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HomeWORLD NEWSHillsdale College is at the forefront of a conservative reform of K-12...

Hillsdale College is at the forefront of a conservative reform of K-12 education.

Hillsdale College was renowned for many years as a conservative Midwestern institution that refused federal financing to avoid government regulations.

On its Michigan campus, the private Christian institution has statues of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and frequently hosts Republican politicians for speeches.

In recent years, however, Hillsdale has become a more prominent resource for conservatives seeking to reform K-12 education.

Some view the college’s name as an abbreviation for civics classes that teach children to respect America and to reject the notion that racism still exists in society.

Hillsdale is attempting to disseminate this vision by establishing charter schools in more than a dozen states and promoting its 1776 Curriculum, which emphasizes American exceptionalism, in the midst of national debates concerning what children should learn in public schools.

Over 8,400 administrators and instructors have downloaded the curriculum, and a growing number of state and local policymakers seek Hillsdale’s advice, according to the college.

A school board in the Philadelphia suburbs of Pennsylvania recently engaged a former Hillsdale administrator, despite teachers’ vehement objections, to incorporate the 1776 Curriculum into the district’s coursework and advise administrators on which books to remove from libraries.

In South Dakota, Republican Governor Kristi Noem enlisted one of the college’s emeritus politics professors to establish new state standards for a social studies curriculum based on Hillsdale’s models, as part of a larger directive to eliminate critical race theory from schools. Appropriators lauded the new requirements for eschewing “woke orthodoxy.”

In Florida, Hillsdale faculty have been tasked with reviewing school curricula and textbooks, leading teacher training, and governing a public university.

Governor Ron DeSantis, who is vying for the Republican presidential nomination, cited Hillsdale in a speech last month at Moms for Liberty’s national summit when he extolled the ways he has overhauled education in the state.

Hillsdale, which has fewer than 1,700 pupils but an endowment of $900 million, provides many of its resources at no cost.

Leaders of the institution have stated that they are engaging with K-12 schools because they believe students should learn about the “very goodness of America’s founding.

In the midst of culture war conflicts that dominate school districts, Hillsdale’s profound ties to the conservative movement have made it a trusted brand for policymakers seeking to reverse what they perceive to be a progressive takeover of public education.

“Hillsdale is appealing because there is a ready-made solution,” said Jeffrey Henig, a political scientist at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

So that legislators can express their outrage at what they believe has been going on and say, ‘Look, we have the solution, and it’s inexpensive,'”

Matthew Spalding, Hillsdale’s vice president for Washington operations, stated that the college’s work on K-12 education is an extension of the institution’s “extremely long view” of promoting the gospel of patriotism and civil and religious liberty.

Spalding stated, “Don’t think of us as a public policy institution or political organization that jumps into the fray with the latest fad.”

In January, DeSantis appointed Spalding as a trustee of New College of Florida, and a senior aide to the governor stated that the institution would be transformed into the “Hillsdale of the South.

The Florida Department of Education selected Spalding and four Hillsdale faculty members to present during a civics training for teachers.

According to Chester Finn Jr., an assistant secretary of education during the Reagan administration who holds positions at numerous right-leaning think tanks, it is unusual for a college to offer so many K-12 resources.

And Hillsdale’s instructional paradigm provides what conservatives want for their children, according to Finn: “here’s what they should learn, and let’s heal them from what they shouldn’t learn.”

As Hillsdale’s influence has grown, so have protests against it. Educators and parents with liberal leanings object to Hillsdale’s curriculum on the grounds that it introduces a right-wing worldview into K-12 institutions.

The American Historical Association has charged the 1776 Curriculum with diminishing the significance of bigotry, the Great Migration, and the Ku Klux Klan.

(Hillsdale claims that its curriculum “comprehensively” addresses “points of shame” in American history, mentioning slavery over 3,300 times.)

James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, remarked, “In an effort to shape a vision of patriotism, they have simply omitted information.

They are also attempting to replace a method of instruction that teaches students how to think with one that teaches students what to think.

But Hillsdale’s detractors have been powerless to prevent Republican officeholders from reshaping American history education.

“It’s the hat,” said Adam Laats, a historian at New York’s Binghamton University who studies culture wars over education.

The red hat that brought Trump to office — the notion that America can be made great again — I believe the educational aspect of that is that if we are to make America great again, children must embrace it.

And they must learn to appreciate it, which we must teach them. The Hillsdale curriculum, therefore, is the red cap in textbook form.”

Laats explained that Hillsdale’s emphasis on American exceptionalism appeals to those who “worry that if kids don’t hear it, they’ll do things like join Antifa and torch cities”

The fact that Hillsdale was founded by abolitionist Baptists in 1844 and was open to women and African-American students from the beginning is frequently mentioned by college administrators.

Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, helped establish a satellite campus in Washington, D.C., in 2010.

Hillsdale has invested years integrating itself into national conservative circles, notably through the establishment of a Washington, D.C., satellite campus.

Betsy DeVos, who is well-known for her support of private education subsidies, is a major contributor to Hillsdale. William F. Buckley, a conservative author, donated much of his life’s work to the institution.

Larry Arnn, co-founder of the right-leaning Claremont Institute, became president of Hillsdale College in 2000. Arnn serves on the board of the prominent conservative policy organization, the Heritage Foundation.

Former Vice President Mike Pence and right-wing activist Chris Rufo are recent featured speakers at the college. Alumni populate the staffs of conservative media outlets and the offices of Republican officials.

In 2020, as conservatives protested The New York Times’ “1619 Project,” which emphasizes the role of slavery in molding American history, then-President Donald Trump appointed Arnn to head a 1776 Commission.

