NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — "Offended and disgusted."
That sums up the reaction to controversial comments about public school teachers and programs that train teachers from one of Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee's education advisers. Those comments, at a private reception last week in Williamson County, were captured on video obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
While the remarks upset a lot of people, the greatest outrage has been directed at Lee himself for his failure to speak up and defend teachers against the ridicule from Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Michigan's ultra-conservative Hillsdale College.
"This is incredibly disturbing," tweeted Claude Pressnell Jr., president of Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association.
"Dr. Larry Arnn’s demeaning portrayal of Tennessee’s Ed prep programs and professors is uninformed and offensive. I’m disappointed that @GovBillLee is not on record with Dr. Arnn defending the integrity of Tennessee’s education programs."
This is incredibly disturbing. Dr. Larry Arnn’s demeaning portrayal of Tennessee’s Ed prep programs and professors is uninformed and offensive.— Claude (@Pressnell) June 30, 2022
I’m disappointed that @GovBillLee is not on record with Dr. Arnn defending the integrity of Tennessee’s education programs.
Arnn hosted the reception with Lee as his "surprise guest." Lee has invited Hillsdale College to set up at least 50 privately operated charter schools across Tennessee that would offer a classical education with a focus on patriotism.
Repeatedly, the video shows, Arnn mocked public school teachers.
"If you work in a college, you'll know this — unless you work in the ed department. Ours is different. But they are the dumbest part of every college," Arnn said during his opening remarks, drawing laughter from the audience.
Later, with Lee sitting at his side, Arnn continued, "The teachers are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country, and they are taught that they are going to do something to those kids."
The Hillsdale president said his charter school initiative is "going to try to demonstrate that you don't have to be an expert to educate a child because basically anybody can do it."
In Knoxville Friday, Democratic lawmakers were joined by teachers in a protest of Arnn's remarks.
"Teachers do not have an agenda," retired teacher DeWayne Emert said.
"But what this proves to me, Gov. Lee, is that you do have an agenda, and it's an attack on public education."
Teacher Anne Thomas-Abbott agreed.
"The teachers that come out of the University of Tennessee should be offended to their core to be called the most dumb, the most stupid members of that campus," she continued.
"I was a member of that campus, and I am not dumb and stupid. And I didn't get in because there was nothing else to do."
On social media, people reacted to Arnn's comments with indignation, with one calling it "absolutely disgusting."
From a retired teacher: "These remarks are an affront to every public school teacher in TN."
From the father of a teacher, "I'm appalled that Bill Lee is listening to this trash."
From a special-ed assistant now working on her teaching degree, "No one is teaching us how to indoctrinate children with our own agenda. I'm offended and disgusted beyond words."
From a lifelong Republican, "Our governor and state officials should take a hard look at how they are treating teachers."
On the campaign trail, Democratic candidate for governor, Dr. Jason Martin, blasted Lee.
Gov. Bill Lee allowed Hillsdale College's president to mock our state’s public school teachers’ intelligence without hesitation.— Jason B. Martin, MD (@jasonbmartin) July 1, 2022
Let me be clear, this is not what people should value in top government officials. pic.twitter.com/0cOiuYQH0F
"He sat on that stage right next to the president of Hillsdale College," Martin said in a video posted to social media.
"And Gov. Bill Lee was silent as that crowd laughed and mocked our communities. That is wrong for our kids, it's wrong for our teachers, it's wrong for our parents who depend upon those schools."
Another Democratic candidate, J.B. Smiley Jr., tweeted: "Bill Lee is hellbent on destroying public education and discrediting the teaching profession."
I don’t think I can say this enough. Bill Lee is hellbent on destroying public education and discrediting the teaching profession. This further proves he doesn’t respect teachers and is probably why he refuses to pay them a decent wage. https://t.co/eKrzCrRsLA— JB Smiley, Jr., Esq. (@jbsmileyjr) June 30, 2022
Arnn's comments also drew the ire of Tennessee Education Association president Tanya Coats, who defended teachers.
"Our public school educators and teacher prep programs are the foundation of our state's great public schools. Our governor would do well to remember that the continued success of our state is intrinsically tied to the success of our system of strong public schools, not charter schools," Coats said in a written statement.
The following may be attributed to TEA President Tanya Coats:— TN Education Assoc. (@TEA_teachers) July 1, 2022
"Tennessee educators worked tirelessly through the past three school years to keep their students engaged, safe and healthy during a global pandemic...” https://t.co/TBLhWxclsZ pic.twitter.com/1w4Wq3Axa9
"Tennessee educators worked tirelessly through the past three school years to keep their students engaged, safe and healthy during a global pandemic. Many did so at the expense of their own health and wellbeing.
"To now witness their governor stand silently alongside out-of-state privatizers as they are cruelly and unfairly attacked feels like a punch to the gut. There is no excuse."
On the other side of the political divide, the Tennessee Charter School Center issued a statement, distancing themselves from Arnn.
The Tennessee Charter School Center categorically rejects the quotes included from the Hillsdale College president in the NewsChannel 5 investigative report posted this afternoon in Nashville. pic.twitter.com/ZhLVTaqNPu— TN Charter School Center (@tncharters) June 30, 2022
"The comments made by Dr. Arnn do not in any way reflect the views or opinions of Tennessee’s public charter schools, leaders, parents, educators, or operators," the statement said.
"Our classroom teachers and professionally-trained educators shape the classroom experience for students, and shepherd them as they digest challenging information, practice new skills, and learn to think critically about the world around them.
"To that end, Tennessee has invested in strengthening our state’s educator preparation programs because the role of teachers in preparing students and our state for the future cannot be overstated."
SPECIAL SECTION: Revealed
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