Opinion: Hillsdale's 'shattered' moment needs to last, and Gov. Lee needs to apologize

New York Times file photo / Larry Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College, speaks with students on campus in Hillsdale, Mich., in 2016. Tennessee Education Administration Committee Chair Mark White, R-Memphis, says Arnn's recent insults to teachers and Tennessee "shattered" the chances for Hillsdale to operate charter schools here with taxpayer money.

Three cheers for Memphis Republican Mark White, the Tennessee House Education Administration Committee chairman who said exactly what needed to be said about the Hillsdale College president who spent two hours belittling teachers and educators during a June appearance with Gov. Bill Lee in Franklin.

White, who has served as education administration committee chairman for nine years, said Arnn's denigrating comments about public school teachers - the very people the Michigan man would need in the 50 planned charter schools the governor invited him to open across the state - need not worry anymore about finding instructors here.

"When the General Assembly convenes again next January, any hope that Hillsdale will operate in Tennessee has been shattered," White wrote during a series of Facebook exchanges with teachers and others on Sunday.

"I will continue to work to find solutions to improve Tennessee's public education system and protect our students, but Hillsdale, by Dr. Arnn's comments, will not be a part of that solution," White wrote.

It was a tactful way to tell the guy who said "teachers are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country," to go home and crawl back under his rock.

In much of the hidden camera video of the reception, Lee was sitting beside Arnn when he said that and worse, but Lee didn't speak up for our teachers or for our colleges that teach those teachers.

Teachers were furious.

Apparently lawmakers still are.

Arnn's ridiculous and petty comments drew sharp criticisms from both state House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, the Republican Senate speaker.

But not Lee. Although the governor later lauded Tennessee teachers when reporters asked about the furor, Lee refused to rebuke Arnn. Instead he defended him by saying he believed Arnn was speaking "about the influence of left-leaning activists in the public education system in this state and this country, frankly."

There was no mention by Arnn of "left-leaning activists" in the video.

But there were some wingnuts talking. Especially Arnn, who once led the disgraced former President Donald Trump's short-lived 1776 Commission which was created to counter The New York Times' 1619 Project.

The 1619 Project examines the legacy of slavery since it came to America in the year 1619, and it highlights contributions of Black Americans to American society.

Trump wanted a more patriotic history created to white-wash American history, so Arnn wrote the 1776 Report and a new "patriotic" K-12 civics curriculum.

Lee, a big supporter of Trump and of Arnn, announced in January that his expanded state education budget would include $32 million of our tax dollars to bring 50 of Hillsdale's "Christian-identity" infused charter schools to Tennessee, as well as Hillsdale's "informed patriotism" curriculum.

You also may recall that one of Lee's early pushes as governor was to create state school vouchers to pay for private school tuition - something right out of Trump education secretary Betsy DeVos' privatize education playbooks.

Well - now that's "shattered." Or at least Hillsdale's participation in the state's charter school plan is.

White told the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Monday that comments like Arnn's "do not help move us forward. And my job is to move us forward in education reform, and you can't move forward when you lock out a whole group," he said, calling teachers the foundation of education.

"I know how our [education committee] members think, and you know, when you sit in committee and you have a piece of legislation that may come before you, it's dead in the water if you have issues like this. ... [A]ny hope that there may be for anything like that is gone."

Here's hoping White is right and the lawmakers - most of them Republican - stick to their guns because our bet is that Bill "I-can't-hear-you" Lee still hasn't gotten the message and will stubbornly try again.

Just know this: With the governor right there with him at the videoed June reception, Arnn said public education is "enslavement" and teachers "feel entitled" to manipulate children. "You will see how education destroys generations of people. It's devastating. It's like the plague."

The governor said nothing. Perhaps he was embarrassed? Perhaps he was thinking he should have known this man better before letting him visit and try to peddle charter schools in Tennessee? But he said nothing.

Now once again, he's not talking. Each time our reporter sought comment from the Governor's Mansion on White's assessment and comments, neither the governor nor his communications staff had anything to say.

It's too bad White didn't politely tell Lee to crawl back under his rock. Maybe voting teachers and parents will on Nov. 8.