“Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic countries. The acronym is well deserved,”
Hugo Mercier, The Enigma of Reason


Years ago I was tending bar on a slow New Years’ Eve. I had roughly 10 people at the bar, among them two couples. They hadn’t arrived together, but as often happens in a bar when two parties end up in close proximity, they’d struck up a conversation

While the woman’s exchanges were mainly congenial, the men’s was a bit different. The younger, more urban fellow, was playing a game of insulting the older more country fellow, seeing how close he could push him before he realized he was being mocked. It was obvious that the younger man had engaged in this sport in the past, as he was quite deft at it.

Several times over a 30-minute period the older man would start to get a look of ire on his face, only to have the younger twist his words and appease him. Finally, though he’d had enough, “I get the feeling that you are making fun of me.” he said in a challenging manner, “Feels like you are calling me stupid.”

The younger man put his hands up in an effort to soothe, “Not at all,” he offered, “I would never suggest such a thing. It’s not your fault that you attended a public school in Tennessee. Please don’t think I’m calling you stupid.”

In an effort to not escalate the situation, the man nodded and left the other’s words hanging in the air without challenge. He and his wife left the bar within a few minutes. After their departure, the remaining man and his wife burst into laughter over the cleverness he felt he exhibited. It was clear that he felt an intellectual superiority over the other man, and reveled in it. The couple soon left the bar, still chortling over the events of the last hour.

Governor Lee, Larry Arm. and their supporter’s actions over the last week are reminiscent of those employed that night at the bar. It’s clear to even the casual observer that Governor Lee feels an unwarranted intellectual superiority over those who elected him to represent them.

We’ve been led to believe by some that when Hillsdale CEO Larry Arm stated from the stage at a private affair in Tennessee, with Tennessee Governor Lee in close proximity, “The teachers are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country, and they are taught that they are going to do something to those kids,”, that he wasn’t talking about Tennessee teachers.

Nah, that comment was about teachers in other parts of the country. After all, he never said, “Tennessee teachers.” Fair enough, though I’m assuming that he is including the ones in states like Michigan, Georgia, Kentucky, and other states where we are actively trying to recruit teachers. In case you weren’t aware, we are having a little bit of a challenge fully staffing our schools here in Tennessee. It would be nice if we could entice some of those teachers from other states to cross state borders and help us out.

Why should they, considering that Governor Lee’s pal Larry thinks they all come from the “the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges”? Once they delve a little deeper into Lee’s policies, they’ll likely look elsewhere.

While they suck as an apology, Lee’s words do pull back the curtain on the current state of affairs in regard to education in this country,

“I disagree with … activism from the left. But I fully support our public schools in this state and our teachers as well,” Lee said. “It wasn’t about Tennessee teachers or Tennessee schools as much as it was about activism in education and this country.”

Headscratcher, is it just activism from the left? Does he consider right-wing activism acceptable? And there it is, the elephant in the room. Activism in the classroom is fine, as long as it’s my kind of activism.

Everybody bristles when accusations of “indoctrination” are raised, yet everybody does it. Come on, did you think anybody is really pursuing a generation of critical thinkers? If those critical thinkers arrived at different conclusions than ours, cries of brainwashing would erupt immediately.

These days we can’t even stay in the room with family members who arrive at different conclusions than our own, do you really believe that we would tolerate a generation coming of age whose views didn’t mirror ours?

Ultimately that’s what all of this is about. In the future will America embrace the so-called progressive ideas of many Americans, or will it continue to resemble the America of the past as many others desire. Both sides engage in trying to define the future, and both give a short shift to the intellectual capacity of the other. And both sides lay claim to the purity of intent.

It was not so long ago that the public education system was viewed as a means to assimilate immigrants into American society, it’s not a far jump to adopt it as a means to shape the future of society. It’s evident when laws are passed to dictate what books can be read, and it’s evident when policies are crafted that address issues outside of the classroom.

This week, at NEA’s annual conference, a controversy was stirred over the possibility of changing the words “mother,” “father,” and “maternity leave” with gender-neutral terms in contract language. “Birthing parent” was an example put forth. Ultimately, it was never brought to a vote, but I’d question why it was even an issue as it has little to do with the actual education of children.

A proposal that did pass was to spend $140,625 to create and distribute “fact sheets” about the 25 largest organizations seeking to “dismantle public education,” including information about funding sources, leadership, and office locations.

“You cannot put a price tag on truth,” said one delegate, according to Education Week. “We have to know our enemies.”

How is any of this different than the Right pushing legislation to limit the teaching of sex, race, and history? It’s not, and when we address those that hold different views as if they were combatants in a war, we lose sight of what’s at stake. Lost in the conversation is the old African proverb, “When elephants fight, the grass suffers.” In this case, the grass is the children of America.

