TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) – Calls are growing for Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee to condemn comments made by an education advisor, the President of Michigan’s Hillsdale College Dr. Larry Arnn.
Video obtained by WTVF in Nashville shows Arnn making disparaging comments at a political event about teachers and public education, while the audience chuckled and the governor said nothing to stand up for teachers.
Gov. Lee partnered with the leader of conservative Hillsdale College to open around 50 charter schools across Tennessee.
Video shows Arnn made controversial statements including the following:
- “The teachers are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country.”
- “They are taught that they are going to go and do something to these kids”
- “Do they ever talk about anything except what they are going to do to these kids?”
- “You will see how education destroys generations of people. It’s devastating. It’s like the plague.”
- “Here’s a key thing that we’re going to try to do. We are going to try to demonstrate that you don’t have to be an expert to educate a child because basically anybody can do it.”
When confronted by reporters last week about Arnn’s comments, Lee told reporters: “It was a conversation about the influence of left-leaning activists in the public education system in this state. But I fully support our public schools in this state and our teachers as well.”
However, Lee has not publicly rejected Arnn’s comments that have insulted teachers across the state, only reasserted his support for teachers.
In a July 7 meeting of the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents (TOSS) board, members released a statement expressing how deeply they value Tennessee educators.
“It felt personal. Our teachers have really, over the last couple of years especially, carried such a burden and a load,” Dr. John English, Unicoi County Director of Schools, told News Channel 11 Monday. “It’s not an ‘anybody can do it’ profession, regardless of that comment. Anybody that’s actually in it knows that.”
English and Dr. Mischelle Simcox, Director of Johnson County Schools, are the two TOSS board members from the Tri-Cities.
The board expressed its utmost support and respect for teachers amid the “demoralizing” comments.
“Teaching is not an 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. job. It’s a 24/7 job. We value our teachers. Education is a hard field, I don’t think we get the respect that we deserve sometimes,” Simcox told News Channel 11.
TOSS is made up of every superintendent in Tennessee public schools, with 12 board members who advocate for the needs of school systems statewide.
Arnn’s “dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges” struck Simcox, who defended universities that develop future teachers.
“It is not an easy path to get an education degree,” Simcox said. “You have a lot of classroom work to prepare for, hard classes. Not everyone is meant to be a teacher. You have to have the heart to be a teacher.”
For school leaders, these comments are not just hurtful but concerning.
“Just the fact that he’s advising our governor and this is how he clearly feels about public education and teachers as a whole,” said English.
As Gov. Lee has not directly expressed his rejection of those comments, it leaves superintendents with questions about where he stands.
“I do hope that the governor does not share these same views. I wish something would have been said,” said Simcox.
English added that in light of the controversial statements, it has been encouraging to see how many people have stood up for teachers.
“A whole lot of people have really come to defend teachers and the profession, and I think that’s a positive,” said English.
Dr. Jeff Moorhouse, superintendent of Kingsport City Schools, also released a statement to the media Monday showing his support.
“We cannot state more strongly the profound level of respect, admiration, and appreciation we have for the educators. These women and men have dedicated their lives to providing each and every child the educational opportunities that will ensure lifelong success. They have trained extensively to become highly skilled.”Jeff Moorhouse, superintendent of Kingsport City Schools
News Channel 11 reached out to the Governor’s office asking for a response to allegations that he has not defended Tennessee teachers against Arnn’s comments. A spokesperson gave this response:
“I will underscore that the Governor speaks for himself, and he has been an outspoken advocate for Tennessee public school teachers. The conversation you referred to was about Left-wing activism. Our support for Tennessee teachers wasn’t up for debate then, and it isn’t now.
Governor Lee has fought for teacher pay raises each year in his term. Under Gov. Lee’s leadership, the future of public education in Tennessee means a new funding formula that closed the bureaucratic loopholes that often prevented raises from making their way to classrooms. With this new education funding formula, our administration is investing an additional $1 billion for Tennessee public schools each year. When it comes to supporting the profession of teaching, Gov. Lee’s Department of Education built a pipeline to encourage public high school students to pursue teaching through the “Grow Your Own” program. This program is now a national model and was the first in the nation to become a federally recognized apprenticeship program.”Spokesperson, Office of Tennessee Governor Bill Lee