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East TN charter school, Hillsdale College cut ties after college president's comments toward teachers

Hillsdale College said Thursday its affiliation with the Soddy-Daisy school had "come to an end" as of July 6.

SODDY-DAISY, Tenn. — An East Tennessee charter school has cut ties with a private Michigan college it was affiliated with after the college's president received backlash over comments and insults he made about public education and teachers.

Ivy Academy's Skillern Elementary, a charter school in Hamilton County, said in a news release Saturday it terminated its agreement with Hillsdale College. This came two days after News Channel 5, a CBS affiliate in Nashville, released an investigative report over comments Hillsdale President Larry Arnn made in a video from a recent closed-door reception with Governor Bill Lee. 

Arnn mocked public education and teachers in a video, with Lee nodding his head in agreement. Some of the comments Arnn made are listed below:

  • “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."
  • “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.”

Hillsdale College, which runs a national charter school affiliation program, had provided the school with a program guide and materials to tailor its curriculum.  

"In order to use our time tending to the mission of the school rather than defending ourselves from attempts to mischaracterize our efforts, we have terminated the agreement with Hillsdale that would have allowed us to use a program guide as a planning aid for our teachers," said Angie Markum, Ivy Academy's founder and CEO.

Hillsdale College said Thursday its affiliation with the Soddy-Daisy school had "come to an end" as of July 6. The college said the school's departure was due to "inaccurate media attention" it received. Hillsdale did not provide specific rebuttals or reasons why it felt the reports were inaccurate in the news release.

Arnn's comments drew ire from teachers and lawmakers in the state, with some criticizing Lee for not immediately defending the state's teachers, public school system and colleges. 

A long-time Knox County teacher said they found the comments "offensive on nearly every level."

"To say that all teachers are stupid or that they're the worst part of any college, or that teacher prep colleges are where the dumb ones go, it's the oldest stereotype. It's at least 50 or 60 years old as far as demeaning and demoralizing teachers," said Anne Thomas-Abbott, a teacher in Knox County Schools since 1993.

The Tennessee Democratic Party said in a statement last week it felt the governor did not take the necessary measures to defend the teachers of Tennessee and has not done anything since the event to condemn the comments made by Arnn. 

Some state Republican lawmakers also publicly criticized Arnn's comments, including Speaker Cameron Sexton.

“Having parents and grandparents as teachers, I know firsthand the dedication, the passion, and the abilities needed in the classroom. I will never agree with or support Mr. Arnn’s comments," he said. "He has insulted generations of teachers who have made a difference for countless students. We have successful Tennesseans today because teachers made a difference in their lives.”

Lee responded to the criticism Thursday during an interview with Nashville radio station SuperTalk 99.7, saying he felt Arnn's statement comments were about a national conversation about teaching, not Tennessee teachers specifically.

“There is a recognition, there is an agenda, by many in this country — a left-wing agenda, frankly — that creeps its way into our public school system, at the detriment of our teachers which was mainly, broadly what that conversation was about,” Lee said.

When asked for a response about Arnn's comment on colleges, University of Tennessee President Randy Boyd said he was proud of UT's education programs and graduates across all its campuses. 


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