The commission generated a report that provided an overview of American history and values.

Historians criticized the report, stating that it portrayed the nation’s founders as “godlike men,” minimized women and people of color, and compared progressive reformers of the 20th century to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

Spalding, who was also a dean at Hillsdale College and a member of the 1776 Commission, stated,

These are legitimate and weighty questions — the role of the progressive movement and how it altered our understanding of the American founding is a crucial and vital one.” In addition, I believe that a decent history should address these issues.

Six months after President Joe Biden dissolved the commission, Hillsdale released its 1776 Curriculum, a social studies resource for K-12 schools that asserts “progressivism was a rejection of the principles of the Declaration of Independence” and the 20th-century Civil Rights Movement created “programs that ran counter to the lofty ideals of the Founding Fathers.”

The “1619 Project” is a flawed historical presentation, according to Sean Wilentz, a history professor at Princeton. “That’s a pretty political and distorted view of American history,” he said. “However, they view history as another form of politics. That is the essence of it.”

Spalding stated in a podcast produced by the Heritage Foundation, where he formerly worked, that when conservative parent groups protested how schools discussed race, he perceived “a chink in the armor of the left.

Spalding stated that Hillsdale wanted to make it “extremely simple” for parents and educators to discover an alternative to the “1619 Project,” which he described as “so excessive.”

Kathleen O’Toole, daughter of Arnn and leader of Hillsdale’s K-12 efforts, asserts that the 1776 Curriculum evolved from a decades-old plan to establish an American history textbook.

In an interview, O’Toole stated, “It is essential that the regime we are a part of is a good one. And in order to help make it a good one, it is essential that we search our past for reasons to be proud.”

Pennridge School District conservative school board members in Bucks County, Pennsylvania contacted Hillsdale earlier this year because they desired to implement the 1776 Curriculum.

According to emails obtained through requests for public records, Hillsdale connected the district with Jordan Adams, who at the time was the college’s director of curriculum but shortly left to launch his own education consulting firm.

The conservative board members decided in April to engage Adams at $125 per hour to revamp the district’s curriculum, making it the first school district in the country to employ his consulting services.

The members of the board have defended him as a “seasoned expert.”

Pennridge Superintendent David Bolton objected. Bolton told the school board in an email sent the week Adams was hired that it appeared they were determined to implement Hillsdale’s curriculum “regardless of what the staff thinks is best.

Recent resignation announcer Bolton did not respond to an interview request.

Teachers and parents have demonstrated for weeks. At a meeting on June 20 in which Adams recommended that Pennridge teach more American history and remove books with dark themes such as intoxicated driving, sexual abuse, and suicide, parents and teachers emphasized the importance of discussing difficult topics with students.

Sarah Raber, a curriculum supervisor at Pennridge, stated at the meeting, “It is not meant to harm students or exacerbate any problems they may have.

It is to help students learn how to read and write, and to understand that they have resources and are cared for by the people in their buildings every day they come to school.”

Adams, who declined interview requests, expressed disagreement with the criticism in an email.

The effects of such content on children should not be minimized,” he said, adding, “there are superior alternatives.”

The administration of South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem has selected a retired Hillsdale professor to revise social studies standards in 2022.File by John Raoux / AP

The South Dakota education department also hired Adams to conduct sessions at a summit to train teachers on the state’s new social studies standards, which were adopted in April and modeled after the 1776 Curriculum.

William Morrisey, a retired professor of politics from Hillsdale who retired in 2015, was awarded a $200,000 contract to oversee the South Dakota committee responsible for developing the standards.

Adams created the initial document, according to Samantha Walder, president of the South Dakota Association of Elementary Principals, who served on the committee that drafted the standards.

She stated that he told Walder that he based the standards on the extant Hillsdale curriculum and added South Dakota history.

Adams and Morrisey refused to discuss their contributions to the South Dakota standards.

Native American nations in the state protested that the standards minimized discussion of their histories and portrayed them as “warlike” when they are mentioned.

Teachers criticized the standards for requiring young children to comprehend complex topics; for instance, second-graders must be able to describe the collapse of the Roman empire and Muslim-Christian conflicts.

“When we issued statements and requested changes, nothing was done, and our voices were not heard,” said Walder, who was recently designated the elementary principal of the year in the state. Over ninety percent of the thousands of comments received were against the proposed standards.

People with signs opposing Hillsdale College-affiliated charter schools at a 2022 meeting of the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission.File by Mark Humphrey / AP

In Tennessee, Republican Gov. Bill Lee has attempted to persuade the college to establish publicly funded but privately operated charter schools that would use the 1776 Curriculum and receive training and public relations assistance as a Hillsdale member school. Currently, Hillsdale has 23 member institutions in 14 states.

The proposed partnership between Lee and Hillsdale hit a snag last year when a Nashville-based television station reported that Arnn stated that people with education degrees “don’t have to know anything” and that “teachers are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country.”

In response to the backlash against Arnn’s remarks, the Hillsdale-affiliated charter schools withdrew their application to open in Tennessee, but have returned to propose five campuses this year.

While three were denied by local school boards, Rutherford County approved one in April, contrary to the recommendation of a district review committee that expressed concerns about the proposed school’s relationship with Hillsdale and its political nature.

More than twice as many community members opposed the school as those who supported it wrote letters.

Prior to leading the college’s K-12 efforts, O’Toole managed a Hillsdale-affiliated charter school in Texas. He stated that the schools aim to avoid modern politics and attract families who “don’t want their kids in the middle of a political fight.

She stated that Hillsdale wants to assist American schools “remember what we used to know in this country about tried-and-true curriculum.”

She stated, “We will continue doing what we are doing.



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