Education, Racism — July 31, 2013 at 7:44 pm

Hillsdale College president interrupts thoughtful House hearing to let everyone know he’s a racist embarrassment


The 1960s called, they want their racist rhetoric back

I know we’re not a true “post racial” society. I want us to be. But I know we aren’t. But, at least in most public discourse, it’s definitely no longer acceptable to say racist things or to make derogatory remarks about specific races. Call it ‘political correctness’ if you want but most people know that making racist comments in public will only bring down a whole heap of woe upon you, particularly if you are public figure.

Most reasonably thoughtful, reasonably intelligent people know this. However, the president of Hillsdale College, Larry Arnn, clearly and unequivocally does not.

A House subcommittee on the adoption of Common Core educational standards met for the second time today to hear testimony about the adoption of the national education standards, called Common Core, that Michigan schools have been preparing for, some as long as four years. However, Republicans in the legislature have blocked the implementation of Common Core by eliminating funding to do so in the state budget. The hearings are happening to remove this “pause”, as Republicans call it, and move forward with the implementation.

So, after hours and hours of thoughtful, informed, educational testimony from educators and researchers and a whole host of people with a stake in the education of our children, Larry Arnn wanders in to drop a racist turd in the middle of the deliberations.

Here’s the audio. The remark in question starts around the 1:11

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When I came to the college in the year 2000 I had a 35-page letter on my desk from the Michigan Department of Education. It was full of picayune details that nearly no one should take the time to read. But it contained two things that were of interest and that was that they said that we violated the standard for global and multicultural curricula because we teach Western Civilization. And they said that we violated the standards for diversity because didn’t have enough … dark ones I guess is what they meant.

I’m pretty sure I heard the collective gasp in that room in Lansing all the way over in Howell where I work. Like I said, you don’t really hear people refer to African Americans as “darkies” or “dark ones” these days. Some folks in their racist, bigoted hearts still think of them that way but they have the common sense to not actually utter the words in their outside voice where everyone can hear them, especially when they are sitting in front of a panel of legislators at a House of Representatives hearing in the State Capitol!

I spoke with Adam Zemke, an Ann Arbor Democrat who is on the subcommittee along with Representatives Andy Schor, Sam Singh, Ellen Cogen Lipton, and David Knezek. He said the event was so distracting, coming as it did after nearly two hours of thoughtful, fact-filled testimony, that he found it hard to listen to anything else that Mr. Arnn said. Everyone who gave testimony up until that point was informed and respectful.

“The first hour and a half or so, it was everything you want in a hearing”, he said. “And this is a critically important topic that everyone should care about. But, then Mr. Arnn got up and, instead of providing us with facts and information, he gave us opinions and this offensively racist comment. Up until that point we were getting lots of detail, research, and facts. Most of Mr. Arnn’s comments didn’t even have anything to do with Common Core.”

Adam Zemke is right. This is an extremely important topic and it is one that has made strange bedfellows on both sides of the issue. Tea partiers are adamantly against it as are some fairly outspoken teachers organizations. StudentsFirst president and anti-teacher activist Michelle Rhee and Jeb Bush are for it as is the American Federation of Teachers unions. Reasonable people (and unreasonable people) disagree on this issue.

That makes these hearings all that much more important, particularly for legislators like Adam who are keeping an open mind and waiting until they have all the facts in their hands before taking a final position.

So, now, in the middle of this critical debate, thanks to his idiotic Archie Bunkeresque comments, Mr. Arnn has created an absurd distraction from an important and serious topic. It’s offensive and he owes everyone, including his college, an apology. He has made an attempt to apologize, saying:

No offense was intended by the use of that term except to the offending bureaucrats, and Dr. Arnn is sorry if such offense was honestly taken. But the greater concern, he believes, is the state-endorsed racism the story illustrates.

Uh, dude? Shut the hell up. You’re not making this any better.

I’ll leave you with the comment of my friend Lonnie Scott, the new Executive Director of Progress Michigan, who puts it very well, in my opinion:

The ignorance of conservative leader Larry Arnn would be surprising if this were a movement that placed any value on respect for diversity or the truth. Whether it’s describing minority college students as “dark ones” or making things up about education standards that are supported by former Gov. Engler, it’s clear that Larry Arnn is unfit to lead an institution of higher education.

[CC photo credit: Terry Alexander | Flickr]