Governor Bill Lee is drawing bipartisan frustration after one of his education advisors made disparaging remarks about teachers and educational programs at colleges at a recent event in Franklin.
The ire comes from comments at a closed-door event in Cool Springs by Hillsdale College president Dr. Larry Arnn that were unearthed by NewsChannel5. Lee attended the event and joined Arnn onstage for a conversation, where he did not push back on the comments made against teachers and educational institutions.
At the Franklin event, Arnn claimed, among other things, that teachers "are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country."
He also claimed that "you don't have to be an expert to educate a child because basically anybody can do it," among other insults hurled at the world of educators and education programs at colleges like "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."
Arnn also compared public education to "the plague," saying that "you will see how education destroys generations of people. It's devastating."
Arnn's Michigan-based Hillsdale College is a staunch right-learning educational institution that has come under fire for various initiatives and practices over the years. For example, its "Academy for Science and Freedom" has distinct ties to the controversial "Great Barrington Declaration" regarding COVID-19 and efforts to contain the virus.
Arnn has advised Lee on potential charter schools in the state, with 50 new Hillsdale-backed charter schools seeming to be in the works. The governor said in January that the state would use public funds to set up charter schools in Tennessee guided by Hillsdale's openly partisan educational curriculums.
In the report, Lee said at the event that Hillsdale's "vision for educating children in this state [is one] that I believe is a vision that Tennesseans will embrace."
NC5 has previously reported that part of Hillsdale's educational materials say that conservative values are inherently ingrained in the nation's founding. Those materials also add in critiques against America post-Civil Rights movement and against legislation that banned race-based discrimination in public spaces.
"This was where the line between private conscience and government coercion began to blur," the materials read on the anti-discrimination laws.
With Arnn seemingly having a looming presence in Tennessee public education, Williamson County's Democratic Party is calling on Lee, a Franklin High School graduate, to defend the state's teachers against Arnn's insults.
"We will not stay silent when our public school teachers have had two of the hardest years in recent history during the Covid pandemic," WillCo Democratic Party Chair Dr. Jenn Foley said in a statement. "They have risked their lives to teach our children, and we must boldly stand up and support them now and every day. I have three kids in our wonderful public schools, and I know firsthand how hard they work for our families. We cannot allow our leadership to decimate our public schools.”
Vice Chair Courtenay Rogers, who is running for one of District 10's Williamson County Commissioners seats, mentioning the respect that Williamson County has garnered for its public education.
“Families move to Williamson County because of the great quality of life and the excellent public education we provide our children," she said. "Our schools are one of the main reasons businesses choose to relocate to our community as well, and we need to be focused on increasing funding and improving teacher salaries and benefits, not calling our teachers dumb.”
Lee has yet to push back on Arrn's comments directly. In a statement to NewsChannel5, his office boasts his administration's work in the educational realm since he took office.
"Governor Lee has been an outspoken advocate for Tennessee public school teachers by raising their pay each year in his term," the statement reads.
"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."
Though, Lee is catching flack from all angles on Arnn's comments.
"Larry Arnn’s comments are reprehensible and irresponsible," J.C. Bowman, CEO and Executive Director of the nonpartisan group Professional Educators of Tennessee, said recently. "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. Bill Lee’s silence spoke volumes."
In a response to NC5's Phil Williams, who reported on the comments, Republican state senator Frank Niceley advocated for the state's teaching force in a statement against Arrn's comments.
"We’ve managed to build a state that is the envy of most in fiscal management, economic growth and taxpayer burden," Niceley said. "The vast majority of our leaders have been educated in Tennessee public schools."
Fellow Republican and state House Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison commended the state's teachers in his rebuke of the comments.
"The vast majority of teachers have huge hearts and are in education because of their commitment to our children," Faison said. "To argue that they are bottom of the barrel is wrong and ignorant. The guy from Hillsdale doesn’t speak for any Tennessean I know."
Paul Chapman, a member of the state GOP's Executive Committee, went as far as to advocate that the state not engage with Hillsdale any further.
"It’s time for Tennessee to end any association with Dr. Larry Arnn," he said.