NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Hidden-camera video obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates reveals a recent closed-door reception with Tennessee's governor and a key education ally who repeatedly mocks the intelligence of public school teachers and questions whether they really care about what is best for their students.
That ally, Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Michigan's ultra-conservative Hillsdale College, also takes aim at diversity efforts in higher education, claiming people in those positions have education degrees because they are "easy" and "you don't have to know anything."
Throughout the nearly two-hour video, Gov. Bill Lee offers only praise for Arnn, who Lee has invited to set up charter schools across Tennessee. The Republican governor never takes issue with the Hillsdale president's remarks, nor does he defend the state's 80,000 public school teachers or the state's teacher training programs.
Among Arnn's provocative remarks:
- “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 those kids.... Do they ever talk about anything except what they are going to do to these kids?"
- "In colleges, what you hire now is administrators…. Now, because they are appointing all these diversity officers, what are their degrees in? Education. It's easy. You don't have to know anything."
- “The philosophic understanding at the heart of modern education is enslavement…. They're messing with people's children, and they feel entitled to do anything to them.”
- “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.”
Asked for comment on Arnn's words, Lee's communications director chose instead to focus on the words in a television commercial for this report about "the future of education."
"Under Gov. Lee, the future of public education looks like well-paid teachers and growing a workforce to support our students and build the profession," Laine Arnold said in an email.
Given a second opportunity to condemn Arnn's ridicule of public education and public school teachers, Lee's spokesperson stood by her statement.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates showed the video to state Rep. Gloria Johnson, a Knoxville Democrat and former public school teacher.
"It boggles the mind that someone could be so evil and so ignorant at the same time and so cowardly as to say nothing and not stand up for a single Tennessee child or a Tennessee teacher," Johnson said.
The video comes from a reception hosted by Arnn last week at a Cool Springs conference center, with Lee as his "surprise guest."
Lee repeatedly described a friendship that has developed from their first meeting two years ago and deep conversations about how to educate children. Arnn, in turn, hinted that his Republican friend might have what it takes to be president someday.
Back in January, Lee used his annual State of the State Address to announce a "partnership" with Hillsdale College to use state tax dollars to set up charter schools in communities across Tennessee.
Lee cited Hillsdale's history of being "champions of American exceptionalism."
At the time, Arnn said that he had agreed to establish 50 such charter schools, although Lee wanted 100.
But the video shows the Tennessee governor hasn't scaled back his ambitions.
"I still think we need a hundred charter schools here," Lee said, drawing laughter and applause from the invited guests.
Among the audience: at least one longtime advocate for privatizing Tennessee's public schools, along with a guest who was secretly recording and who provided that recording to NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
It was an audience that found humor as the Hillsdale president used his opening remarks to mock teachers who have education degrees.
Watch video below:
"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.
The audience laughed.
Gloria Johnson's reaction?
"He just called teachers the most ignorant people on a college campus, and they laughed."
It was a statement that also shocked a longtime conservative who now lobbies Capitol Hill for Tennessee teachers.
"I am absolutely flabbergasted by this," said J.C. Bowman, executive director and CEO of the Professional Educators of Tennessee.
"It's an insult to the students that go through colleges of education. It's an insult to the professors and the people who teach our educators."
It was a theme to which Arnn returned with the governor sitting at his side.
"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 reiterated.
Johnson noted, "And the governor is sitting here while this is happening, saying nothing. This is horrific. This is horrific for Tennessee."
Bowman said "the problem is not so much that Larry Arnn would say this."
"He's got an agenda," the teacher lobbyist continued.
"But what really is the problem here is that our governor stood there and let this be said about the people that are educating."
Arnn, who sparked controversy nearly a decade ago with a sarcastic reference to minorities as "dark ones," also took aim at what he said is an explosion of administrators in higher education.
"And the administrators you hire are all diversity people — and that helps you, by the way, with your federal requirements that you have a certain number by color," he continued.
"Now, because they are appointing all these diversity officers, what are their degrees in? Education. It's easy. You don't have to know anything."
Watch video below:
NewsChannel 5 Investigates noted to Bowman, "Essentially, he's saying diversity candidates are not smart enough to get real degrees."
"Yes, that's exactly what he said," he agreed.
"Again, the governor sat there and did not correct it. If this were to continue on, where would he get up and walk out?"
"It's unbelievable to me that someone this backwards and this ignorant is being listened to in this state and that our governor sat on a stage with him and said nothing but nodded agreement."
As our investigation previously revealed, Hillsdale's 1776 curriculum teaches kids that conservative ideas are what the nation's founders intended, that Democratic or progressive ideas are not.
On the Black struggle for equality, Hillsdale teaches "the civil rights movement was almost immediately turned into programs that ran counter to the lofty ideals of the Founders."
On federal laws opening up lunch counters and outlawing discrimination in restaurants, hotels and theatres, Hillsdale's says "this was where the line between private conscience and government coercion began to blur."
The governor had tried to sidestep those questions.
But here behind closed doors, Lee had nothing but praise for Hillsdale's "vision for educating children in this state that I believe is a vision that Tennesseans will embrace."
As for the charter schools they hope to establish in Tennessee, Arnn told Lee and the audience that finding qualified teachers is the least of his concerns.
"Here's a key thing that we're going to try to do," he explained.
"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."
"I think the governor again should have said I disagree with that. Does the governor think anybody can be a teacher? He needs to answer that question."
But, just like the governor, the statement from Lee's office (see below) was completely silent on those comments.
Watch video below:
As for Lee, he said in that session that he may not be able to accomplish all of his goals for overhauling education during his time in office.
So instead of "building a bridge" to his goal, he thinks of it as "building a pier" that someone else may be able to turn into a bridge in the future.
Both Bowman and Johnson said they believe the ultimate goal is to completely privatize the state's schools.
Here is the statement from the Governor's Office:
Governor Lee has been an outspoken advocate for Tennessee public school teachers by raising their pay 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. 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.
Under Gov. Lee, the future of public education looks like well-paid teachers and growing a workforce to support our students and build the profession.
SPECIAL SECTION: Revealed
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