Are teachers dumb?
Spoiler alert: nope.
Let’s be clear: teachers are not dumb.
In fact, I’d argue that the teachers I’ve worked with over the last six years are some of the smartest, most reflective, and most hardworking individuals I’ve ever met.
If you doubt me, I’d challenge you to come stand in front of a class of 30 middle school students and just get them to listen to you. Classroom management alone is such a complex skill, requiring a deep understanding of human development, theatrical skills, and an endless well of patience, I’m in awe of teachers who make it seem automatic.
I’m having to clarify this because a few weeks ago, the President of Hillsdale College, Larry Arnn, said as much. Arnn is also an education advisor to Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, and he made the comments in a conversation with Lee that was taped (unbeknownst to Arnn) and then broadcast on a local news station.
Specifically, here’s what Arnn said, according to Curmudgucation:
“The teachers are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country."
“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.”
“You will see how education destroys generations of people. It's devastating. It's like the plague.”
These are concerning comments from Arnn, not only in his role as an education advisor, but also because Hillsdale College had been tapped to open 50+ charter schools in Tennessee (his comments may have scuttled those plans, though).
They’re also concerning because The National Review published a column endorsing them, and because Tennessee’s Governor has yet to denounce them and voice support for public educators.
Arnn, surprisingly, aggressively defended his comments in an essay published this week by The Tennessean. He characterized the uproar over his comments as a ploy by “bureaucrats and their leftist activists” trying to maintain control over their education monopoly.
An essay in The Federalist echoes his furor over “helping Democrats maintain their power through educational institutions” and applauds his work in trying to open more charter schools. The piece goes on to proclaim, “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.”
Does our public education system need to do better? It sure does. Do teacher prep programs need to better prepare teachers for the classroom? They sure do. On that, we should all agree.
We should stop short, though, of demonizing and denigrating those working in a system that is chronically underfunded by those — across political spectrums — who hold the power.
Arnn and his supporters are also staunch supporters of school choice, and, by proxy, school vouchers. His comments and the essays supporting them are tacitly engaging in a rhetorical war full of misguided histrionics (that was a fun sentence to write!), one intent on eradicating a system of public education that should (and could) be improved, not dismantled.
I wrote two weeks ago that perhaps we should consider a Constitutional amendment granting the right to a public education. This is a great example of why.
Thanks for reading. Have a great week.
I felt very uncomfortable during the beginning of the pandemic when teachers (of which I am one) were lauded as heroes. It seems that many willing to take and run with that title are the types to coast under the protection of tenure rather than reflect about how they could better impact students. But the time of teacher appreciation has passed and we are back to teachers not teaching anything unless it is some sort of indoctrination. Students show up to class with an expectation of mediocrity or incompetence because they have been prepped by parents.
But maybe not. I have asked my students often about big issues involving education or policy and many don't know and don't really care. They show up and respond to me based on how I treat them and how I set up my classroom.
I don't want to say that politics is a distraction, but at times it is. The last thing kids need is a lecture about my politics. What they need is a present teacher who connects so that when the "teachers are..." crowd pipes up, they stay quiet because that wasn't their experience.
Teachers become the convenient target because as a society we value our right to criticize rather than reflect on our efforts. Then, feeling attacked, many teachers recoil and assert their chosen craft is good and noble and therefore reflection is not needed. Visit the buffet of cliche teacher memes and stuff yourself.
If the last few years have taught me anything, it's revealed that no one is coming to save us. There's a strange empowerment in accepting that. I enjoy and trust my colleagues. It's my job to show up regardless of who is principal, superintendent and all the way up to president.