Personally, I don’t believe that the teachers of Tennessee are that offended over Arm’s comments and Lee’s endorsement of them.

First of all, they are not that fragile. You are telling me that someone who regularly faces down a classroom of 7th graders, is suddenly so fragile that the hot air expelled by a snake oil salesman is cause to become offended. I’m sure they deal with and dismiss much more on a daily basis.

Second of all, despite the assumptions of Governor Lee, they are not dumb. Teachers are perfectly capable of figuring out how Governor Lee and his cronies feel about them. I doubt that Arm’s words were a shock to any of them, when you’ve been kicked in the teeth for decades by supposed friends, does a random punch from a stranger have that much impact?

So why has this controversy dragged on for over a week? I believe that it is the aligning of an extreme agenda that is at the root of the heightened emotion

We all accept a little indoctrination in our public schools. There’s always going to be a  little element of conservatism and a little liberalism. The theory is that students would take the best elements from each. I’d argue that this vision has been successful for decades. Despite all the noise, America remained a mostly centrist country. Per Gallup,

Overall in 2021, an average of 29% of Americans identified as Democrats, 27% as Republicans, and 42% as independents. Roughly equal proportions of independents leaned to the Democratic Party (17%) and to the Republican Party (16%).

To quote Daniel Buck’s latest in Chalkboard Review,

“Schools build our common culture, give us our common language, a common understanding of our history and what it means to be an American. Education is the structure upon which our society depends. The stabilizing force.”

When either side goes too far, people tend to push back. We saw this earlier in the year when parents started questioning the curriculum used in their children’s schools. We saw it when politicians tried to remove books from school libraries. We are seeing it again in reaction to the agenda of Larry Arm and Bill Lee.

With Lee, it’s not just about ideology either. It is about using his position for the benefit of friends. One thing that Americans on both sides of the aisle abhor is a politician using their position to reward supporters. And that is what Lee continually appears to be doing with his agenda. You can look at current events in Montgomery County for further evidence.

American Classical Academy Montgomery (ACAM) is an affiliate of Hillsdale College and the second of two charter school applicants in Clarksville. ACAM plans to serve students in K-5 beginning in July 2023, with a projected enrollment of 340 students. Additional grades will be added each year as the school reaches a K-12 capacity. The school would choose students based on a lottery system and is expected to reach around 640 students at full capacity by 2033, according to its application.

The school’s application has been denied once over questions of how it would serve its special needs population. The amended application has raised financial concerns.

Total year one expenses are estimated at more than $3.5 million with total revenues of more than $3.4 million. The school plans to apply for a $600,000 grant from the Tennessee Department of Education and hopes to take out a short-term loan of $675,000 for startup costs, according to its application.

In other words, they plan to use taxpayer money to establish their business, and as a friend of Bill feel pretty confident that they’ll be able to secure that funding. Now that’s something I don’t think people on either side of the aisle are comfortable with. Thus here we are.

To date, the focus of this controversy has been on those talking, but I would caution that we pay equal attention to those not talking. The words of Larry Arm have been rebuked by both teachers and legislators, including those from the governor’s party.

Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton and Lt. Governor Randy McNally both rebutted Arm’s accusations. Per The Tennessean,

Sexton said he would never agree with or support Arnn’s comments, and the Hillsdale president had “insulted generations of teachers who have made a difference for countless students.”

McNally called Arnn’s comments “ill-conceived, unfortunate and untrue,” and said they would “feature prominently in the vetting process” for Hillsdale’s proposed charter schools in Tennessee.

It would seem, with these two entering the fray, the door would be open to all. But you know who hasn’t been talking? Non-profits who have financially benefited from the policies of Governor Lee – SCORE, Education Trust, and Instructional Partners – are all strangely quiet. As are organizations like TennesseeCAN, Tennesseans For Student Success, and Tennessee Alliance for Equity in Education, all silent.

Initially, the Tennessee Organization of Scholl Superintendents(TOSS) didn’t have much to say, but after being pushed by members, they delivered a strong statement today that includes the following,

The value of public education and public school teachers cannot be adequately stated in any single writing. Rather, the value of public schools and public school teachers is demonstrated in the daily lives of Tennesseans who worship, work, give of their time and resources, assist their neighbors, and vote. The Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents gives its profound thanks to all of those in public education who strive daily to make this state a better place to live for all of its residents.

When you count the silent, oddly their number includes Governor Lee’s Commissioner of Education. You’d think Boris would want Natasha by his side when taking heat. The Brain always keeps Pinky close at hand when facing adversity. Hardy never let Laurel stray too far in times of crisis. Yet Penny Schwinn has deftly separated herself from this fray. Leaving the Governor to take the center stage alone.

