These anti-education frauds don’t belong anywhere in public life

Larry Arnn, the president of a Christian bible college, Hillsdale, gave a little talk at a private reception that you weren’t supposed to record, because he felt comfortable saying the quiet part out loud.

Ed departments in colleges. If you work in a college you know, unless you work in the ed department. Ours [Hillsdale’s] is different. They are the dumbest part of every college. [Audience laughs.] You can think about why for a minute. If you study physics, there is a subject. … How does the physical world work? That’s hard to figure out. Politics is actually the study of justice. … Literature. They don’t do it much anymore, but you can read the greatest books, the most beautiful books ever written. Education is the study of how to teach. Is that a separate art? I don’t think so.

Well, I hate to break the news to you, Larry, but Christian colleges are the dumbest part of the American system of higher ed. They’re the part that expects students to adhere to dogma, instead of questioning everything, and make the myths of magical beings that didn’t exist a key part of the curriculum. I don’t think Arnn is qualified to judge what is “dumb”, since he has a history of wallowing in dumb for all of his life.

His logic is bad, too. Some fields of study have “subjects,” like physics or literature (which is just about reading books), but education…doesn’t? Except that it does, since it’s the “study of how to teach,” but he rather feebly disqualifies that as not “a separate art”. Pedagogy, psychology, communication, and competence in a subject being taught don’t count, because Larry Arnn, shill for the Heritage Foundation, says they don’t.

We’ve got a good education program here at UMM — I guess Hillsdale doesn’t — and I have education students in my classes all the time. In order to get certified to teach science in a public school, they are expected to get a degree in a science discipline. The real thing. A full degree. No shortcuts. On top of that, they have to meet all of the requirements for an education degree, and it’s often a five-year program to complete. No, it’s not the “dumbest part” of my college. That title would belong to a theology department, which we don’t have, because we don’t teach inscrutable dogma and archaic magic.

There’s not a word of truth in anything Arnn said, but he really let’s slip the theocratic agenda of the Christian right.

Here’s a key thing we are going to try to do. We’re going to try to demonstrate that you don’t have to be an expert to educate a child. Because basically anybody can do it.

That is absolutely not true. It’s a skill. It requires a solid foundation in knowledge. There’s a kind of arrogance in thinking you can just do it, or that all of education is an amorphous mass with no specialization required.

For instance, I teach college level biology, and no, I don’t think Larry Arnn could do it. He’d only miseducate his students. But I don’t think that implies that I could teach everyone and everything. My wife has a Ph.D. in child psychology, and is an expert in communicating with little kids and helping them learn. I don’t even compare with her in her domain, and she couldn’t do my job, and there ought to be some mutual respect for everyone’s unique abilities…unless you’re Larry Arnn, who thinks he could teach everything. What an ass.

It’s all part of the Republican plan to destroy public education, though. You declare that education isn’t a thing, that teachers can be easily replaced by any old yahoo (although, preferably, stay-at-home moms who aren’t permitted to work anywhere else), and you can start declaring schools superfluous.

I do wonder how Hillsdale parents are going to react to that, since many of those conservative families were howling about how the pandemic meant the kids had to stay at home, and although they didn’t say it, were probably cringing at the thought of having to teach their lovely little third-grader math every day.


  1. raven says

    Because basically anybody can do it.

    That is just obviously wrong.
    Some can and a lot cannot.

    I knew two kids who were homeschooled and not by xian homeschoolers.
    In their case, homeschooling meant noschooling.

    Both kids were of at least average intelligence.
    At age 18, one read on a third grade level and the other one was more like a first grade level reader.
    They all struggled as young adults and one died of a drug overdose at 25.

  2. hemidactylus says

    Now you only need to pursue a degree in education to teach in Arizona:

    I must be on some libertarian or conservative crank mailing list since I receive Hillsdale’s Imprimis which isn’t good enough to wrap fish. It has stalked me for decades. Enjoy:

    These bozos have some input now into Florida education “standards”. Heil Dersantis! Retch!

  3. says

    Because basically anybody can do it.

    Maybe so — but “anybody” can do it a lot better when they have more support from good schools, public health infrastructure, and a wide range of social-services. These backwards buffoons love to preach about parental rights and parental choice, while leaving parents to do everything alone, with no backup, assistance or support from any other sector of society. Savagery, primitivism and tribalism are not family values!

