Opinion: Hillsdale College president’s criticism of teachers has delayed education reform in Tennessee


The results do not have the same national implications as for Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton, but add the name of Dr. Larry Arnn to the list of figures whose careless words cost dearly.

Romney, the Republican Party’s 2012 presidential nominee, dismissed nearly half of the electorate when he told a crowd at a fundraiser that “47% who are with [President Barack Obama], who depend on the government, who believe they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe they have the right to health care, food, shelter, etc These are people who don’t pay income tax.”

Clinton, the Democratic Party’s 2016 presidential nominee, told a fundraiser that half of Republican nominee Donald Trump’s supporters should be placed in “what I call the basket of deplorables.” . And unfortunately there are people like that.”

Both candidates, you may recall, lost their races.

Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College, said in a joint appearance last month with Tennessee Governor Bill Lee that “teachers are being raised in the dumbest part of the dumbest colleges in the country.” He then called public education “slavery,” said teachers “feel empowered” to manipulate children, and remarked that “education destroys generations of people. It’s devastating. is like the plague”.

His words, according to state Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, chairman of the House Education Administration Committee, “do not help us move forward.”

We believe, in fact, that this may have delayed education reform in the state at a time when the movement is gaining momentum across the country after parents got a glimpse of what their children were learning. when the coronavirus pandemic forced online classes in 2020 and 2021.

(It’s hard to gauge whether Arnn’s words had even the slightest ring of truth. But a 2021 State of the States Survey by the National Council on Teacher Quality indicates that many states have lowered or removed fully meet the academic requirements for entry into teacher preparation; most states do not verify that candidate elementary, early childhood, or special education teachers know the most effective methods for teaching their children to read. prospective students; only half of states require elementary school teachers to pass a content licensing test that separately scores each content area; and the net effect on strengthening teachers’ clinical practice is virtually unchanged since 2015. )

Lee and Arnn were together at an event in Franklin because the governor announced in his January State of the State address that Hillsdale could open at least 50 “classic” charter schools in Tennessee affiliated with the small Michigan Christian Liberal Arts College.

White told that newspaper’s Andy Sher that insulting educators is not a way to build support for charter schools. Indeed, he wrote in a Facebook exchange with teachers over the weekend that he thought “any hope that Hillsdale will operate in Tennessee has been dashed.”

“[M]“Your job,” he told Sher, “is to move us forward on education reform, and you can’t move forward when you lock down a whole group. Teachers, he said, are “the foundation of education. Without them, you have no ongoing education.”

White obviously doesn’t speak for everyone on the education committee or the House at large, but nine years as education chair has given him a good sense of their feelings.

“I know their positions,” he said. “That’s where my comment comes from. I know what our members think, and you know, when you sit in committee and you have a bill that can come before you, it’s dead in the water if you have problems like this.”

Although parents across the country — especially in high-poverty areas — are demanding charters, vouchers and alternatives to traditional public schools, the damage Arnn has done is likely to make lawmakers timid about bigger proposals like the one with Hillsdale.

They were also coy about a previous attempt by Lee to provide college savings accounts, eventually narrowing it down to a program in just Davidson and Shelby counties and the Achievement school district. And while it was approved in 2019, it didn’t get the green light until a Tennessee Supreme Court ruling two months ago.

We also wish Lee had pushed back against Arnn’s words the moment they were spoken. Although he said last week that he would pit teachers in the state “against all the teachers in the country, the best and the brightest,” and told reporters that Arnn’s comments had been made “about education activism in this country”, he might have used humor, showed a mock insult, or used any number of words to refute the comments at the time they were made . But he chose to remain silent.

We don’t think the governor harbors any animosity toward the state’s teachers, and his budget investments in public education indicate just the opposite. But words like those from the President of Hillsdale are hurtful no matter how, when or why they are spoken. And now they’ve probably damaged — at least in the short term — any progress that might be made in the state on education choice.


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