Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn disparaged teachers. Bill Lee should not tolerate that. | Opinion

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Recently, I was shown a video by investigative reporter Phil Williams from Channel 5 in Nashville.

When I watched the video of Larry Arnn and Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, I became infuriated. This was not about charter schools or Hillsdale College. This was an attack on public schools, teachers, and Colleges of Education.

Mr. Arnn has a clear disdain for public educators. “Anybody can do it," he said.

He had zero confidence in colleges of education. “They are the dumbest part of every college” and “teachers are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country.”

He claims public education enslaves students: “The heart of modern education is enslavement.”

Arnn also made comments related to diversity. Given Arnn’s track record on race, it would seem that he would steer clear of those issues. He did not.

More: In Hillsdale College, how Gov. Lee found the charter school partner he's been seeking

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Teaching is an art and science

Larry Arnn’s comments are reprehensible and irresponsible. What was even more hurtful than Arnn’s comments is that Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee sat there while educators, colleges of education, and public education were disparaged. Lee’s silence spoke volumes. Lee then told the audience that this “vision for educating children ... is a vision that Tennesseans will embrace.”

I disagree.

Hillsdale College President Dr. Arnn talks to alumni at the Alumni Awards Banquet.
Hillsdale College President Dr. Arnn talks to alumni at the Alumni Awards Banquet.

Governor Lee should know better. His wife, our First Lady Maria Lee, has a degree in education and is a former teacher and coach. In our state 83% of the teachers are women. Teachers have the greatest impact on student achievement.

Teaching is a science, an art, and a craft. It is not for everyone. Most people do not want the responsibility, stress, low salary, or long hours. Parents do not just want anyone instructing their child.

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Colleges of education provide valuable training

Colleges of education are vital for teacher preparation, so every child has an effective teacher in the classroom. They are key partners in developing and strengthening K–12 education.

They must identify and recruit future teachers and graduate them as certified teachers to meet the licensure requirements set by the state. We need them now more than ever because veteran teachers are quitting the profession.

Teachers must pass an entrance requirement, maintain a certain GPA, and pass an exit exam to become certified. Licensure is the function of the state and the gatekeeper to employment.

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Here is why there's no apples-to-apples comparison

Public education is not perfect. However, attacking public education with words like enslavement and despotism is unjustifiable.

Teachers do not create the standards, choose the curriculum, or buy the textbooks. Educators teach students how to think, not what to think. The governance of public schools is a complex issue that includes different government entities at the local, state, and federal levels. In the end, we want ALL our students to succeed, wherever they are educated.

JC Bowman
JC Bowman

Unlike most Tennessee colleges and universities, Hillsdale College avoids federal rules and regulations because they forgo federal aid. This makes an apple-to-apple comparison impossible. But Arnn and Lee want our tax dollars to open Hillsdale charter schools in our state. That seems hypocritical.

The Tennessee Charter School Center stated that Arnn’s comments “do not in any way reflect the views or opinions of Tennessee public charter schools, leaders, parents, educators, or operators.”

We must work together to fight discrimination

Educators or colleges of education are not the problems. They certainly are not “dumb.” Teachers contend with an array of student challenges — substandard housing, homelessness, inadequate nutrition and food insecurity, lack of access to health care, unsafe neighborhoods, and schools with limited resources.

This may be unfamiliar territory to Mr. Arnn and Governor Lee.

Finally, we should embrace our diversity. America, like our Judeo-Christian heritage, is reflected by different ethnicities, genders, opinions, and experiences. Our Declaration of Independence reminds us we are created equal and endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights.

In a state as diverse as Tennessee, we should want citizens to work together to eradicate discrimination. We must also work together to educate all our children in Tennessee. Most importantly, we must support and praise our educators for being the tireless beacons that they are.

JC Bowman is the executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Bill Lee should defend teachers after Hillsdale College's head mocked them