  4. Paul K says

    As someone who’s been on a small community school board for over a decade, and who was trained to be a high school teacher way back in the 80s (at PZ’s UMM, no less), and who has worked with kids for nearly 40 years, I find this flabbergasting. That someone could be so arrogantly idiotic shouldn’t be surprising, I guess, especially someone in a leadership position from that place. But that they would say it out loud? Anyone who thinks that, at an event where you are not supposed to be recorded, you won’t be recorded saying such utterly ridiculous crap, hasn’t got a functioning brain, or has just reached the point where they just don’t care who knows how devoid of any decency or thinking skills they are. This guy shows how ‘all of the above’ is probably the best answer.

  5. says

    Perhaps UMM, or more widely UM, requires a science degree (and, for other subjects, hopefully the corresponding degree) to accompany an education degree. But no state has such a requirement for licensing; indeed, in some states one can add subject-matter annotations to the teaching license with enough substitute appearances.

    I strongly suspect that the way UMM manages matters is to have education courses add on to the main degree, adding those courses necessary for certification in the home state, rather than provide a full, independent, B.A.Ed. Instead, students will earn a “B.A. in {fill in the blank} with a teaching certification,” which allows quite a bit of flexibility in what they might actually teach. Instead, “Colleges of Education” tend to focus on the M.A.Ed. and Ed.D. degrees.

  6. PaulBC says

    I’ve known top researchers in my field who are lousy teachers, and great teachers (at least at an introductory level) who are not at the cutting edge of research. I’m sure I’m not the only one to notice this. My own forays into teaching ranged from disastrous to merely not very good. I was too lazy to prepare, but I also did not appreciate how much preparation is required. Today I might do a better job if I was willing to put in the effort.

    It’s hard enough to put together a presentation. Do this every day? Seriously? Not to mention that a large part of the “audience” would rather be somewhere else.

    So yes, it’s a separate skill. Duh. Who is this guy trying to fool?

  7. rorschach says

    I do get the feeling chaps like this dude do not mean by “education” what normal people mean by it. He also probably does not have the same in mind regarding the goal of education as normal people have, the creation of educated on a broad line of subjects, socially competent, caring, well-adjusted, curious human beings. And yes, you can argue if education is delivering on that right now, and the answer not just in the US is probably no, but that should be the goal I would have thought.

  8. rvoss says

    It was just two weeks ago that my little discussion group had as our subject the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Arnn is the poster boy.

  9. Susan Montgomery says

    @8 Just out of curiosity, who gets to define “socially competent, caring, well-adjusted”?

    As an aside, it’s funny that that should concern someone who has taken the name of a character whose creator says “I have people come up to me in the street saying, ‘I am Rorschach! That is my story!’ And I’ll be thinking, ‘Yeah, great, can you just keep away from me and never come anywhere near me again for as long as I live?’””

  10. hemidactylus says

    This tops the NY Times bestseller’s marked with a dagger [“A dagger indicates that some retailers report receiving bulk orders”]:

    [start quote] “Battle for the American Mind is the untold story of the Progressive plan to neutralize the basis of our Republic – by removing the one ingredient that had sustained Western Civilization for thousands of years. Pete Hegseth and David Goodwin explain why, no matter what political skirmishes conservatives win, progressives are winning the war–and control the “supply lines” of future citizens. Reversing this reality will require parents to radically reorient their children’s education; even most homeschooling and Christian schooling are infused with progressive assumptions. We need to recover a lost philosophy of education – grounded in virtue and excellence – that can arm future generations to fight for freedom. It’s called classical Christian education. Never heard of it? You’re not alone.

    Battle for the American Mind is more than a book; it’s a field guide for remaking school in the United States. We’ve ceded our kids’ minds to the left for far too long–this book gives patriotic parents the ammunition to join an insurgency that gives America a fighting chance.”[end quote]

  11. rorschach says

    Susan @10,
    I presume you’re having a bad day. Otherwise I have no idea what you are on about. The nickname I have had here since 2009 is from a movie that was the subject of extensive debate in one of the first iterations of what is now known as the Endless Thread.

