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REVEALED: 'Shame on you!' Video mocking teachers continues to draw condemnation across Tennessee

Posted: 6:35 PM, Jul 15, 2022
Updated: 2024-01-10 11:27:01-05
Bill Lee Larry Arnn on Screen.jpg

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Voices of condemnation and outrage continue to reverberate across Tennessee in the wake of a hidden-camera video showing Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee chatting with an education adviser at an invitation-only reception as that adviser denigrates public school teachers and the education programs that train them.

Several school boards have passed resolutions condemning the provocative comments from Larry Arnn, president of Michigan's ultraconservative Hillsdale College, with some also offering harsh criticism for the Republican governor. Some of those critiques are coming from staunching conservative pockets of Tennessee.

Among other remarks, Arnn said teachers come from "the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges," that "diversity" candidates get education degrees because "you don't have to know anything" and that no expertise is required to teach a child because "anybody can do it."

In upper East Tennessee, the Sullivan County Board of Education approved a resolution Thursday night expressing "support and appreciation for the dedicated professional educators who work tirelessly" to serve the district's families.

Watch the Sullivan County Board of Education's comments in the player below.

Sullivan County School Board supports educators after Arnn's comments

Board member Mary Rouse expressed dismay over Arnn's words.

"I'm even more saddened and disappointed in our governor who sat there and did not defend our teachers," Rouse said. "Shame on you, Gov. Lee. Shame on you."

"Mr. Arnn and Gov. Lee, let me inform you, yes, you do need to be an expert to educate a child. Teaching is a talent and a calling. Mr. Arnn, I believe you missed that calling."

In Chattanooga, the Hamilton County Board of Education is scheduled to consider a resolution next week.

But immediately after the video aired, Hamilton County Commissioner David Sharpe called it a "shameful situation" during a meeting of the County Commission.

Watch the Hamilton County Board of Education comments in the player below.

Hamilton County School Board rebukes Lee adviser comments

"In truth, those who fear universal public education — and the teachers that devote their lives to it — are actually afraid of our future and what it will bring," Sharpe said.

"And shame on them, each and every one of them."

In Middle Tennessee, the Wilson County Board of Education adopted its own resolution Monday night that expresses outrage over Arnn's statements. It was amended to "further condemn the failure of Gov. Lee to rebuke Mr. Arnn for his comments."

Watch the Wilson County Board of Education's comments below.

Wilson County School Board addresses Lee adviser comments on teachers

"Now that's wrong, folks," said school board member Larry Tomlinson, "that anybody would be allowed to come in here to our state and say something like that and nobody really get up and call him out .

"I'm calling you out, dude, right now tonight. I'm telling you, I don't like it, I don't like you, and I think you were wrong in doing this.

"You not only offended our teachers, you offended the mothers and the fathers and the grandfathers of all the teachers that have gone and spent the time and worked hard to get their degrees and come out, some of them with masters and doctorates and everything that they could work hard to get. And you talk about being a bunch of dummies.

"That's not right, and I don't like it."

In West Tennessee, the Jackson-Madison County Board of Education took aim at Arnn's words, as well as Hillsdale's effort to open a charter school there.

"The Board does not believe it is in the best interests of the students in Jackson and Madison County, Tennessee to be exposed to a charter school with such close ties to Hillsdale College which has a leader who has such a low opinion of school teachers and administrators and who holds such racially discriminatory beliefs as expressed by his words," the board said in a resolutions approved Thursday.

Down the road, the Collierville Schools Board of Education also approved a resolution in support of teachers, as did the town's Board of Mayor and Aldermen.


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Political Reaction

Back in January, Lee had announced a "partnership" with Hillsdale to open 50-100 taxpayer-funded charter schools across Tennessee.

Lee has expressed his support for educators but refused to condemn his friend's comments.

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, issued a statement saying: "Tennessee teachers do an excellent job for the students of this state. Teaching is a calling. Those called to teach deserve our appreciation and respect."

"The president of Hillsdale has no role in shaping education policy in Tennessee, nor should he," McNally continued. "Arnn’s comments were ill-conceived, unfortunate and untrue. His organization is eligible to apply to operate charter schools in Tennessee, just like any other operator. When and if they apply, they will be subject to the same process as anyone else and these comments will feature prominently in the vetting process.”

House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, said he "will never agree with or support Mr. Arnn’s comments."

"He has insulted generations of teachers who have made a difference for countless students," Sexton continued. "We have successful Tennesseans today because teachers made a difference in their lives.

Republican Rep. Mark White of Memphis, chair of the House Education Administration Committee, said Hillsdale's hopes for expanding into Tennessee have been "shattered" by Arnn's comments.

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House chairman's comment on Hillsdale

Democrats also have called for rejection of Hillsdale's plans for Tennessee.

Other Reaction:

  • On July 1, the Tennessee Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (TACTE) sent a letter to Lee, urging him toe "speak out" in defense of teachers. "Dr. Arnn’s divisive rhetoric undercuts efforts to recruit individuals into the profession during a time when teachers are desperately needed. His statements are particularly discouraging for aspiring teachers who are inspired to help make an even brighter future for Tennessee’s schoolchildren."
  • That same day, the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association said, "The Hillsdale College president’s recent comments and demeaning portrayal of teachers and educator prep programs in a NewsChannel 5 TV report from Nashville is both uninformed and deeply offensive."
  • Maryville College President Bryan F. Coker posted on Facebook, "Dr. Arnn’s remarks were reckless, irresponsible, and patently disrespectful to teachers and the field of education. The State of Tennessee and the educators in this state are better – and certainly deserve better – than this."
  • On July 5, Carson-Newman University President Charles A. Fowler issued a statement. "The recently highlighted derogatory comments made at a political event about the competency of the more than 70,000 teachers who are educating Tennssee's children are misguided, inappropriate and uninformed."
  • On July 6, the dean for East Tennessee State University's Clemmer College published a letter in defense of the teaching profession. "The comments by Dr. Arnn are not surprising giving his consisten record and agenda. However, it is deeply troubling that these inaccurate, inappropriate, and inflammatory remarks are now out for all of Tennessee (and the nation) to see and hear."
  • On July 8, the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents pledged to "work diligently to resist the efforts of misguided critics. "Unfortunately for Mr. Arnn, a public school critic, a public school education also confers the ability to listen, analyze, discern, and comprehend. It is clear that the motive for Mr. Arnn’s criticism of public schools and public school teachers is driven by his desire to expand his charter school empire into Tennessee. And from all indications, he has the assistance he seeks in this endeavor."
  • On July 12, the Tennessee Association of Secondary School Principals said: "To state that anyone can teach is to be completely ignorant to the plethora of roles an educator plays in ensuring our future leaders have everything they need to be successful. The implication that one would not need to know anything to go into the field of education and that those that do go into the field are “trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges” is offensive and unacceptable."
  • On July 14, the Tennessee Education Association called on Lee to sever ties with Hillsdale College and support legislation to limit the power of the state charter commission. “Hillsdale’s Larry Arnn said Tennesseans are too dumb to educate their own children, using talking points straight from the charter industry playbook. We don’t care how he does it up north, and we don’t need to be saved by charter operators from California or Massachusetts. We know what it takes to educate our children.”


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