A College Fights ‘Leftist Academics’ by Expanding Into Charter Schools


HR King
May 29, 2001
With only 1,500 students on a small-town campus in southern Michigan, Hillsdale College is far from the power corridors of government and top-ranked universities.
But it has outsize influence in the conservative world, with strong ties to the Washington elite. Republican leaders frequently visit, and Justice Clarence Thomas delivered the 2016 commencement address, calling Hillsdale a “shining city on a hill” for its devotion to “liberty as an antecedent of government, not a benefit from government.”
Now the college is making new efforts to reach beyond its campus, this time with an even younger audience. The college is fighting what it calls “progressive” and “leftist academics” by expanding its footprint in the charter school world, pushing the boundaries on the use of taxpayer money for politically tinged education.
Hillsdale has ambitious plans to add to its network of classical public charter schools, which focus on “the centrality of the Western tradition.” And Gov. Bill Lee of Tennessee recently invited the college to start 50 schools using public funds, including $32 million set aside for charter facilities. Hillsdale’s network currently includes 24 schools in 13 states.
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The college has also developed the “1776 Curriculum,” which sets out to portray America as “an exceptionally good country.” During a time when education has become inflamed by divisive cultural debates, Hillsdale has been criticized for its glossy spin on American history as well as its ideological tilt on topics like affirmative action. Educators and historians have also raised questions about other instruction at Hillsdale’s charter schools, citing their negative take on the New Deal and the Great Society and cursory presentation of global warming.
Mr. Lee, a Republican, sees his new charter school expansion as part of an effort to develop what he called “informed patriotism” in Tennessee students.
“For decades, Hillsdale College has been the standard-bearer in quality curriculum and in the responsibility of preserving American liberty,” Mr. Lee told lawmakers recently. “I believe their efforts are a good fit for Tennessee.”
Charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run, have been more commonly promoted as alternatives to low-performing schools in urban centers. In Tennessee, they have been clustered in the state’s four biggest cities, where like other charters, they have been criticized for siphoning money and students out of more traditional public schools.
Mr. Lee’s plan envisions an expansion into suburban and rural areas where, like many Hillsdale charter schools, they would most likely enroll children who are whiter and more affluent than the average charter school pupil.

In that way, the Hillsdale schools could be something of a publicly funded off-ramp for conservative parents who think their local schools misinterpret history and push a socially progressive agenda on issues from race and diversity to sexuality and gender.

“I’ve been following charter schools over the last 25 years, and I’ve never seen a governor attempting to use charters in such an overtly political way,” said Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley. “You’ve had governors who’ve encouraged the growth of charters to provide more high-quality options for parents, but it’s highly unusual to see a governor deploy the charter mechanism for admittedly political purposes.”

Charter Schools and More​

Hillsdale was founded in 1844 by abolitionists. In the years since, its conservative reputation has allowed the college to seed graduates throughout the political firmament. Former Trump officials like Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo have spoken there. Ginni Thomas, the conservative activist and wife of Justice Thomas, once led the college’s Washington program.

The college accepts no state or federal funding, including no student grants or loans, allowing it to avoid some government oversight, such as compliance with federal Title IX rules governing sexual discrimination.
Instead, it relies partly on donations from conservative benefactors that are fueled by aggressive fund-raising campaigns, including on Rush Limbaugh’s radio program before he died, and in Hillsdale’s widely circulated digest, Imprimis, which is known for provocative articles — including a 2017 piece in which President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was called “a hero to populist conservatives around the world.”
In a recent fund-raising appeal, Hillsdale pleaded for $17.76 to help counter “leftist” academics teaching a “biased and distorted” view of American history. The pitch cited The New York Times’s 1619 project — which argues that slavery and white supremacy are dominant themes in American history — as an example of false teaching in schools.
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Money from these pitches helps finance Hillsdale’s charter school operation, which began in 2010 with a grant from the Chicago-based Barney Family Foundation, endowed by Stephen M. Barney, a financial industry executive.
In addition to Hillsdale’s 22 member charter schools, which receive a full suite of Hillsdale curriculum and training, two other public schools are regarded as affiliates that use Hillsdale’s curriculum, with eight more affiliates poised to open, including one in Tennessee. Applications are filed for more schools, including three of the 50 additional schools Hillsdale has said it plans to open in Tennessee.

The Hillsdale charter schools are neither owned nor managed by Hillsdale. Instead, the schools enter agreements to use the Hillsdale curriculum and the college provides training for faculty and staff, as well as other assistance — all free of charge.
By offering these services, Hillsdale seems to be trying to thread a needle — creating a vast K-12 network that embraces its pedagogy and conservative philosophy, in many cases taught by its graduates, while tapping into government money to run the schools.
Hillsdale’s president, Larry P. Arnn, and his daughter Kathleen O’Toole, who runs the charter school initiative, declined interviews. But in a speech last year to Hillsdale supporters in Tennessee, Dr. Arnn outlined his vision for expansion — including plans for a new master’s program to train teachers in classical education, a home-school division, online students and education centers.
“It’s a grand adventure,” he said.

More at: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/10/us/hillsdale-college-charter-schools.html


HR Legend
Gold Member
Feb 5, 2003
Although founded in the 1800s, Hillsdale College only switched to a fascist indoctrination in the mid 1900s.