Instead, she’s spent her time soaking up the friendly fields of Europe, where she is enjoying a multi-week vacation. I’d share the photos she’s posted on Facebook, but all include her children and I’m just not willing to go there. If she wants to use them as props that’s her decision, but I will extend the same consideration for her children as I would want for mine.  So let’s just say she’s having a large time overseas while the Governor gets kicked around here at home.

She did issue a benign statement via a Facebook post,

My mom raised me out of her classroom (Room 16) as an elementary school teacher. My family, my friends, and my community have always been deeply rooted in this tremendous profession and our identity as educators is as strong as anything else. Every time they’ve been asked, TN teachers have stepped up for kids. This year especially, our state data shows that. I’ve been in 2000+ classrooms and seen how it takes talented, educated & skilled people to be great teachers. TN is filled with them. And that matters.

One that fails to mention how in 2021, Tennessee taxpayers funded a trip to Hillsdale College for her. One in which details were never made available.

It sure would be nice for Governor Lee if she was in town now and could take her annual bus tour. Now that district results are available, it would provide an opportunity to personally congratulate and thank the state’s educators. But unfortunately, that trip has already been concluded.

How long will this crisis run? Hard to guess, but I’d keep my eye on who’s not talking and the larger picture around what is being said.


With early voting just around the corner, the MNPS School Board races are…intriguing?

Incumbent Rachel Elrod this week sent out a campaign email that describes her opponent thus,, “Mr. “No Woke” Pembroke, as he calls himself, has zero education experience, and won his Republican primary with rhetoric straight from Dr. Arnn’s ultra-conservative playbook.” For his part, Mr. Penbrook has refrained from negative campaigning. It’s always odd when the incumbent goes negative first.

Candidate Erin Ohara offers the following commentary on just-released district TCAP scores, “We’ve got a long way to go to get to where we need to be in @MetroSchools to ensure all kids can succeed in college and career, but this is some really strong progress in one year. Congrats to students and educators!” As someone formerly responsible for state testing in Tennessee in her role with the TNDOE, no one knows more than O’Hara how unreliable these scores are.

The participation rates, live instructional time, and outside-of-class stressors, all vary greatly between 2021 and 2022. To draw anything but inferences in comparing the two sets of data is ludicrous. Her willingness to do so without reservation serves to indicate the level of honest conversation we can expect if she’s elected.

Then you have candidate Berthena Nabaa-McKinney being endorsed by 6 sitting school board members. Yea, that’s not going to set any precedence.

I’d like to say that I have excitement around the upcoming election, but unfortunately, signs point to it being more of the same. And if you are good with that…so be it.


MNPS seems to have begun a summer romance with AVID education programing. Back in her days as a high school principal, Dr. Battle experienced a great deal of success with AVID programming. Programing that went unsupported during Dr. Joseph’s tenure. Now it’s apparently back in favor as the district has sent several hundred teachers to AVID’s summer conferences in Tampa Bay and San Antonio.

Coming on the heels of several hundred principals and central office staff traveling to Alabama for a multi-day principal splash, that’s a fair amount of travel expenditure for a district that just came up short $22 million in funding during the latest budget hearings. At the minimum, I would argue,  the optics are terrible for a district that could be facing even greater budget shortfalls in the coming year due to rising fuel and food costs, not to mention a continued decline in enrollment But will anybody on the MNPS School Board raise their hand and question?

On Wednesday, Tara Scarlett, Chair of the state’s Education Recovery and Innovation Commission shared the Commission’s third and final report on needed enhancements and improvements to Tennessee’s K-12 and higher education systems. Yea, it was met with a collective shrug, but I’m glad the wealthy and semi-influential got to play together for a while. Maybe in the next report, they’ll indicate the number of commission members who would even consider sending their kids to public school.

Over at the Tennessee Education Report, Andy Spears shares NPEF’s call for Equity Metrics,

“We cannot continue to expect different outcomes if we do not change the way the system is designed,” said Katie Cour, President and CEO of the Nashville Public Education Foundation. “That means changing the way we support children and youth in all aspects of their lives – not just the quality of schools they attend, but also their access to transportation, housing, healthcare, and other core services. Equity metrics would allow us to get a more accurate picture of what our students are truly experiencing and are an important step in building the Nashville we all want.”

Sounds good, but I’m not even sure what any of that means. Seems like it’s an ask a bit out of the realm of a non-profit, but what do I know.

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Categories: Education

1 reply

  1. The amount of $$$ that MNPS has spent on Avid training is absurd.

    They continue to run people into the ground because there is “not enough in the budget” for additional positions that actually benefit kids.

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