out fliers for the Badass Teachers Association (a.k.a. BAT)—a pro-union, anti-testing group of teacher activists. BAT, of which Tomlinson is a member, has been capitalizing on the viral moment since, as evidenced by the group’s Facebook page.
Tomlinson has also since written an open letter to the governor, published by Mark Naison, a professor at Fordham University in New York City and founder of BAT, on his blog. The letter states:
You have portrayed us as greedy, lazy money-draining public servants that do nothing. I invite you to come do my job for one week Governor Christie. I invite you to come see my students, see how little they really have during the school day as they are being forced to keep learning for a single snapshot of their educational worth.
According to the New Jersey Star-Ledger, the “failure factories” reference is from an October speech in Teaneck, where Christie said:
I would be happy to take as many dollars as possible away from failure factories that send children on a no-stop route to prison and to failed dreams, if we could take that money and put it into a place where those families have hope.
Christie was expected to win re-election in New Jersey.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.