Hillsdale College is now famous among politically engaged conservatives and others on the right because they do substantial advertising on talk radio and other conservative media. What most of its fans may not realize is just how great an example Hillsdale is of what liberty looks like when an institution of higher learning decides it’s not going to let itself get pushed around by the federal Leviathan and its smaller cousins, state governments.
Since we are blessed to have our daughter now attending Hillsdale, I’ve become familiar with this story of liberty in our midst. A detailed explanation can be found in the current president Larry Arnn’s book, “Liberty and Learning: The Evolution of American Education” which tells not only the history of Hillsdale College, but how education in America became a slave of the bureaucratic state. When the federal government in the 1970s decided that Hillsdale needed to start counting its students based on their race just because they got federal student loans, the college took the government to court and after 10 years and a lot of money lost. Leviathan is a harsh taskmaster. Since 1984 no Hillsdale student has received any kind of government aid, federal or state, so the school can maintain is independence.
A good example of the school’s independent spirit is the education department. In “A College Reinvents Teacher Education,” Hillsdale professor Daniel Coupland tells how state of Michigan demands about teacher certification moved the school to quit having its education graduates get certified:
In 2007, Michigan’s Department of Education changed its policy to require national accreditation for all teacher certification programs in the state. Hillsdale’s program had been certified by the state for decades, but administrators concluded that it would be wasteful to dedicate precious resources to an accreditation process that lacked both value and credibility.
Instead of closing the school’s Education Department, Hillsdale’s administration recognized that teacher certification is not the same as teacher education. The college could still produce smart, dedicated teachers for America’s classrooms, even if the students wouldn’t have an immediate path to certification. Hillsdale decided to continue its program and invite schools unrestricted by the burden of certification requirements to hire its graduates.
The professors in the Education Department embraced this new freedom and began to think about what teacher education could be without the ideological straightjacket (i.e., “standards”) from the state. We began our revision by identifying what kind of preparation was truly important for future teachers.
How a society educates its students has a huge influence on the health of that society. The vast majority of American school children and young adults are educated, or more accurately indoctrinated, at state run and state controlled schools. I’ve argued for years that in order to counter this influence we need to have more teachers and administrators and professors in public education and academia who stand for America’s Founding values, but as long as standards are controlled by the state really what difference can they make.
Part of an answer to this dilemma lies in those schools he mentions that are “unrestricted by the burden of certification requirements.” Those would be private or independent schools, but that would leave public education and most of America’s youth learning and embracing the assumptions of the statists and progressive enemies of liberty.
Hillsdale has not given up on public education; they’ve developed something they call The Barney Charter School Initiative:
Through this initiative, the College will support the launch of K-12 charter schools. These schools will be based on a classical liberal arts model and have a strong civics component that will equip students to understand and defend the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
Reform of American public education, to be successful and good, must be built on a foundation of classical liberal arts learning—the kind of learning best suited to a free society and most needed for its preservation.
Charter schools could be a great strategy to counter the monopoly of government schools. According to Wikipedia:
Charter schools are primary or secondary schools that receive public money (and like other schools, may also receive private donations) but are not subject to some of the rules, regulations, and statutes that apply to other public schools in exchange for some type of accountability for producing certain results, which are set forth in each school’s charter. Charter schools are opened and attended by choice. While charter schools provide an alternative to other public schools, they are part of the public education system and are not allowed to charge tuition. . . . Some charter schools are founded by teachers, parents, or activists who feel restricted by traditional public schools. State-authorized charters (schools not chartered by local school districts) are often established by non-profit groups, universities, and some government entities.
There are almost 100,000 public schools in the United States. Imagine if there were tens of thousands of charter classical schools competing with them. Too many on the right seem to think that the statist school monopoly is to be with us forever; that seems to be their mindset toward other cultural influence professions as well. But if we want to keep the Republic that Benjamin Franklin said we had if we could keep it, we’d better prioritize the cultural professions that shape the hearts and minds of the American people, just like Hillsdale College is doing.
** Just read a piece in the Wall Street Journal about another option to beat the school government monopoly: Home Schooling.