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Local lawmakers, teachers to address critical comments made by charter schools leader

“The teachers are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country," Larry Arnn told a group in a secretly recorded meeting.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Two area lawmakers including a former teacher will join educators Friday morning at a North Knoxville gathering to speak against insults made by the leader of a national charter school system.

Gov. Bill Lee previously asked Larry Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College, to bring 100 of his charter schools to Tennessee. The school describes itself as an "independent institution of higher learning" and a "nonsectarian Christian institution." It has been criticized by national outlets as being instrumental in moving funds away from public schools across the country.

"The College values the merit of each unique individual, rather than succumbing to the dehumanizing, discriminatory trend of so-called 'social justice' and 'multicultural diversity,'" it says on its website.

Recently, Arnn was caught on video mocking teachers, with Gov. Lee nodding his head in agreement, in an investigative report from NewsChannel 5 in Nashville

In the report, Arnn assumes that people choose to study education and become teachers because it's easy, and he says that education will destroy "generations of people." He tells Gov. Lee that "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," the report shows.

Arnn is a professor of politics and history at his own college. He received a bachelor's from Arkansas State University as well as a master's and a doctorate in government from Claremont Graduate School. He also serves on the board of The Heritage Foundation and many other groups.

Gloria Johnson (D - Knoxville) is a former teacher and a Tennessee representative. She sent a release Thursday listing some of the comments she says Arnn told the governor. Some of those comments are 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.”

Johnson responded to the remarks in the Nashville station's story.

She is organizing a gathering with Rep. Sam McKenzie (D - Knoxville) and Knox County teachers where they will respond to the insults. It is expected to start at 11 a.m. Friday at Edgewood Park.

"After coming off two of the toughest years in their career, teachers are denigrated and demeaned by Larry Arnn, President of Hillsdale College, the man Governor Lee asked to bring 100 of his charter schools to Tennessee," she said. 

Several professional organizations have reported a decline in people seeking to become teachers. They said stress and overwhelming work are contributing to the decline, along with notoriously low pay. Regulations around teaching are also making the work harder, they said.

"Tennessee teachers have risked their lives to teach our kids the last 2-3 years," said Johnson. "They brought our kids' test scores back up to pre-COVID levels. They spend their own money on their classrooms, they are still making less today than they made 10 years ago with the cost of living increase factored in, and we are reaching a crisis level in our teacher shortage."

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