  12. whheydt says

    Hmm… Teaching….
    My father-in-law’s Ed.D dissertation, a comparison of accident rates by trained and untrained drivers, led California to require driver training in the state’s high schools. He taught (at different times) everything from grade school to high school (no idea what subjects) and eventually wound up being a consultant for the Los Angeles schools on driver training. Oddly enough, my late wife never learned to drive in large part because no driving instructor was “good enough” for him. Quite possibly for the best as she had essentially no situational awareness.

    My father, after some years sailing as a ships engineering officer, enlisted in the Maritime Service (beginning in Jan. 1942) and once out of OCS was put to re-training ships engineers on the new power systems that were being put into ships during WW2. He continued teaching electrical and electronic systems until he left the Service in 1954. Never had a degree in anything. Of course, he had the advantage that he was teaching people who were adults and wanted the instruction. That probably makes a pretty big difference.

  13. Susan Montgomery says

    @13 That still doesn’t answer my question as to who you think gets to decide what “competent, caring, well-adjusted” actually means.

  14. says

    If by “teaching”, Larry Arnn means “reciting a bunch of things out of your big book of very special things and then expecting the students to parrot that all back, verbatim”, then I suppose, yes, anyone can teach. And considering Larry Arnn’s background, that might be an accurate summary of his definition.

    If, OTOH, teaching is considered to be helping students synthesize knowledge from information (at the most base level), then no, not everyone is an effective teacher. The experience of virtually every student who ever lived confirms this because everyone has had both good teachers and bad teachers.

    I recently retired from 40 years of teaching electrical engineering at a local college. This is not what I had planned for my career originally, but a situation presented itself and I gave it a try. It turned out to suit me, but I had little formal training in teaching (the closest being courses in psychology and sociology). The subject matter was no problem for me so I spent the first few years absorbing what I could about the art and science of teaching, first, by emulating the behaviors of those profs I liked and respected, and avoiding the actions of those I didn’t. Second, I starting reading the relevant periodicals and journals in the education field. And it wasn’t just college level- I learned a few good things from articles aimed at primary and secondary ed.

    I am guessing that Larry is the sort of guy who also thinks that training and education are synonyms. Ultimately, this strikes me as yet another vein of American anti-intellectualism.

  15. cag says

    Hey, give the guy a break. Imagine how tough it is: deciding whether god is the answer or jesus is the answer.

  16. René says

    Mry 5 cents on this topic:
    In the early days of the gnu atheists, besides visiting Science Blogs, I frequented a Dutch atheist site “Godvoordommen” (I’ll explain the poor joke, if need be.). At the time, we had a very Christian (under)minister of 1st and 2nd education. Arie Slob. This guy, later apologizing for his support for anti-gay churches, was openly defending homeschooling. Irony of ironies.

  17. rorschach says

    “@13 That still doesn’t answer my question as to who you think gets to decide what “competent, caring, well-adjusted” actually means.”

    Yes, what could those words that have a definition in the English language possibly mean. Look, I’m trying, but what am I missing here?

  18. Pierce R. Butler says

    A friend who recently graduated from it told me she felt the Journalism school ranked as the dumbest department on (a very large) campus; what we see now in most of the media backs that up. She didn’t limit the blame to faculty or administration, either, saying her peers were “the most incurious” people she’d ever met.

    It didn’t help a bit that the school had combined “journalism” with Public Relations – to the point where a lot of students couldn’t and can’t tell the difference.

  19. Susan Montgomery says

    @20 Ugh, another one of these. Alright, how would educators know when someone is, say, “well-adjusted”?

  20. says

    Education is the study of how to teach. Is that a separate art? I don’t think so.

    Spoken as someone who has never actually done any teaching. It took me all of one day in a classroom before I realized that I hadn’t fully understood what it takes.

    Of course, if you just don’t care whether the students really learn anything, it becomes much easier.

  21. macallan says

    Well, I hate to break the news to you, Larry, but Christian colleges are the dumbest part of the American system of higher ed.

    I think you’re giving them way too much credit by lumping them together with actual colleges and universities.

  22. nomdeplume says

    American private education – training the Christo-Fascists of the future.

  23. bcw bcw says

    How would someone at a bible college have any idea what teaching is?

    That said, the only thing “dumb” about teachers is that they would try to do something that hard and that poorly paid just because they want to help students learn.