The clash over the governor’s proposed Hillsdale College partnership
The less school students know the good about their country, the less likely they are to care about their country. That’s among the education problems Gov. Bill Lee is attacking in a way that’s upsetting some in the public education establishment. Lee wants Hillsdale College, a small, private, Christian college in Michigan, to open up to 50 charter schools in Tennessee.
Chief complaints about Lee’s plan are that it will divert money from public schools, and that Hillsdale’s curriculum is too pro-patriotic and whitewashes history. The cries of no public money for children’s educations in charter schools seems odd coming from progressives, who typically argue that public money should be spent for contraceptives, abortions, cell phones, solar panel companies, and more. Just not on education if the money isn’t being spent on schools run by government.
If the Hillsdale College program should bear fruit, more parents are likely to want their children to participate. This thought naturally appalls some in public education or their advocates. Perhaps harder to quantify in Hillsdale’s case are philosophical objections, as in it’s too pro-American or not critical enough of the U.S.
At the national level, there’s bipartisan recognition of the need for better public school American history education. Six former Democrat and Republican U.S. secretaries of education—former Tennessee governor and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander among them—jointly signed an article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal on March 1, 2021. It said, in part:
“We need teaching and learning that pursues an account of U.S. constitutional democracy that is honest about the wrongs of the past without falling into cynicism, and appreciative of the American founding without tipping into adulation…Regrettably, civics, which teaches skills of participation and the knowledge that sustains it, and history, which provides a frame of reference for the present, have been sorely neglected over the past half-century in U.S. schools. This cannot continue to be the case.”
In today’s America, figurative wars are fought over even naming a U.S. public school after a U.S founding father. However, in a sign parents may have had enough, even in ultra-liberal San Francisco, California, voters in February by huge margins recalled three liberal school board members, in part because of the board’s plan to rename 44 schools, among them schools named for Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Paul Revere.
But what do the kids know? Even before the learning fall-off blamed on Covid-19, the National Assessment of Educational Progress data shows a woeful ignorance among eighth-graders of American history: Out of a possible 500 points, eighth graders overall scored 263. “The average U.S. history score for eighth-grade students was lower in 2018 compared to 2014.” Additionally depressing are Tennessee and national scores in math, reading, and other subjects.
What’s being done now clearly isn’t working, and pouring more Tennesseans’ tax money into something that isn’t working ensures that it will continue to not work, just more expensively. Every year, masses of students leave high school incapable of holding a 21st century job, succeeding in college, and have a low understanding of the country in which they live. That’s something parents can understand.
Perhaps Bill Lee or some other governor will prevail in reforming the challenging educational reality we live in. Perhaps they won’t. What we can count on are parent voices. It’s just a question of how loud they are willing to be about reforms to their children’s education.