The incident happened at a private event, hosted by Arnn and Gov. Bill Lee. CBS affiliate WTVF out of Nashville managed to obtain video of the two on stage, during which Arnn belittles and mocks Tennessee teachers. WTVF listed some of Arnn’s comments, none of which Lee disputed in the video:
“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.”
Dr. Arnn is currently working with the state to establish charter schools all over Tennessee. The plan is to establish anywhere from 50 to 100 charter schools in the state, all in part planned with the help of Arnn, who is also the president of Michigan’s ultra-conservative Hillsdale College.
WVLT News reached out to Rep. Jason Zachary about the report, and he provided a few comments, saying “In terms of the actual words themselves, of course I completely disagree with the words Arnn said.”
Zachary also defended Tennessee’s teachers, saying the state has top-of-the-line educators.
“We have some of the best teachers and administrators in the country,” Zachary said. “They serve the community by teaching and loving on our kids.”
Zachary also defended the governor’s education policy. “I think all you have to do is look at the track record of our governor and resources and time and putting the 1 billion recurring dollars into TISA,” he said.
Rep. Gloria Johnson, a democrat out of Knoxville, was so fired up about the comments that she planned a news presser for Friday morning to address the video. At the event, Johnson told WVLT News that she was disappointed with how Lee reacted.
“He could’ve said at any point ‘I’ve got to say Tennessee teachers are great.’ He didn’t do that. He didn’t say a single word,” she said. “Not saying anything is complicit.”
Johnson went on to praise teachers for the work that they do.
“Teachers have been giving their all, their entire career. But the last few years have been incredibly tough,” she said. “And a lot of teachers are wondering do I want to go on? And this is what they have to hear.”
Several people gathered at Johnson’s event, holding signs that read things like “Privatizing schools is dumb, but teachers aren’t” and “Governor, Governor listen to me, NO Hillsdale in Tennessee.” Teachers at the conference told WVLT News that they are furious over the video and Arnn’s comments.
WVLT News spoke to a retired teacher at the event, who said “Public education is the cornerstone of our democracy.”
J.C. Bowman, the CEO and Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, also spoke out against Dr. Arrn’s comments. His major issue with the video, however, was Lee’s lack of response to his chosen advisor.
“Larry Arnn’s comments are reprehensible and irresponsible,” Bowman said. “What was even more hurtful than Arnn’s comments is that Tennessee Governor Bill Lee sat there while educators, Colleges of Education, and public education were disparaged. Lee’s silence spoke volumes.”
When asked for a statement on the video, a representative of Lee’s office provided the following statement, which does not address the comments made:
WVLT News followed up on the statement, asking for office representatives to address the video itself, and has not received a response.