A guest at a private reception last week with Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn and Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee secretly recorded the event and then sent the recording to a local media outlet. News Channel 5 then ran a hit story about Arnn’s accurate remark that “teachers are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country.”
Selected 30-second clips from the two-hour recording that betrayed event-goers’ confidence were next quickly amplified in state media, including the state’s biggest leftist outlet, The Tennesseean. This pressure campaign on Thursday caused a Tennessee public school to drop its use of high-quality, time-tested curricula and training that the college provides any K-12 school for free.
In breathless tabloid fashion, News Channel 5’s story falsely states that Arnn “repeatedly mocks the intelligence of public school teachers and questions whether they really care about what is best for their students.” Then the “reporter” rushes to state Democratic Party officials to jointly manufacture outrage to air at Republicans’ desires to improve public schools.
But Arnn was not mocking the intelligence of all public school teachers. His disparaging remarks were aimed at the education bureaucracy that everyone but leftists knows is politically and morally corrupt. Here’s more context for one of the carefully excerpted Arnn quotes from the secret recording, which shows his focus is on doing what’s best for children and making an argument that teacher colleges don’t focus on that but should.
“The teachers are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country, and they are taught that they are going to go and do something to those kids,” Arnn said. “My wife is English, and she’s a gardener, and she doesn’t talk about what she is going to do to these plants. She talks about what they need, because if you give them what they need, they will grow. It’s not a manufacturing operation.”
Tennessee media don’t care about truth, they care about helping Democrats maintain their power through educational institutions, even though it causes American children and society to suffer. Look to the devastating lockdowns they demanded and policed if you have any doubts.
“Dr. Arnn continues to hold the utmost respect and admiration for all those who choose to devote their lives to teaching,” the college responded in a Thursday statement. “It is disappointing — though unsurprising — that entrenched elements of the education establishment would take criticism of their abysmal and damaging track record and deflect it towards the very teachers they’ve undermined for decades.”
Yes, Public Schools Need Serious Improvement
It’s also simply a logical error to characterize Arnn’s remarks as the media and Democrats have in an attempt to scare Lee off from a K-12 overhaul that would see 50 public schools in the state use Hillsdale’s free, high-quality curricula. Arnn and Lee are working to recruit, train, and employ more public school teachers. They will take anybody honest they can get, as I’ve heard Arnn say multiple times, including to large audiences and in public recordings.
Hillsdale College is working with Lee to overhaul Tennessee’s struggling public education system by opening new public schools as fast as they can recruit highly qualified teachers. Their entire partnership aims to make a better education available through Tennessee’s public school system, both for children and for their teachers, at zero cost to taxpayers and zero financial benefit to the college. (They should also work to make Christian education available to more Tennessee children, because only a moral people is capable of self-government, and an education that excludes religion, as public schools today are forced to do, destroys faith.)
It’s indisputable that Tennessee’s children and teachers are ill-served by the current system. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the best-available measure of student academic achievement, 69 percent of students in 12th grade, the last year of their Tennessee public school education, are not proficient in reading. Seven in 10.
In math, 83 percent of Tennessee 12th graders are not proficient. NAEP says these scores are significantly below the national average, which is itself shameful, as the United States’s public education system ranks academically in the bottom half of developed nations. These data are pre-lockdown, and the post-lockdown numbers are going to be far more devastating.
Teacher quality is the No. 1. thing a school can control that affects student achievement. (No. 2 is curriculum quality.) And, as Arnn said, it’s been well-established for decades that U.S. teacher preparation is completely unfair to teachers and their students.
Teachers and Research Agree: Education Schools Are Garbage
Teachers themselves agree that teachers’ colleges are of low quality, as Arnn said. In 2006, 62 percent of teachers told researchers their training didn’t prepare them well for their jobs. In general, education colleges not only do not prepare teachers to succeed in the classroom, they have been so thoroughly corrupted by cultural Marxism that what teachers learn in the typical preparation program actually degrades their skills.
These are well-reinforced, longstanding empirical findings bolstered by many forms of evidence. As I wrote in a research summary 10 years ago, “Teachers tend to have below-average SAT, ACT, LSAT, and GRE scores, and statistics show their college coursework is among the least challenging available. Education majors must take more remedial college coursework than their counterparts in humanities and social sciences. … Traditional teacher preparation programs emphasize education and social theories, which research has demonstrated are ineffective teaching methods.”
For example, teacher certification programs have long been proven to have zero connection to teacher quality or raising student achievement. Also, as I note in the summary, the students who enter college intending to major in education typically score below-average on college entrance exams, and this has been true since the 1950s.
