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'Silence is the voice of complicity' | Insults from charter school leader against teachers sparks anger

“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. — Knoxville lawmakers held a press conference and rally on Friday with local teachers to speak against insults made by the leader of a 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.

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. Some of the comments he 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.”

Gloria Johnson (D - Knoxville) is a former teacher and a Tennessee representative. She organized a North Knoxville gathering with Rep. Sam McKenzie (D - Knoxville) so teachers would have a platform to speak out against the insults.

"I found it offensive on nearly every level," said Anne Thomas-Abbott, a teacher in Knox County Schools since 1993. "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."

The gathering brought a small crowd to Edgewood Park. It started at 11 a.m. and several people took the microphone, urging people to take action and vote in upcoming elections.

"We don't groom children, we don't do things to children, we don't have some sort of weird, liberal agenda," said Thomas-Abbott. "Most of the people that I teach with are very conservative educators, and they are concerned with making sure people know how to read and write well and have a moral education. We are promoting citizenry instead of some automaton that just wants to go work."

During the gathering, Johnson also criticized Lee for staying silent while Arnn insulted teachers. She said he never tried to defend teachers, and McKenzie said he nodded in agreement.

"Silence is the voice of complicity," said Thomas-Abbott. "There's nothing that he said that I found inoffensive."

The Tennessee Association of Colleges for Teacher Education also released a statement urging Gov. Lee to make a publically defend teachers.

"I don't think he knew that we would know," said Thomas-Abbott. "Whoever the brave soul is that recorded what was said is actually what we need out of all people."

Speaker Cameron Sexton (R - Crossville) also spoke against the comments on July 6, saying Arnn insulted generations of teachers who made a difference for countless students.

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