Education majors in 2021 scored below average on the SAT, answering fewer questions correctly than the average English major on math and lower than the average math major on evidence-based reading and writing. (This is also the latest version of the SAT, which is of lower quality than previous versions of the SAT, meaning the truth is worse than these data suggest.)
Those who take teacher licensure tests for elementary education are typically in the bottom 30 percent of their college peers, and their licensure exams are often set at a fifth-grade level. Fifth-grade-level reading is one step past being merely able to sound out the words on the page. The reason licensure passing standards are set so low, writes former Massachusetts education commissioner Dr. Sandra Stotsky, is that if states raised them, most teachers would not pass.
The U.S. Teacher Pipeline Is a Scam
There’s a lot more under this rock. Research also shows education majors receive much easier A’s than do students pursuing other college majors, and that these lax academic standards have been in place for more than 60 years. Education schools are adjacent to the humanities and social science departments of universities, which are well known to be the farthest left departments on America’s nearly uniparty campuses, and not incidentally also the departments with the shoddiest academic output.
No less a figure than President Barack Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan publicly affirmed that education departments are known as universities’ “cash cows” because they provide the least value to taxpayers and college students. Even the rabid media can’t claim Duncan is an “ultraconservative” like Tennessee’s News Channel 5 did of Hillsdale, and he’s made critiques similar to Arnn’s.
What Duncan wouldn’t say is one other very true thing Arnn said: In place of academic excellence, teachers’ colleges substitute a strong indoctrination in cultural Marxism.
“The administrators you hire are all ‘diversity’ people,” Arnn said, “and that helps you, by the way, with your federal requirements that you have a certain number by color.” Arnn continued, “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.”
This is also empirically well demonstrated. As anyone can see with a visit to any education school’s web page, the mission statements and program overviews at many top education programs emphasize concepts such as equity, inclusion, and diversity far more than academic excellence.
In 2019, researcher Jay Schalin reviewed several hundred syllabi from education school courses. He discovered they strongly pushed Marxism, cultural and otherwise: “The results are unequivocal: the ‘long march’ through the education schools has been successful; the most influential thinkers in our education schools are radicals who adhere to a collectivist, utopian vision.”
Aspiring teachers typically learn not how to teach children to read in the most effective way, nor deep knowledge of their subject matter, but why the United States and white people are evil and all the rest. This is morally and intellectually evil — but making the conversation about race distracts from the reality that teachers’ colleges exploit the people forced to attend them and ultimately the children they deprive of highly trained teachers.
False Claims of Racism Are Morally Reprehensible
News Channel 5 also slips in a vicious smear against Arnn’s character, claiming he “sparked controversy nearly a decade ago with a sarcastic reference to minorities as ‘dark ones.'” Nasty lies like these are why most Americans despise the news media. I happened to be present as an eyewitness to Arnn making this remark, so I know it’s false to take these two words out of context and use them to imply racial bias.
We were both testifying to Michigan’s Legislature about Common Core when Arnn said these words. He was objecting to the institutional racism the federal government attempted to apply to Hillsdale, one of the reasons Hillsdale now will not accept federal funds. In response to a lawmaker’s question, Arnn described how, when Hillsdale refused to consider race when reviewing admissions applications, as the feds demanded, the U.S. Department of Education sent officers to walk around campus and count all the students they could find with darker skin.
That is racism, it is outrageous, and Arnn was objecting to it. To use his rejection of racism to imply he’s a racist is pure malice. There’s no other way to describe it. Anyone willing to lie about someone else this way without any regard for the facts cannot be trusted as a reporter or as anything else.
We Have to Know the Truth to Do the Right Thing
So as an empirical matter, there’s no question Arnn is 100 percent right. And without people like him being willing to state the truth, and listeners such as Lee and Tennessee school principals being willing to accept reality and take action based on it, this terrible situation can never be addressed. For the sake of the country, however, for our own self-respect and obligations to teachers and students, it must be.
Teachers, like their students, have been cheated by America’s education system. They are largely good and well-meaning people who do very difficult jobs, as we all know. They are victims of an education bureaucracy that uses teachers and children as human shields to protect the failing status quo they have created and want to keep.
Clearly, very powerful interests want to keep truth away from Americans, thereby keeping Tennessee’s children and teachers at their mental and institutional mercy. Liars like these can’t be trusted to watch your laptop when you go to the bathroom, not to mention to educate your child. Their hold on power must be broken.
Federalist intern Olivia Hajicek, a current Hillsdale student, assisted in the first draft of this article. The author is a grateful 2022 recipient of a “Distinguished Alumna” award from Hillsdale, her alma mater and her husband’s.